Unexpected Poisons: Toxic People & Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









Admin Nuisance: Thanks Again, WordPress!

Lately, WordPress has been really screwing up- mainly by publishing drafts.  These are posts that are still stored in DRAFTS because they are unfinished, and when I go to publish them, they show up as having been published weeks or days ago! NOT HAPPY!

I wanted to let you know since you might be wondering why some posts are screwed up (because they’re not FINISHED!) or why it looks like I’ve posted the same document twice.  Just an FYI for you all! I’m looking into fixing this with WordPress, because one of my blogs isn’t free!

Quack-ology: One Man’s Duck is Another Man’s Visionary

Quite some time ago I heard a podcast about an off-label use for a medication that was having some results helping patients with autoimmune disorders. (I have since forgotten the name of the medication but the podcast was Phoenix Helix.)  Since my mom has problems with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, I did a little googling and passed the information on to her, letting her know that one article I found was by Dr. Joseph Mercola.  My mother texted me back: “Mercola is a quack” and that was the end of that conversation.

I have to chuckle a little remembering my mom’s blanket statement regarding Dr. Mercola, considering she was an ardent fan of a particular tv doctor who first debuted on Oprah, was enthusiastically endorsed by Ms. Winfrey and now has his own show and magazine. I’ve seen his show a few times and was not impressed, but I gave him a shot and made my own determination.

Honestly, at the time I passed his article on to my mom, I didn’t have a clue who Joseph Mercola was or what his reputation was like.  I was merely giving my mother some information I thought could help her out, and I figured she would do her own research.  Since then, I’ve read a little bit more about Dr. Mercola and am currently reading his latest book Fat for Fuel.  I’ve also recently read Dr. Josh Axe’s book Eat Dirt.  I mention both of these authors (out of several I’ve read recently) because when I google their names I usually get a website (or two) about “quacks.”  Who decides someone is a quack?  The general public?  Is there a government agency or consumer organization that make that determination? Would this be the same government/ consumer agencies that say sugar is not addictive and that eating 11 servings of grains daily is good for you?  Or the same general medical association that says fat causes heart disease (which was  based incidentally on a few flawed studies referenced by Dr. Ancel Keyes, the same doctor on the sugar industry payroll who stated ‘sugar is good for you’)?

I remember when Dr. Robert Atkins began promoting his low carb diet: the medical community and the diet industry quickly slapped him with the Quack label as well, but over the last few decades, that label has changed from Quack to Pioneer.  Now most diets promote a low/ lower carb approach to nutrition and weight loss.  My question to the nutrition community is “so when did he stop ‘quacking’?”  All humor and mud-slinging aside, this is usually the way it goes when someone makes a revolutionary leap in science and medicine: they are labeled as quacks, charlatans and incompetents.  There must be something flawed with their research or science.  Sometimes that is really the case, but if we don’t really examine their conclusions, we’ll never know.

The history of science is littered with those who had to endure all kinds of ridicule- and worse- before time and other brave souls proved them right.  Galileo was arrested, excommunicated and imprisoned for saying the Earth revolved around the sun.  How dare he go against 1000 years of ‘religious science’!  Ignaz Semmelweis and later Joseph Lister were also mocked for their whole ‘antiseptic’ approach to surgery, as if washing your hands before you perform surgery is a good idea! What a bunch of quacks! Looking back at some of the ideas that were previously held as Accepted Scientific Fact, we laugh at how silly ‘those people’ were: ideas that the Earth was flat and you could fall off the end; that rain fell through holes in the celestial sphere that held back the waters of heaven, and that the sun, moon and stars all rotated around our flat Earth on those spheres.  People even claimed that if it were quiet enough, you could hear the spheres moving: the ‘music of the spheres!’ And it wasn’t just the ancients that had these wild ideas: not too long ago, it was generally accepted as fact that if a person were subjected to speeds greater than 35 miles an hour, he would not survive; bathing every day would make him sick and that ‘night airs’ would give him fever and chills (aka malaria). But to ‘those people,’ the thought of ‘invisible bugs’ causing disease was equally laughable.  You might as well believe in unicorns!

The point I am trying to make is that science, medicine and nutrition are ever-evolving disciplines. We’ve heard all the quotes: “the first step towards knowledge is admitting ignorance”; “to assume we know everything is the height of arrogance,” etc.  All learning starts with a question, usually why or how, which means we are ignorant about something.  I remember hearing a story about Johannes Kepler (he was a Renaissance astronomer).  Watching the planets move through the sky, he was able to predict to position of all those he could see, except Mars.  Mars was always out of position and he struggled to understand what he was missing and then he realized: Mars moves in a ellipse, not a circle. It’s this admission that we don’t know and the struggle to find out why that grows our knowledge.  When we deny our own ignorance, we stop learning.

This is where the quacks come into play.  We’ve all heard the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes: the con men who sold the emperor clothes made of cloth so fine and magical that stupid people could not see or feel it.  Of course, the emperor was too proud to say he couldn’t see it so he paraded through the town naked, while the whole town ooh’d and ahhh’d over the ‘magic clothes’ that they could not see either. At least until a precocious child said the obvious: the emperor’s got no clothes! Someone has to be brave enough to stand up and say, if not the obvious, then at least a new idea.  Not all the ideas are good ones but until we look at the ideas and the science behind them, we don’t know if they are legitimate steps forward or not.  If Galileo had kept his mouth shut when the Church threatened him with excommunication, then our universe would be a much different, much smaller place.  If all the scientists, doctors and inventors kept their mouths shut and their ideas to themselves rather than risk ridicule, we would never have made the advances that we have regarding the natural world, anatomy, science or physics.  Medical fundamentals such as the circulatory system, the function of the heart, germ and virus theory, genetics, and even basic hygiene all developed because some ‘quack’ came forward with a new idea.  If we have been able to see further than others, it’s because we have stood on the shoulders of giants, some of whom were labeled quacks (apologies to Isaac Newton).

We need to give new ideas the benefit of the doubt rather than either dismissing it completely as ‘quackery’ or accepting it whole-heartedly as legitimate.  Both are equally dangerous because even a genius can be wrong.  One of the newest ideas with an equal number of adherents and detractors is the fecal transplant for those with intestinal bacteria imbalance.  Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like: a poop transplant.  A donor whose intestinal bacteria is in balance donates some fecal matter (aka POOP) which is put into a capsule and YOU SWALLOW THEIR POOP! It’s supposed to implant the good bacteria in your intestines. Does it work? I don’t know.  Would I have this done to me? Oh, hell no!! Not unless I were knocking on Death’s door!! …and maybe not even then- ugh! But the fact remains that just because it’s a ‘crazy quacking idea’ doesn’t mean it’s not real science with real results.  It just means I’d have to be really really hurting before I would even try it.

Do Joseph Mercola and Josh Axe belong in the ranks with William Harvey and Ignaz Semmelweis? I don’t know, but who are we to say that they don’t? When we dismiss someone outright as being a quack without examining their hypothesis, we may be dismissing legitimate science, and just because someone is a ‘bonafide scientist’ does not mean they are always correct: Aristotle was one of the mainstream intelligentsia that believed Democritus (atomic theory) was a quack. Even Einstein was wrong about his ‘cosmological constant’ and Linus Pauling (two time solo recipient of the Nobel prize) was wrong about his ‘triple helix’ model. There are definitely quacks out there, just as there are definite pioneers. We need to keep an open mind before we slam the door on them.



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.







