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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional Eating: Dealing with Stress

This probably the most common excuse for overeating, eating the wrong foods or just plain bingeing. We either use food to distract us or comfort us. We want something yummy to make us feel good. It’s completely understandable: we’re anxious, uptight and we want those negative emotions to go away. Food is something that does that for us. Things like ice cream or chocolate or potato chips set off our pleasure center in the brain. It’s why we think of them as addictive. It doesn’t have to be sugary or salty: as long as they relieve our negative emotions, we will keep coming back to them when we feel the stress.

It’s easy to make healthy choices when we’re feeling good but once things start getting complicated, we feel it’s okay to ‘have a treat’ or ‘take a break,’ but actually it’s the worst thing we can do. Giving ourselves permission to make unhealthy choices, whether it’s cookies or skipping a workout, is simply reinforcing our old stress relieving routines which kept us from our fitness goals to begin with. There will always be stress in our lives: it’s an unhappy fact of life. Learning to change our habits in times of stress is another tough stressor but it’s a necessary one. Once we learn how not to stress-eat or make excuses, we make a quantum leap forward. Let’s be honest here: we’re under stress, we eat a stack of cookies, we feel better for the five-ten minutes it took to eat them, then we feel guilty about the cookies on top of the stress that started it all, then we worry over whether we’ve either stalled or gained weight. More stress and bad news!

There’s also the whole physical effects that come with our bad choices besides the stall/ gain. We usually don’t realize it until we get away from the poor choices, but things like chips, cookies, and other processed foods are ‘quick’ carbs. We use terms and phrases like ‘chocoholic’ or ‘sugar addiction’ and we’re not wrong: our bodies learn to crave the processed foods because they’re quick energy. One of the reasons they’re not good for us is because they spike our blood sugar, which is followed by a rapid drop, which results in the cravings for sugar or other quick carbs. These processed foods are full of calories but low in nutrition and they perpetuate our cravings. What about any of that is good for us? The less we eat of these foods, the less we crave them and once we lose our taste for them we realize a few things: we feel better physically and mentally when we don’t eat them. Unfortunately it’s not until we eat them again that we realize how just plain awful they make us feel compared to eating something healthier. They don’t taste as good as they used to, they’re not good for us and they make us feel ‘ugh.’ So, why are we eating them?? Because we were feeling stressed and that’s what we do when we’re stressed!

It’s a little bit of a catch-22: we’re freaking out over the negative emotions, so we go to what calms us down, but then we freak out because now we just ‘blew our diet’- no win situation.  But sometimes learning a new healthy habit doesn’t help either: we’re freaking out and we try the ‘healthy thing’ but it doesn’t really seem to help since it’s not the old comforting routine.  We’re still feeling the urge to do the ‘old habit,’ and we’re left stressing out with the negative emotions.  This transition period is usually where we give up and revert to the emotional eating we wanted to avoid.

It’s easy to sit here and say “stress isn’t an excuse! Don’t eat your emotions!”  In reality, when we are stressed, we aren’t thinking clearly because we’re under emotional duress (the fancy way of saying we’re freaking out!)  The law in fact recognizes this and makes exceptions to agreements made under emotional duress.  However, we have to be stronger than the negative emotions and learn new ways to cope with stress.  It’s not easy and it’s fun but until we learn how to deal with our bad habits and our negative emotions, we’re going to keep doing it. This is what makes that transition period so extremely difficult. Not only are we dealing with whatever triggered the stress response, but we’re trying to deal with learning new behaviors at the same time.  So in the middle of all of this emotional turmoil, we’re supposed to be clear-headed enough to tell ourselves to be patient and learn the new healthy habits because, in the long run, we’ll be better off.

Being a responsible adult really stinks at times and this is definitely one of those times! I vividly remember trying to be “responsible and healthy” about dealing with my stress and I still found myself staring into the fridge after the argument with my mom! I wasn’t hungry at all, but it was pretty easy to figure out what the trigger was! Luckily, I realized what I was doing and shut the door, but then, I was still left with the stress….