Caveat Emptor: Being a Savvy Fitness Shopper

Information is a double edged sword: it’s always good to learn new things, even if it’s just new information on an old topic, but sometimes that new info or idea is distracting.  When it suddenly becomes “The Thing that Everyone is Doing,” there’s always an urge to jump on the bandwagon.  Sometimes, doing your own thing makes you feel like you’re missing out or you’re off in a corner by yourself.  We want to be with the crowd (we’re social creatures after all) and suddenly being alone doesn’t feel good. It also makes it hard when you’re looking for support and motivation: “Everyone else on MFP is doing keto/ IF/ LCHF but me.” It’s hard not to feel like we’ve missed something, but at the same time, if what we are doing is working for us, then we tell ourselves why mess with a good thing?

This is why we have to be informed consumers: jumping from one weight loss program to the next is a formula for failure.  We will accomplish nothing beyond frustration and wasted money and possible metabolic damage, none of which are good things.  It’s great to keep an open mind and learn new things, because eventually, most of us reach a point where what we are doing stops working for us or we are ready to make a change for whatever reason.  But if we try keto one month and then move on to IF the next month and then maybe try Paleo the month after that, we are not being consistent long enough to earn any success at any of them.  As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likes to remind us, consistency is what earns us our easy as well as our success.  How can you make something a habit, and therefore easier on us, if we aren’t consistent enough to make it a habit? How do we know if we’ve achieved any kind of success at any of these programs, if after four weeks of keto and two weeks of IF, you realize you’ve lost 6 pounds.  Great! Was that because of the keto or the IF?  Well…… the IF was what I was doing last, so I guess it’s the IF? Yeah, that’s why there’s a question mark.  Are you sure it was the IF or maybe it was keto or maybe it was because you started CrossFit three weeks ago or you dabbled a little in Whole30 when you switched to the IF.  Maybe it was all of those or one of those or who knows?

If you are feeling a little confused with all of the jargon, it’s on purpose.  Weight loss, nutrition and fitness are huge businesses and jargon is one of the ways people make you feel like you are missing out and you need to join their program! It makes them sound like they really REALLY know what they are doing and so you should listen to them! Just because people can throw around a lot of techno-terms and stats doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about or that what they are selling is good for you. (There’s a commercial out right now for a financial service company that has customers speaking with  DJ who is pretending to be a financial advisor and he fools them by using all the right jargon.)  I am not selling anyone anything, but I have been on the receiving end of a whole lot of sales pitches.  One of the expressions I use a lot with people is this: Why listen to your friends and family who are trying to sell you something when you can listen to the sales clerk who only has your best interests at heart?  (yeah, it’s backwards and that’s also on purpose!) This is what we do when we are presented with a sales pitch and our friends/ family offer their free advice.  We are sooo tempted to go with the flashy sales pitch- “I can buy these little colored boxes to put my food in so I can eat right!” The important verb in that sentence is BUY. Someone is trying to separate you from your money, but it sounds a whole lot flashier than your sister’s idea of maybe using a food scale and regular old plastic sandwich bags. Why spend $20 on a plain old boring food scale when you can make three easy payments of $19.99 (+ S&H) and get those cute colored boxes, a diet book and an exercise DVD? If you are really going to use them and stick with their program for a few months at least, then I would say go for it.  BUT (and we knew it was coming!) most of us won’t do that.  We’ll try it until it’s not fun and new or we don’t think it’s “working” fast enough, or we see something else that we think we might like better!

The simple truth is that we need to be patient with whatever approach we try and we need to be realistic about those approaches we do try. This is where my mom and I parted ways: she was always pushing me to try new approaches/ diets/ magic powders/ exercise gizmos that were the newest latest thing, which 1) may not be the best choice for me; and 2) may not be a good thing- PERIOD!  There are a lot of programs and ideas out there that can be harmful and we assume that if we see an advertisement for something, it must be safe, since “they can’t sell it if it’s harmful, right?” Ummm, …….maybe.  It’s not up to the manufacturer to make sure things are safe for everyone, and even if it’s not dangerous, they may just be selling unrealistic expectations. How many times have you seen the commercials for some weight loss program and they show you those ‘amazing’ before and after pics? We all know down in the corners it says “results not typical,” but it’s a lot like selling lottery tickets: you probably won’t win, but the chance is always there, and as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play! So you buy the program and play their game.  In most cases, as long as you follow their program, most people will lose weight. The problem comes when you stop following the program.  Many of them promise to help you transition from their food products to regular food, but most of us tend to go back to our old habits and gain the weight back again.

This is why we need to approach weight loss, fitness and healthy living the same way we approach other “products.” Most of the time when we are out shopping, we know when we buy on impulse, and most of us are pretty good at stopping ourselves from buying something like the great big shiny gas grill that can hold 17 steaks and has a burner to heat up the chili. Whatever “grill” or shiny new toy we are looking at, if it’s a substantial expenditure, we ask ourselves “how many times will I really use this?” It’s the same thing when the car salesman tries to up-sell us on those wonderful heated seats for an extra $1000- really?! $1000 to heat up your bum while the car is getting warm? Is your bum really that sensitive?? If you can afford it, then go for it, but for me- I’m happy if my windshield de-fogs in 15 minutes; as for my bum, I’ve got a lot of insulation!

Weight loss, fitness and healthy living should not be impulse buys or lottery tickets.  We really should approach them like we are buying a car or new smart phone, because like our cars and phones, we will be living with them every day, and if they are a hassle, we won’t use them.  This is why we have jokes about treadmills being the world’s most expensive coat racks and used sports equipment stores are in business. We buy them on impulse, in a fit of good intentions, and they sit there taking up space and getting dusty.  The same goes with gym memberships: we sign up, agree to auto-pay and then when someone asks you what gym you belong to, you have to pull out your keychain to check the name on the tag:  “oh, yeah! That one! I think it’s East Avenue….” I am just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to the fitness impulse buy, although I tend to be a little cheaper about it (used equipment and discount gyms).

On the other hand, I think it’s a good idea to keep an open mind about new techniques, especially if what you are doing now isn’t working for you or you don’t like it as much as you thought you would. Most of us have traded in a few cars and upgraded our phones, but when we did it, we checked out what we were getting and compared it to what we were giving up before we did it.  If you’re looking for a new weight loss/ fitness plan, make sure that you’ve stuck with the one you’re on long enough to know that it either isn’t working for you or you don’t like it before moving on to something else. Listen to those who have done it before: some plans like a ketogenic diet (keto) or intermittent fasting (IF) require some adjustment time. If the plan you’re on now wasn’t a carefully considered choice, then make sure the next plan you choose is something you decide on like a new phone or a new car: how many of us got that really big smart phone because it was cool and new and then we realized what a hassle it was because it was so big and awkward to hold? We traded it in ASAP because it was unwieldy and we had to use it every single day.  When we approach a prospective weight loss/ fitness plan, we need to ask ourselves the same kind of questions: how much of a hassle will it be for me to get to this gym two or three times (or more) a week?  If I decide on Paleo, how difficult is it going to be to stop eating things like bread, cereal and pasta on a regular basis?  If I decide on whole foods, how much trouble is it going to be for me to prepare 90% of my food myself?

Most things worth doing are worth making an adjustment in our daily lives, like exercising regularly, being more active and eating healthier.  We know this and in that way, it’s different than buying a car or a phone: yeah, there’s a little bit of change, but not really.  Cars and phones are all pretty similar, but eating healthier and changing how we move and how often? They can be HUGE adjustments, which is why we need to take the time to give them and us a fair chance. I think this is why most of us buy on impulse: we know it’s a big change and we think we can handle it and then we realize we can’t or don’t want to make that big a change and there we are using the treadmill as drying rack.

This is where we need to be realistic: too much of a change is too much work and it’s often overwhelming. Maybe you really do want to try keto or IF, but if most of your meals come in a box or from the drive thru window, maybe you should try something a little simpler first.  This question is not unlike the massive car payment for that brand new SUV with the heated seats: yeah, if you stretch your budget you can make it work, but do you really want to stretch it that much?  Then there’s the used SUV without the heated seats but it gets good mileage and it’s in good shape and the payment is a lot better. It’s better than the car you’ve got now and you can easily afford that payment: for most of us, it’s a no-brainer and we go with the used car.  We need to have the same approach when we look at things like clean eating, a gym membership or any other lifestyle change: is it a good fit for us?

Personally, I was a total carboholic before I started Paleo.  Most of my diet was bread, pasta potatoes and fast food. Seriously, about 80-90% of every meal I ate was a processed carbohydrate like bagels, bread, wraps, toast, pasta or some kind of cereal bar. I bought boxes of mac and cheese by the case. When I decided that Paleo was what I wanted to do, I seriously asked myself if this was going to work for and after a few days, I decided to start by giving up the potatoes, and then I moved forward slowly.  It took the better part of a year before I had given up all the things on the “not Paleo friendly” list and now, more than two years along, I don’t miss them.  Garlic bread can be really yummy, but it’s not the temptation it used to be. Paleo is something I can live with and really enjoy.  It wasn’t an easy change but it was definitely worth the changes I made. It’s not for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be.  It just has to be what’s right for me.  Now, keto on the other hand……







Being Skinny Will Not Make You Happy 

For most of my life, I have been overweight, and while I was younger, it often felt like everything in my life would be wonderful if only I were thin.  As I grew older, I realized that skinny people have problems too and being skinny won’t solve all of our or anyone’s problems.  It seems pretty obvious, but while our head might acknowledge this fundamental truth, the rest of us might not.  We still work at being skinny like it will solve everything and make our lives perfect.

“Being thin” is right up there with “being rich” and “being with the perfect spouse/ partner.”  We think these external accoutrements will fix the problems in our lives, and if the problem is “not having enough money,” “being alone,” or “being obese,” then yes, they probably will go a long way to fixing those problems.  Too often, however, these outward problems are symptoms of something deeper that needs to be fixed in ourselves.  Emotional eating is a prime example of this.  Most of us who are emotional eaters eat because we don’t know how to handle our emotions: either they are too painful to deal with, we don’t want to face them or we don’t know what to do with them, so we eat to soothe the pain, fear or just to avoid dealing with them.  There are dozens of examples of this on My 600 lb Life: the patient is able to control their eating long enough to qualify for bariatric surgery, and then they are surprised that they still have cravings.  Dr. Nowzaradan sends most of them to meet with a therapist because he knows from experience that the compulsive eating is only a symptom of a deeper problem.  Until the patient resolves those issues and learns to deal with whatever is driving them to eat, they will regain the weight.

While many obese people struggle with ‘food addiction,’ it’s not the real problem.  Mind you, obesity is a real struggle and unless successfully managed, it will kill its victims, but food is only the mechanism the addict is using to manage the real problem.  ‘Food’ can be substituted with a variety of distractions, such as alcohol, sex, shopping, drugs or anything else that can and does keep people from thinking about their problems.  Whatever the problem really is, the outward ‘addiction’ starts as a distraction: “my spouse is cheating on me but I don’t want to think about it so I’ll eat/ spend money/ get high/ whatever.”  Eventually, the addiction becomes a problem itself as we become addicted to the drugs, alcohol and even the high from spending money.  This is usually the problem that most people see because it is the one that is most visible.  If the guy in the cubicle next to you is always drunk and smelling of mouthwash, our first thought is ‘alcoholism,’ not ’emotional problems resulting in alcoholism.’  The same thing is true for obesity: we see someone weighing 400+ lbs and we think they have a problem with portion control, not there is something deeper pushing them to eat.  But whether it’s food, drugs, gambling or whatever addiction they are struggling with, there is something deeper inside creating the problem.  The outward addiction is only the symptom: it’s the first layer of the problem, and until that deeper internal problem is dealt with, the real problem is still there.  This is why I say that being skinny will not make you happy.

For some of us, finding out what that deeper problem is and dealing with it ranks right up there with getting a root canal minus the anesthesia! Of course we don’t want to deal with whatever the problem is: that’s why we’re 400 freaking pounds! We can change behaviors, and we might even manage to get our eating under control, but the emotional issue that caused it usually manifests another way, and rarely is it healthy. In many cases, they have panic attacks or they become anorexic.  They go from soothing their anxiety with food to soothing their anxiety with a sense of control, and they do this by controlling what they eat.  Obviously I am not a psychologist, but my grandmother and my aunt both died from anorexia.  In my grandmother’s case, the more her health deteriorated and the less she could do for herself, the more she refused to eat.  Refusing to eat was her way of exercising control over her life.  She needed a walker to get around, she couldn’t carry most items because of the walker and almost everything else she used to do on a regular basis had to be done for her by someone else.  What she was eating was the only left under her control.

In my aunt’s case, she was chubby most of her life and had a gastric bypass that I personally think she did not need, but for the first time in her life, she was skinny and she was thrilled.  Then the problems started: not eating enough, malnutrition and eventually the anorexia that left her too weak to continue living.

Not everyone who is obese has some kind of emotional issue. Really, there are just some of us who enjoy eating or really like some of the more fattening foods.  Sometimes, people are overweight because all they have to eat are the more high carb/ high calorie foods.  In a lot of cases, the obesity itself becomes the source of the emotional issue.  Whatever the reason we gain weight, once we become overweight, we begin to face backlash over our size.  There’s a lot of disapproval and passive discrimination that goes with being obese because the idea is that “you did this to yourself.”  There is also the idea that there must be something wrong with you or you wouldn’t be overeat. When you are told explicitly and implicitly over and over again that there is something wrong with you, you begin to believe it yourself.  My aunt was one of those people who implicitly let me know that I was defective because of my weight.  She also believed that she was also defective because of her weight. Incidentally, she barely weighed 200 lbs while I weighed 400!

Over the course of my weight loss, I have seen too many people who are not happy with how they look and they somehow equate that with who they are.  What you look like is not who you are, and until you are happy with who you are, being skinny will not make you happy.  I don’t think that getting your loose skin cut off will make you happy until you are happy with the person living in that skin.  Once I started losing weight, I started getting all kinds of hints from my mom about skin removal: have I talked to the doctor about it? when can I get it done? etc. Every time I look in the mirror, I see the skin on my arms, on my legs, my belly, all over.  You can literally fit another grown adult into the loose skin on my body! I think it bothers my mom more than it bothers me, since she mentions it every time I see her. It wasn’t until this last month that it’s actually become a problem physically, and if it continues to be a problem (ie, I don’t find a way to deal with it), then I will probably call the doctor and see what my options are.  Frankly, I think I will try compression garments before I do that!