The first thing you need to realize is that screwing up isn’t the end of the world.  This is a learning situation, so there’s going to be mistakes and it’s going to be a little trial and error before you find out how to get over it.  The second thing you need to realize is that eating was your distraction from the negative emotions, so you are going to need to find a new distraction or learn to deal with the negative stress and emotions.  Obviously, learning to deal with the emotions is the best way to handle it, but until you do, you need to find a distraction that calms you down and doesn’t involve food!  Most people opt for exercise: it stimulates ‘feel good’ hormones and it burns calories.  Sometimes, however, when your body is occupied, your mind starts going to whatever you are trying to forget.  We all know how it is when we go to bed and then your day starts running through your head! I find this happens a lot to me when I start working out: body busy, brain not busy- so it goes right to whatever was bothering me! Sometimes it helps to focus on your form or counting your repetitions.

Even if you do opt for exercise as a distraction, it’s better to have more than one way of handling the stress.  We aren’t always going to be some place where we can start lifting or doing lunges or whatever we do when we exercise.  You need to have some other options available to you.  For some people, meditation works well because it teaches you focus on clearing your mind so you can relax instead of stress out. For other people, games, puzzles or reading work a little better since they distract the mind but require a little less practice at “thinking about nothing.”  It all depends on you. No doubt we all remember getting to the bottom of the page or the end of the chapter and have no recollection of what we just read: while our eyes were busy scanning the page, our brain was somewhere else!  This is actually the number one reason I had such a hard time (and still do) learning through audio. It’s much easier for me to dismiss what I’m hearing as background noise and focus on something else than it is for me to dismiss what I’m seeing or doing and focus on something in my head.  That was a good thing when I had to study in a noisy cafeteria as a kid but when I’m trying to listen to a book or a lecture, not so much!

This is where you need to spend a little time learning what works for you as a stress reliever.  Again, reading might not work so well but a puzzle or a game that forces you to focus might work a little better.  We all know there is no shortage of computer games and puzzles!  While playing a game to relax might seem like a waste of time, it’s really stress-management.  That’s why these games are so popular.  [Seriously, how many versions of ‘find the hidden object’ and ‘candy crush’ clones do we need?]  As a culture, we are super stressed! This is another reason why we eat so much.  It’s an easy thoughtless distraction.  Don’t think about the nasty letter we got from XYZ; think about the donut we’re going to get at the Krispy Kreme drive-thru on the way home! Don’t think about how we’re going to pay to fix the leaky shower: think about what we’re going to have for dinner instead! Games and puzzles are seen as a waste of time, like yoga and meditation.  It’s not for ‘serious minded business people.’  Somehow relaxation and stress-management have been overlooked by a lot of the health and nutrition industry, aright along with sleep, and are only now beginning to get the attention they deserve.  If we are so stressed out that we can’t sleep, that we are eating junk food to stay awake and distract ourselves from the unending stress, that our blood pressure is so high we’re in danger of a stroke, what difference does it make if we’re successful at our jobs?  One of my mom’s supervisors was someone who was a workaholic.  She was always working an extra shift and holidays because she wanted to have enough money put away for retirement with her husband.  It’s an admirable sentiment and one that most of us would agree with.  Unfortunately, a few months after she retired, she had a major stroke that left her paralyzed for the remaining few months of her life and her husband spent her retirement money taking trips with another woman.

We’ve all heard stories like that: “Mr. Jones worked hard all his life, and a few months after he retired, he died!!” Unfortunately, what we take away from those stories is “don’t retire! you’ll die!!”  The point is that the cumulative effect of chronic stress, chronic sleep deprivation and poor diet is what kills us. Learning to manage our stress has other benefits than just not overeating.  Once we learn to manage our negative emotions in healthy ways we not only lose weight, we allow ourselves to relax and heal mentally and physically.  We need to take the time to enjoy the life we have right now rather than kill ourselves working for the life we want to have when and if we live long enough to retire.

Weight Loss From the 438 lbs POV: Overwhelmed & Paralyzed

I vividly remember being here.  I’m miserable.  Everything hurts. I know I need to do something, but I don’t know what to do.  It’s an overwhelming and utterly hopeless feeling.  It’s that Deer in the Headlights paralysis: I know I need to move but I just can’t.