We’ve all heard the platitudes about loving yourself first and accepting who you are.  They are trite and they are also true.  It isn’t that I’m totally content within myself and I have achieved some kind of inner peace or inner strength: I have listened all my life to people tell me that there is something wrong with me, and at some point, I just stopped listening.  They became the dull roar in the background while I decided I can sit there and moan about “what’s wrong with me?” or I can get on with my life despite being ‘defective.’  Now that I’ve lost a lot of weight and my new ‘defect’ is my loose skin, I still handle it the same way and get on with my life no matter what the dull roar is roaring about now.  There is a lot that’s wrong with my life and with me, but I am happy enough with what I have and with who I am.  Until you are happy with the person living in your skin, nothing else is as important in your life.



Child’s Play: What We Learn as Children Has a Lifelong Effect

Those of you with children are no doubt very aware that you are your children’s first teachers.  Babies begin modeling behavior almost from the very start.  We smile at our babies and they learn to smile back.  They are little sponges and watch us constantly to see what we do, how we do it without even wondering the why behind the action.  My cousin’s son used to sit at the breakfast table with his dad and “read” a magazine (even though he was still a baby) because his dad read at the table. (FYI the “baby” is now studying robotics someplace back East.) But the idea here is that his parents were readers and put a value on books and learning and so little Alex did too.

This parental modeling covers everything in our lives: how we deal with friends and family; how we handle stress and problems; how we drive; and of course, how we eat.  Most of us either follow in our parents’ footsteps or we go the other way, ie our parents taught how not to do something well.  As children we don’t really know any different and just tend to follow the path they’ve laid out for us, but as adults, our discretion and hopefully our better judgment takes over and we begin to make choices.  Either we do it like dear old mom and dad, or we do it our own way.  I know for me, one of the things that sticks out is that we never had any band-aids in the house.  I was forever cutting myself, sticking myself (I still have a scar on my thumb from when I was 12) and I was always stuck rummaging around in the bathroom drawer for a loose band-aid.  It probably wouldn’t have stuck out in my head so much except for the fact that my mom was a registered nurse and in that bathroom drawer would be her kelly clamps, rolls of tape and packets of gauze, but rarely any band-aids.  Instead of the cobbler’s kids having no shoes, it was the nurse’s kids having no band-aids.  As an adult, I make sure I have a box of band-aids in my house along with hydrogen peroxide (small bathroom, middle shelf).

One of the other things I learned growing up is to put my keys and purse in the same place every day when I come home.  It makes it so much easier when I need to go someplace.  In fact, in one instance, it may have saved my dog’s life.  My Yorkie started choking and I had to rush him to the emergency vet.  I remember grabbing my keys (I don’t recall grabbing my purse, but I must have since I had it with me in the car).  It was what EMTs call a “scoop and run”: I grabbed him and ran out the door.  I learned to put those things in the same place after years of listening to my mom rant about about how she can’t find her keys and/ or purse and is going to be late for work and why aren’t we helping her find them??  Years after this choking incident I remember thinking what would have happened if I just left my keys wherever when I came home and had to spend ten minutes looking for them?  Scary thought! (FYI my Yorkie was okay- apparently, throwing him in the passenger seat dislodged the piece of meat he was choking on!)

Our eating and fitness habits are no different than everything else.  We either learn to eat and exercise the way our parents did or we go the other way.  Sadly, I pretty much followed in my parents’ footsteps in that regard.  It wasn’t that they have horrible eating habits; they eat the standard American diet, and while my mom used to make a habit of using her treadmill, my dad got plenty of activity at his job.  I learned to eat the way they ate but my activity was not like theirs.  I got a lot of walking and physical activity as a kid and as a college student, but my eating was way over the limit and I slowly gained weight as I grew older.  By the time I reached high school, I was very overweight, and although I got more walking in as I went to college (the campus was huge and I crossed it multiple times a day), I still continued to gain slowly until I graduated and went to work- then the weight loss really skyrocketed!  My parents’ eating and activity pretty much stayed the same over time (neither of them is overweight), but my eating was slowly increasing and worsening and my activity was dropping rapidly.  These were the changes I made over time as an adult, and they were obviously not good for me. I didn’t learn good eating and exercise habits as kid and it wasn’t for my parents’ lack of trying.  My dad made a habit of having brussels sprouts and broccoli on a regular basis because they were vegetables he enjoys. I saw a lot of vegetables in my house as a kid and my parents ate a lot of them.  My mom was always using some kind of exercise equipment, but I was never interested in using any of it much.  The habits were there for me to follow, but as I grew up, I chose different activities (soccer and basketball) until my adult schedule interfered and my activities came to a screeching halt.  (One of the good food habits I learned from my mom was trying different kinds of foods- I learned as a kid to eat Japanese, Indian, and other exotic foods. This was a big advantage once I went Paleo- different foods are normal to me!)

One of the reasons I think there was such a disparity between my parents’ eating habits and activity and my own as I grew up is that there was a fundamental shift in both “everyday foods” and “everyday activities” sometime in my adolescence: 70’s-80’s.  (Yes, I really am that old! ugh!) While there were things like hamburger restaurants and drive-ins, most of the processed foods were foods you had to go out to get.  When I was a kid, one of my fondest memories was having burgers at the McDonald’s on the main street, and it was mainly because we’d sit in the car, feeding the fries to the squirrels in the vacant lot next door.  We didn’t eat a lot of McDonald’s because it was “going out” and so most of the foods we ate at home still came into the house in their raw or natural form: the broccoli, brussels sprouts and other veggies, the meats from the butcher section, rice, even the “pasta sauce” pretty much came in as plain tomato sauce.  The pasta was about as processed as most stuff got, at least until the late ’70’s.  Then there was shift to more processed foods.

Things like boxed dinners and frozen foods became cheaper and more accessible.  I remember when Eggo waffles hit the market and they were really popular at our house! The same with frozen bagels, instant oatmeal and boxed rice/pasta mixes.  They made cooking easy!  No more standing over the stove making sure the rice didn’t burn or the waffles didn’t overflow out of the waffle iron.  Dinner was a snap and so was breakfast and even lunch wasn’t complicated anymore since processed lunchmeats and white bread were cheap and easy!  So, as I grew up, I was eating way more processed foods than my parents’ when they were my age.  My eating habits revolved around what came in a box or a bag, and while my parents and I still ate a lot of the same things, they still leaned more towards the whole foods they had grown up on and enjoyed.  My favorite foods had a wrapper; theirs usually had a stem.

The other big shift was activity: it was the dawn of the electronic age.  Atari and Nintendo hit the marketplace and ‘playtime’ slowly went from chasing each other around the yard to chasing Donkey Kong all over the tv screen.  As I grew up, I (along with most of my generation) became more and more sedentary. I wasn’t very active to begin with.  I was always more of a reader than an athlete or a outdoorsy type. I have always been more at home in front of a typewriter than a computer. [For those of you who don’t know, a typewriter is an old fashioned hand operated word processor- only kind of kidding here since I’ve met twenty-somethings who say they’ve never seen one before.]

Both of these fundamental shifts- cheap processed food and a more sedentary lifestyle- led to a lifetime of unhealthy habits and poor dietary choices.  I grew up eating processed foods full of easily metabolized carbs and few nutrients (besides being low fat and high in sugar) and I spent most of my time seated, either in front of the computer, tv or with a book.  Looking back, it’s no wonder I gained weight along with most of my generation.  We all grew up doing a lot of the same activities: tv, computers, music, books and eating a lot of the same foods: snack cakes, candy bars, chips, microwave popcorn, lunchmeats and other processed and fast foods.  Obviously not all of us grew up to weigh over 400lbs, but many of us grew up overweight.  When epidemiologists talk about the “epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity,” my generation is the one they are talking about.  While our parents were used to getting out and doing physical things, most of us grew up with less active pursuits.  The habits our parents learned as children pretty much stayed with them: being active, eating whole foods and not sitting for hours in front of electronic devices, and while they may have leaned to more sedentary habits as they aged and became more familiar with technology, they didn’t become as overweight as we did.  My generation and I grew into our sedentarism and found more ways to exploit it: instead of getting up and driving out to get food, we can now get it delivered from our computers.  We don’t even have to get up to use the phone plugged into the wall: if we can’t order online, our cell is right next to us! Then we grouse about getting up to get the food brought to our doorstep.

To be fair no one saw these kinds of lifestyle shifts coming and I for one know my parents promoted healthy activity (I just wasn’t good at it!) But now, most of us are parents (and some of us grandparents) and we are the ones doing the modeling for the younger generations.  At the grocery store, I see parents with their kids in tow pushing carts full of processed foods: frozen prepared meals, boxed meals, bags of bagels, chips, buns and boxes of snack cakes, sodas and “juice drinks.”  These are what they are feeding their kids and these are what the kids are learning to eat.  I do see parents with carts full of fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits and more whole foods, but they are far outnumbered by the ones with the easy to eat and metabolize processed foods.  At one store I saw a little girl following behind her dad: she looked about 8 years old and was already extremely obese, and her arms were full of boxes of macaroni and cheese. I feel bad for her, because I know what is coming her way: a lifetime of struggling with her health, her weight and a lot of emotional pain.

Our challenge is to change a lifetime of bad habits and in doing so, we can model better habits for our families.  When we make a habit of limiting our time at the computer/ phone/ tv and spend more time being active, we are teaching it to our kids.  The activity doesn’t have to be something labeled “exercise”; it can be gardening, taking the dog for a walk, or just playing with the dog, playing outside with the kids; it can even be going shopping and just walking around the mall for a few hours!  The point is to get up and move!  We can do the same with food: when we eat, make a habit of choosing whole foods.  Don’t think in terms of “diet” (which will teach the kids not to eat it): think in terms of nutrition.  Choose foods for their nutrient value, not their calories.  This teaches kids (and some older ‘kids’ too) that healthy food tastes good and is good for you.  It also teaches them that real food takes a little time to prepare, too!  Cooking can be family time too!  At holidays, most of our family would crowd into the kitchen as we prepared the meal, because most of our food took time to cook or even just warm up!  These are the happiest memories of holidays with my grandparents.

As we realize the consequences of a lifetime of processed foods and sedentary habits, there is more of a push to change them. Obviously computers, phones and Facebook aren’t going away but there is also a growing trend to spend time being active: take the phone out and make a video of you doing something! Body cameras are really fueling this idea: that way you can record your ski trip, hike, bike ride, whatever without having to hold your phone! You can be active and be on your device at the same time! Just because we grew up with bad habits doesn’t mean we have to live with them all our lives; habits can be unlearned as well.  The trick is to learn something new and better for you and hopefully, teach it to your family.

I Eat, Therefore I Am…Not Losing Weight

I really wish we came with an instruction manual!  When I was a student and teacher, one of my standard mantras was “when all else fails, read the directions!”  It worked, especially for kinesthetic learners like me who try to figure it out on our own.  If the “common sense” method doesn’t work, look in the dang instructions!  So, believe me, we would all benefit from a “How to Be a Healthy Human” instruction manual, complete with that little Trouble-Shooting section in the back.  “Hmmmm….c, c, c….cataracts….. cramps…. constipation! Here we go!” It would make things a lot easier, especially for those of you with kids! As a pet parent, I’ve been through a lot of breed books for Yorkies , and it just makes it easier if you know that Yorkies are prone to sensitive stomachs, so if he ate a little something spicy or rich and spit up a little while later, it’s not a major deal, unless he keeps spitting up.

Unfortunately, our “instruction manuals” come from a variety of sources, some not as reliable as others and many are sadly out of date, so we get to do it the hard way- through trial and error! Eating is one of the those things that looks deceptively easy but is so much harder, as we all know. What to eat, when to eat, what not to eat and even how to eat: there have been so many “instruction books” on these topics that support and contradict each other, it’s no wonder that most of us just give up- “okay, so I’m just stuck being the fat one in the family!”

I should know: I am a professional bad eater.  By that I mean I graduated out of amateur status decades ago!  You don’t get to be 438 lbs just dabbling at it!  I was listening to a podcast recently (40+ Fitness episode 173 with guests Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore).  The topic was fasting to improve health and Jimmy was explaining how he was doing it to help cure his insulin resistance since he’d gotten to 410 lbs before losing weight.  The competitor in me immediately thought: “hah! I beat you!”, followed by “hmmm, that’s not a good thing, is it?” Nope, so not a good thing.  I see pictures of myself (the ones I thought weren’t too bad- ugh!) and it’s apparent that yep, I was definitely in the professionally bad category.  Dr. Nowzaradan of My 600 lb Life always asks new patients how they got to their current weight in the 500+ range, and my answer would be: I just ate whatever I wanted as much as I wanted whenever I wanted.  If someone offered me cheesecake and I’d just finished a burger, fries and milkshake, sure! who doesn’t love cheesecake!  (Sadly, I think that was my dinner a lot of nights!)

I know most of us are not as bad as I was, but we do a lot of the same things, just not to the extremes I reached.  We have breakfast and a couple hours later at work, we have a little snack as we wander through the break room (yum! cheez-its!).  We have lunch and someone brought cookies and they’re sharing- thanks, munch munch!  We stop for a latte on the way home, have dinner and then a little snack afterwards as we clean up, maybe just finish off the rest of the garlic bread (it doesn’t keep well), and then, anyone want ice cream? It’s just a handful of crackers, a couple of cookies, a little milk, a couple slices of bread and then a scoop of ice cream.  It doesn’t feel like a lot when you eat it, because it’s spaced throughout the day but when you look at it all written down, it starts to look like a lot!  That’s because it is a lot, and it’s a lot of extra food on top of what you’re already eating! This is one reason I like keeping a food and activity journal.  Writing it all down shows you what you’ve eaten, so if you didn’t eat a lot and you’re starving when you get home, maybe that’s the reason.  Or maybe what you ate is why you’re hungry: when I have a breakfast sandwich in the morning, I’m a lot hungrier by lunchtime than if I had something like a cheese omelet. The same happens if I have a latte in the morning.  So, even though I’ve had a lot of calories, they weren’t the kind that last (fat or protein).  Even though my stomach is growling, I don’t eat. (This has to do with the blood sugar rollercoaster thanks to the simple carbs.)

This was a huge part of my eating problem; frankly, it’s the reason I gave up trying to control my eating.  I was eating plenty and it was supposed to be ‘healthy’ but I was still getting hungry.  “Well, if I’m hungry, my body must need something to eat.”  The same thing if I’m tired: “my energy is really low, so I must need to eat something!”  WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!

This is where the instruction manual comes in: I’m eating a lot and I’m gaining weight but I’m tired and hungry all the time! This is one of those situations where the ‘obvious common sense’ answer is only going to make it worse!  One of the attorneys at our office (I’m now a legal assistant) has a plant on his desk with droopy yellow leaves and he was complaining: I don’t know why it’s so brown- I water it once a week!  That’s the problem: overwatering.  When plants get droopy yellow/ brown leaves, it only looks like it’s dried out- it’s actually drowning!  We are the same way: our hunger and low energy only looks like a lack of food issue- it’s really a wrong food issue!  Just like the plant is getting too much water, I was eating too much of the wrong foods which were only making the problem worse, and like the plant, giving me more of what’s making me worse is just going to perpetuate the problem.