It’s easy to look back at this situation and think “just do something! anything!” But at the time, I was so busy being focused on the problem that I wasn’t looking at ways around the problem. This is where most of us start and after having been on this wild ride for a while, I think it’s the hardest part! It’s like looking at a pile of shattered glass and being told you need to reassemble the Baccarat vase it used to be! We’re looking at the mess we made of our own bodies and, while we know we need to fix it, we don’t know where or how to begin.

Newton’s First Law of Physics: A body at rest stays at rest and a body in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted on by an external force.  I lucked out: an external force acted upon me and literally pushed me down the road to weight loss.  I would love to say that I found my way out of the headlights and figured out how to get started on my own, but truthfully, I got a helpful push, even though it didn’t really feel ‘helpful’ at the time.  This push (quitting the Job From Hell) required that I make essentially one change to my eating habits: I stopped eating out as much (unemployed- so no money!)  I was still eating out, still eating processed junk food, but it was less.  That one change alone is how I lost the first 40 lbs.  After that, I was a body in motion and all I had to do was stay in motion.

It’s getting in motion that is the hard part! We are fighting not only the inertia and the bad habits that have become deeply ingrained in our daily routines but also the feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed.  I can give you a whole bunch of descriptive metaphors, but most of us have been in that spot and are already too familiar with how it feels.  We’re trying to forget that feeling!

My advice: do something! anything! even if it’s the WRONG thing, it gets you in motion, and once there, you are literally on a roll.  Once you are headed somewhere, it’s easier to change direction than it is to start up again from a stopped position.  Of course, bouncing from one strategy to another isn’t helpful either but once you find something that works for you, it’s still easier to stick with that one strategy than to start from scratch again.

However, before you deal with that possibility, you first have to get moving, and that’s way easier said than done!  It’s NOT impossible and I don’t want to scare the living daylights out of you by telling you how hard it is, but I think recognizing that it’s not easy either gives you a better perspective and a better starting position.  I was listening to a podcast the other day where the host and his guest were giggling over how sometimes people overlook the simple fixes in favor of the more complex ‘fashionable’ trend of the day: “you want to lose weight? Track your calories! Fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight!” While it’s hard to argue with his logic, there was a part of me that was really offended by his attitude.  Yes, I agree with tracking; it helps with a lot of things besides calorie counting.  I also agree that trying the simple fix first is a better position than going for ‘fashionably complex and trendy.’  What offended me was his attitude that being stuck means you’re being stupid about it.  Personally, I was also offended by his attitude that low carb dieting is one of those fashionably complex temporary fixes.

I tried for more years than I want to admit to lose weight counting calories and eating those healthy whole grains, and it got me nowhere.  I tried the ‘simple fix’ and it didn’t work, so now what?  Being stuck and being overwhelmed does not make you stupid or hopeless, though the world is pretty good at making sure you think you are (like these two gigglers!) It means that your problem- your weight and your body- are not like the run-of-the-mill dieters out there.

Looking back from the vantage point of being un-stuck, I can see where I made my biggest blunder, and it was focusing on the problem!  Realizing that is one of those Homer Simpson moments for me (D’oh!! **smack**) because problem-solving is actually one of my better skills, but not with weight loss apparently.  I was looking at my weight- the number on the scale- and I was so focused on “OMG, I am so huge I will never be a normal weight or healthy again!”  What I should have been focused on was “what is one change I can make to improve my nutrition?” Wrong focus: “I’ve tried Nutrisystem; I’ve tried counting calories and nothing works for me!” Better focus: “Those don’t work so what haven’t I tried?”

It’s the difference between staying in motion and staying at rest. It’s easy to stay at rest, not moving, fretting over my weight and how “nothing works!”  You get so worked up but you aren’t actually moving- it just feels like you are.  Actually doing something is much harder.  It requires effort; it requires hope.  You have to hope that this next thing will work and then you actually have to try it!   Yes, the effort to get moving is a lot greater because you have been standing still, but you are worth that effort! It takes work to get moving.  It takes work to look for new strategies, and there’s a lot of energy invested not only in looking and hoping but also the doing. As I said, I vividly remember being in that position, so much so that I remember what street I was driving down when I was trying to talk myself into just giving up and being fat and unhealthy the rest of my miserable life.