The wrong food for me was the abundance of simple refined carbs I was eating.  They were quick energy and they were what my body was craving, so that’s what I ate: lots of those ‘healthy whole grains.’  They hit my bloodstream really fast, due to their being simple refined carbs (like whole grain wheat toast) and then just as quickly, they are cleared out and now I’m crashing about an hour later, so….. more toast! or whole wheat crackers! and the cycle repeats itself.  So, I’m constantly eating and constantly getting hungry and constantly gaining weight.

The answer was counter-intuitive: eat things that don’t hit my bloodstream as fast and take longer to metabolize.  The energy boost is not as fast,  but it lasts a lot longer.  I’m not hungry an hour after eating and I’m not crashing.  It’s like not-watering the plant and hoping it greens up.  (FYI: it worked- the plant is now pushing new leaves!)  The same thing worked for me once I stopped eating all those simple refined carbs.  All that fat, meat and eggs everyone had told me to avoid became a major part of my diet (along with the veggies everyone is always told to eat), and voila! I don’t crash two hours after eating; I don’t get sleepy after lunch and whoo hoo! I’m losing weight! I wish someone had explained this to me when I was twenty-something! It would have made a lot of things a whole lot easier.

That was probably the biggest and most important change to my diet that had a positive impact on my health.  When I use the word “diet” here, I don’t mean a weight-loss diet; I mean the literal definition: the foods a person or animal habitually consumes. Changing what I was “habitually consuming” from simple refined grain based products to proteins and healthy fats has had an enormously positive affect on my total health, but it’s not the only one.  Another positive change has been eating intuitively. This means that when you get hungry, your body is telling you that you need fuel.  Okay, so that should be easy enough….. but hang on, wasn’t that how I got into this mess to start to start with?

Yep! Absolutely right! That’s why I really want the instruction manual! That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but the blood sugar rollercoaster thanks to those ‘healthy whole grains’ was screwing up the system! It’s like putting used batteries in your flashlight: if you put in new ones, you only have to change them every few weeks or so, but if you put in defective or used batteries, you are always having to change them!  Instead of fueling my body with healthy fats, proteins and complex carbs, I was trying to fuel it with simple refined carbs and was running out of energy every couple hours or so.  The complex carbs and proteins last four to five hours usually before I get hungry (depending on whether I work out or not), but just doing every day things (like driving or walking around the office), I was always hungry after grain based carbs like crackers or even a sandwich.  A lot of bloggers, podcasters and experts (like Dr. David Ludwig specifically) recommend that we eat intuitively to lose or maintain  weight.  That’s a little scary to me (actually a lot more than ‘a little’)!  It’s like getting bitten by a dog and then being told to pet the dog again: “uhhhh, the one that just bit me?!” “Yeah, that’s the one!” The idea is that now that I know what I should be eating, I should be ‘safe.’  But….. I really thought I was ‘safe’ when I tried it before! (niiiice doggie!) We are constantly told to eat only when we’re hungry and then, only until we are ‘satisfied,’ as opposed to being ‘full.’  I have never been good at either of those things!  It’s a lot of listening to your body but it means we need to interpret our bodies’ signals correctly.  I previously did a post about miscommunication, because I am clearly not fluent in whatever language my body speaks!

That’s the point, however: we have lost touch with our own bodies!  It’s like living in a house and having to hunt down the bathroom each time we need to use it! When we were babies, we knew what it was saying, even if we didn’t have the language skills to tell our parents we needed a new diaper!  We need to learn to what our bodies are trying to tell us: this is what ‘tired’ feels like; this is what ‘satisfied’ feels like; this is what ‘normal’ feels like, etc.  We have grown away from listening to what our body needs because we have been telling it what we think it needs for too long! Eating intuitively is difficult.  I’ve tried it since I got ‘bit by the whole-grain dog’ and it wasn’t a big success.  It’s time to try it again, because I need to know what my body needs and what it’s saying to me.  I am better at it than some people (too much Star Trek as a kid) but still, it’s a mystery to me in a lot of ways.  This is why we are chronically stressed, chronically exhausted, chronically overweight.  Really stressed? Take a pill!  Really tired? Take a pill! Really overweight? Take a pill – and eat more healthy whole grains! Then when the pills stop working, we really start to break down!  We no longer have any idea what it feels like to live in our bodies when they aren’t being medicated or stressed or exhausted.  We need to get back to our base line and that means we first have to find it!

When my sister was in college, she lived off campus and like most college students, her apartment was filled with a lot of second hand furniture.  One of those was a coffee table my dad had gotten when he first moved out on his own.  We’d seen it in almost all of his homes through the years: black painted wood, with the shelf underneath and the art deco-ish legs.  There was a little lip on the outside of the top. My sister decided to refinish it and started stripping off the paint, only to find there was a parquet wood design under that black paint.  My dad told her the table had originally had glass on top to protect the parquet, but it had gotten broken and he’d painted it.  Underneath the plain black paint was a beautiful wooden inlaid table but it’d been covered up for so long he forgot about it and we’d never known about it.  We need to strip away all of the outside influences that are obscuring our original design and learn to communicate with our bodies.  We need to know what it feels like to be hungry, to be satisfied, to be tired, to be rested, to be calm, etc.  Only when we know what those feel like can we figure out how to move forward.

Eating intuitively is one way to start finding your baseline.  When you get hungry, take a few notes.  When did you eat last?  What was it?  Are you really super hungry?  Is it your office-mate’s lunch you smell?  Take notes about what you eat: when, what, how much, how hungry were you when you ate.  I’m trying to eat intuitively again and it’s going a little better than last time but it’s still a process.  This is not about counting calories.  Lately, my “calorie counter” has been telling me that I’m way under my calorie limit to lose weight, but if I’m not hungry, I don’t need to eat those extra 400 calories! Yes, I was hungry after my work out and I had a good dinner (chicken, sweet potato fries and an apple).  I thought about having something else, but I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat it.  When I got up this morning, I still wasn’t hungry, although when I did get hungry later, I had breakfast.  It’s not about eating according to the clock, or starving yourself, or eating according to a calorie counter.  It’s about finally listening to your body when it tells you what it needs. It’s a process (like everything else we have to learn), and sometimes when I’m trying to figure out if I need to eat, I feel a little like I’m talking to one of my pets: are you hungry? do you need to go out? did your toy get stuck on the bookshelf again? what do you want???  But it’s worth the effort if you learn how to speak your body’s language. You learn what ‘real hunger’ is and what is “it’s snack-time, dude!”  It also helps when you need to know the difference between what foods work for you and what aren’t so good for you: things like gluten, lactose or even just the simple carbs.  Be the bio-detective and learn your body’s language.  Most importantly, remember that when it comes to your own health and fitness, you are the only expert on you!

Guilt By Association

“Dime con quién andas y te dire quién eres” (tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are).  It’s a Mexican saying that I think holds value, mainly since every culture has an expression conveying the same idea.  One of the ones I heard recently that’s less than flattering: “if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.” It’s the same idea: who you hang with influences who you are.  Put simply: it’s peer pressure.  It goes back to the very heart of our species- we are essentially social creatures, whether it’s family bands or tribal or national.  We have ways of bonding with our chosen social group either through language, behavior, or other customs.  Standing out can be a way of choosing to disassociate ourselves, which can lead to us becoming separated from the group, either through our choice or theirs.  We learn it early in life: belonging is good.  Case in point: my uncle was driving home with his grandson, still a toddler in his carseat.  It was Easter and his grandson had a bag of jelly beans and was spitting out the pink ones.  Why? my uncle asked.  Because they’re girl jelly beans! He was only about three years old but he already knew what was associated with girls and he was not a girl, so they didn’t belong with him.

This idea of belonging to or being different from others in a group is reinforced throughout our lives.  As teens, we tend to wear our identities on our sleeves so to speak.  Athletes, musicians, rebels: whoever we are, we dress accordingly.  This is why many organizations and professions wear uniforms, even if they are not as regulated as those for the military.  When was the last time you walked into a legal office or a doctor’s office and saw your attorney in a t shirt, flip-flops and board shorts? Or your doctor for that matter?

The clothes are just one manifestation of how our associations affect our behavior and it’s why peer pressure is so effective and so dangerous.  If everyone else is drinking at the party, we feel the overwhelming pressure to drink as well, even if we don’t like it.  The pressure to be different is intense.  If you think I’m overstating this (or it’s just plain nonsense), ask any teen you know about peer pressure.  Being different can feel like being a man/ woman without a country! Everyone else is eating dessert at the restaurant and you choose not to have any- don’t even taste it!  “What’s up with you?”  It happened to me just the other night: I was out to dinner with my mom and took part of my meal home.  “You hardly ate anything!” Hah! I know what I ate and it was plenty! There’s a big box of the best in town pastries in the break room (thanks to the generous client) and everyone is having some.  “Is she allergic to gluten or something?” Even if they don’t pressure you to eat/ drink what they are, you still somehow end up feeling like you are different.  Recently, I was at a festival with a friend of mine and our meal came with a great big chunk of bread.  I left mine there and after a couple of minutes of confusion it dawned on my friend: “you don’t eat bread anymore!”  She didn’t mean to draw attention to my dietary changes, but it still was a little uncomfortable. Bread is not that big a deal, nor is my leaving it there, but there I was, being different!

Generally, we tend to go with the flow simply because it’s easier.  You are out with your friends and they order a slice of cheesecake with three forks, so a bite or two isn’t the end of the world! Even if you didn’t want any cheesecake at all? You are watching the game and your friend hands you a beer, even though you planned on not drinking, so you just make that one last all day. Those are better choices than eating the whole dessert or having multiple beers, but it’s still more than what you planned on having.  What do you do?  “No thanks, I’m too full!” That’s always an option, but sometimes with peer pressure, it only stokes the fire.

Of course, it works for the positive also!  If everyone else is going to the gym, don’t you feel the pressure to hit the gym as well? I know I feel it on MFP: all my fitness friends are posting their workouts and where’s mine? Well, I didn’t really make it to the gym today…..  Even though they don’t actually ask me about my workout, the fact that they are posting puts pressure on me to be more active.  I feel the need to join in and participate!  This is actually one of the reasons people seek out diet buddies; workout buddies, and the oh-so-cutesy: “accountabilibuddy.”  It works! If you are meeting someone at the gym twice a week and you decide to blow it off, you need to explain it to him/ her.  “Sorry- not going to make it today! Got too much to do!” Repeatedly blowing off the workout is going to get some questions: “hey, man, I thought you were serious about this!”  Now, you need to explain yourself.  You can blah blah excuse whatever to yourself but is your friend going to buy it? Probably not and after awhile, s/he’s not going to be meeting you anymore!

Experts and gurus like to point out that “being overweight is contagious!” If we hang out with “fat people,” we end up fat ourselves! One more reason not to be friends with the fat guy/ girl at the office! Yes, there is a correlation: our friends’ habits tend to rub off on us, but our habits tend to rub off on them too!  In my group of friends, I am now and have always been the biggest of us.  I was overweight when I made friends with them and even though I’ve lost a lot of weight, I still weigh more than they do (and this includes the husbands- yay????) I haven’t gotten fatter by being with them, and while they haven’t gotten fitter by being around me, they are now enjoying their little Fitbit trackers.  The point is that you don’t have to change your entire circle of friends if you want to be healthier or fitter.  If your friends don’t want to jog/ walk/ exercise with you, find some others who will! A few months ago I started taking the classes at my gym and now I see the same group each time I go and we chat and encourage each other.  I joined My Fitness Pal and have friends there that I chat with (it’s like Facebook for fitness/ nutrition).  You don’t have to dump your cheesecake and coffee loving friends; you just have to expand your circle. You also don’t have to eat what they eat: your real friends aren’t going to get in your face about not eating/ drinking what they do.  In fact, I met some of my friends over this past weekend and there was a bit of a delay.  When we did manage to meet, they both knew that I had already been by the coffee shop but they hadn’t and wanted to know if I just wanted to run some errands while they got coffee.  I went with them for coffee: they had some and I didn’t.  It wasn’t a big deal and I wasn’t sitting there feeling deprived over “not having more lattes.” We sat and chatted and waited for our other friend who was on her way.  We had a fun afternoon just the same.  My not having a second cup of coffee wasn’t a big deal: we were there to chat with each other and the coffee, even for them, wasn’t the point.

Experts and ‘those in the know’ are always quick to point out the short-cuts on how to lose weight or be healthier, but really there are none.  There are ways to make it more enjoyable or easier, like gym buddies or diet buddies (I now have more Fitbit friends) but really the heavy lifting is down to you (pun kinda intended). You are the one who needs to go out of your way to make the healthier changes life-long habits.  These may or may not include your present circle of friends.  It may be that you need to make new friends who share your same goals: yowza! that’s a pain in the butt! (sarcasm there!)  If your friends are anything like mine, there will be things you have in common and things you don’t.  One of my friends is a great gardener, another likes to decorate cakes, one is a gourmet and another is a Broadway fan.  I’m not a fan of any of those, but we all have things in common that we enjoy.  My thing now is fitness, and none of them are really into it, so now I have new fitness friends I can share it with.  It is easier when you have friends that you share things with, but really, your friend isn’t going to make you work out or make you say no to the cheesecake and peppermint mocha.  They are going to respect whatever decision you make.  You are the one who makes the decisions: your success does not depend on them, nor can you blame them for your failures (although sometimes, it would be nice!)  So, be a mensch and sit next to the fat guy/ girl at the office holiday party- you aren’t going to catch anything!


You May Already Be a Winner!

We’ve all had days like this: we ate okay for breakfast and we resisted the urge to add the holiday flavored syrup/ creamer to our coffee in the morning, and we did great for lunch but now, after the healthier than usual dinner, we went crazy and had a couple chocolate chip cookies! “What’s wrong with us?!” Or this scenario: we went on vacation and we had decided we weren’t going to “diet” on vacation, but now we’re back and we have to get into our routine again and it….just….feels…so…much…harder….than….before!  This is a tough one.  I don’t mean the whole ‘eating according to your healthy plan’ routine: I mean cutting yourself a break! Yes, we need to be accountable.  Yes, we need to be consistent.  Yes, that would be easy if we were all androids like Cmdr. Data or Vulcans like Mr. Spock.  (Trekkie here. Sorry!) But, for better or worse, we are simple humans and as both Data and Spock will tell you, humans are susceptible to emotion and are fundamentally illogical.  In other words, we know what’s good for us and we do what feels good instead, even if it’s not good for us.

We need to find that middle ground between stepping out of bounds occasionally and actually moving off the reservation.  As some of you know, I follow a Paleo eating plan, which means all those yummy crunchy grain products are off my menu pretty much all the time, and especially in the morning, but… I really wanted a breakfast wrap, so I had one.  I’d love to say that it was delicious and guilt-free, but as yummy as it was (and it was!), I kept thinking how it wasn’t good for me and I knew it and I still got it and here I am, eating this hot delicious wrap and I’m screwing up my whole eating plan for the day.  “What’s wrong with me?!”

Nothing is wrong with me, except my guilting myself for eating what I wanted.  Now if I had wraps every day or even more than once a week, then there would be a problem, but one wrap?! So, after a few minutes of guilt, I told myself to knock it off.  It’s a choice I made, so own it, and secondly, it’s not the end of my Paleo eating plan!  I don’t have to go back to ‘start’ and I don’t have to punish myself for eating off the plan. This is what I mean when I say we need to learn to give ourselves a break!

Too many of us feel the need to punish ourselves for not being perfect.  I was good until I had that cookie! I was good until I had a ‘insert off limits food here.’  No mea culpas necessary! You are a responsible individual and you can decide if you want a treat or not.  There’s a big difference between looking at the cookies, wanting one and deciding that one (or however many) can be allowed rather than seeing the cookies, having an irresistible craving for them and sneaking off with four or five in your hand.  Eating according to your cravings is not good and it’s not responsible eating; making a considered thoughtful choice is something else. I thought about having a wrap and chose to have one. The rest of the day and the next were in line with my eating plan; the wrap was a hot & yummy anomaly!

The other reason we feel the need to punish ourselves is because we aren’t doing ‘good enough!’  We use phrases like ‘out of control,’ ‘get my butt in gear,’ ‘get my head/ game together.’ Why? What are we doing that’s so wrong? We had a couple cookies after dinner?  We had a wrap for breakfast?  Damn, send in the Marines!! We need to whisked off to the nut house- we are outta control!! Except that it’s not funny and I’m not exaggerating, because that’s how we think of ourselves and that’s how we treat ourselves: “I had cookies- I’m bad! I had cookies- I’m bad! What’s wrong with me?!” Nothing is wrong with you either: you’re a regular person (see above reference to synthetic humans and alien species).  For most of us, this healthy eating and fitness lifestyle is still pretty new.  I’ve been doing this for two years, and while I may have a little more experience than some of you, I am far from an old pro! I am pretty used to eating according to my Paleo menu and it’s my default routine now.  That means it’s easier for me to say to things like cookies and potato chips and crackers because I’ve been doing it for over a year, but I’m still human and sometimes the cheesetoast at Sizzler looks good to me.  The chocolate covered pretzels at my friend’s party are kind of tempting.  Do I eat them? Rarely.  It’s not because I’m denying myself or doing penance for whatever imagined sin I thought I committed.  I say no most of the time because I know they aren’t good for me and as tempting as they are, I know that I really don’t want them.  They may taste good but they have consequences that aren’t worth it to me.  If I do have them, it’s not the end of the world or a fatal diet error; it’s an anomaly, and it usually serves to remind me of why I gave them up.  I usually feel kind of blah afterwards that has nothing to do with guilt: it’s like my body is saying “what the hell did you just eat and why did you eat it?!” (FYI: this is the same body that used to go into shellshock when I ate broccoli and now that it’s finally adjusted I go and give it cheesetoast again?!)

This is what Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls “All or Nothing” thinking, and it’s why so many of us give up trying to eat healthy or get fit.  Either you’re in or you’re out.  We are either staying on the straight and narrow path or we are off the reservation in the food wilderness!  When I was kid I used to play a board game called Aggravation, where we rolled the dice and moved our platoon of marbles around the board.  The goal was to get all our marbles to the end before the others did, and if someone landed on one of your marbles, you had to move it all the way back to the beginning to start over.  We are not marbles on a boardgame! When we have the cheesetoast or pretzels or anything else that’s “forbidden,” we don’t have to go back to Start! We don’t have to throw the board across the room in frustration!  We just have to remind ourselves that really no food is “forbidden” or “off limits.”  Eating Paleo doesn’t mean I never eat pasta or crackers again: it means I may eat it once in a while but it’s not a big part of my regular menu. Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you never eat cake again for the rest of your life: it simply means that cake is an occasional treat, not dessert every night!  Much of what we eat as every day foods now were never intended to be everyday foods.  Things like cookies and cake and chocolate were things made in celebration of a holiday or a special occasion.  (This is why we have things like birthday and wedding cakes, Christmas cookies and fruitcake.)

A lot of us get caught up in this dieting “on or off” mindset because this is what most diets teach: you follow this strict regime for X amount of days to lose X amount of weight.  Some of these diets are so structured, they set you up with weekly menus or goals you need to hit before you can move on to the next level and when you miss a goal or go off menu, they tell you to start again!  Really??  This is why so many of the diet books and programs my mom used to leave on my doorstep ended up in the bottomless pit of unused diets. These diets don’t teach you how to eat for health or nutrition; they teach you to diet! They teach a short term style of eating with one goal in mind: losing weight!  It’s not about being healthy or eating for long term nutrition or fitness- it’s all about the quick temporary fix.  This is why so many of us have spent so many years losing the same 10/ 20/ X lbs over and over again.  This is why I don’t say I am on the “Paleo diet”; I say that I eat Paleo, because I like eating this way and I intend to eat this way for the rest of my life.  It’s not about weight loss (although frankly, I think losing weight is awesome!); it’s about being healthier and fitter and feeling really great.

More importantly, it is a PROCESS! Whatever style of eating you decide on, anything that recommends you get up the next morning “fully onboard with their eating plan” is pretty much setting you up to fail, in my opinion.  When I decided to try Paleo, I did my research and downloaded some food lists and frankly, was shocked at all the things that were not considered Paleo.  It was pretty much everything I had been eating: bread, pasta, potatoes, sugars, grains, etc.  It was daunting, and I didn’t begin by throwing out everything non-Paleo from my cupboards.  I started by eliminating one or two items: pasta and potatoes.  I stopped eating those, until I felt I had a handle on it and I wasn’t going crazy craving them.  Then I moved on to breads and crackers, and so on.  It took a few weeks (really more like months!)  before I had everything non-Paleo off my menu.  I didn’t “start over” if I slipped up and had a piece of garlic bread a week or so after I stopped eating bread; it was an anomaly, and I kept going forward.  I made note of how after eating it, I started craving it again, and how that was not a good thing, and it reminded me that was one of the reasons I stopped eating it!  Learning to eat according to whatever healthy plan you choose is the same as learning any new skill: it takes time and patience but with practice comes improvement.  Yes, there will be a few bumps in the road, but you don’t give up. Every master was first an apprentice.  At some point in his life, Michelangelo didn’t know the first thing about drawing or painting.  Mozart at one point knew nothing about music (although I think he was probably one year old at the time- prodigy!) The same was true of all the great artists, musicians and scientists.  Everyone starts at the beginning and works their way forward.  We don’t win when we reach our goal weight or bench press X lbs like we did in high school.  Fitting into our wedding dress or a size 6 doesn’t make us winners.  We win every day we get up and keep moving forward with putting our health first! Even if we have the birthday cupcake or the breakfast wrap, when we keep moving forward, we keep getting better; we keep winning!