There are some things in life that we all know are a real pain in the butt and are a major hassle: things like changing jobs, moving, repainting and remodeling your home.  We have jokes about them, like how all our friends are out of town the week you have to move into the new apartment.  We expect that it’s a hassle so we kind of mentally and sometimes physically prepare ourselves for it.  We toughen up and go into it with a “get it done!” attitude and if we are tired and sore from lugging boxes and packing up stuff, we expect it and deal with it.  It’s the cost of moving to a new place!  We don’t think of losing weight like that, and I think that’s why we are overwhelmed and confused.

“Why is this so hard?”  That’s what I remember thinking over and over again. I felt so powerless to do anything about my weight. Trying to find something new, even the thought of just trying again felt so hard, and everything in my head kept telling me that ‘weight loss shouldn’t be hard!’  It was like the giggling podcast guest was in my head back then: “just count calories!” Yeah… doesn’t work, jerk! Sometimes it takes a bit more than just ‘the simple fix!’

Getting started is both hard and easy: getting yourself in motion is hard because you are fighting the inertia, the feelings of hopelessness and powerless, the realization that it’s going to be a long hard fight, but you only need to make one change.  That’s the easy part. Make one healthy improvement to your nutrition.  It doesn’t have to be something major or something complex or awe-inspiring: it just has to be something better than what you are doing now.  With me, it was simply eating out less.  Not even ‘no eating out’- just ‘less than what I was doing before.’  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) made a similar change with fast food when she started.  That one change for me and for her started us moving and once in motion, we stayed in motion.

When we take the right approach to the task at hand, I think we are better prepared for the obstacles that come up along the way.  Thinking something is going to be easy and then finding out it’s much harder than we anticipated can knock us on our butts, and once down, we are tempted to stay there.  When we realize that the job is going to be  a tough one, we are better prepared and we expect that problems will arise: we start looking for ways to head them off.  Losing weight is not the no-brainer some of the supposed professionals tell us it is, but neither is it an impossibility.  It’s a hard job, but it’s one we can all do if we prepare for it and do the work.  We may get knocked down a few times (I know I’ve kissed the canvas quite a lot!) but once down, we need to get back up.  Remember: a moving target is harder to hit!

 

 

Watch Where You’re Going! Looking Up From Our Devices

This one probably sounds like it’s got nothing to do with weight loss, but our devices are insidious little creatures that really eat at different aspects of our lives.  Our health is just one of those things that slowly gets ground up by them.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of commercials that involve the family piled in the car and everyone is wearing headphones staring at their devices.  I heard a recent podcast where the two hosts were sharing an Uber with another woman who was too busy swiping on her dating app to look up at the two eligible young men in the car with her.  Myself, I’ve seen scores of men and women walking along the street, in the gym or in the stores, headphones attached, eyes glued on their devices. I really don’t need to tell you this is unhealthy behavior.

For starters, it’s just not safe to be walking through traffic and not paying attention.  That falls under the “Duhhh!” category.  You don’t even have to be plugged into your phone to do that: I was recently driving up the side street to our parking lot when a gardener with his blower on and his earplugs in stepped backwards WITHOUT LOOKING into the street! He nearly hit ME because he was not paying attention! I’ve seen so many pedestrians crossing streets without looking, run into people and things on the sidewalk because their eyes were glued to their phones. I can’t begin to count the ways you can be hurt doing that!

The one that really makes me laugh is when they are doing it in the gym.  Where’s the logic in that?: Hmm, let’s go work out and spend an hour sitting in the lounge not working out because I’m glued to my phone! Granted, I see lots of people busy on the machines, weights and treadmills with their headphones attached as they are working out, and I think that’s great! If you’re taking your phone to the gym, that’s how it should be used, but sitting around in the locker room, the lounge or out front doing nothing but texting or swiping over and over again is a waste of your gym time.  Unless you’re trying to find out where your gym buddy is (and how long does that take?), you’ll have spent an hour in the gym sitting around doing nothing! A good healthy use of your time? Not hardly!

The one that really bugs me is when the families are in the car and everyone is doing something on their devices: “let’s get together and ignore each other as a family!” Really, people? I remember when car makers began putting DVD players in the cars so the kids/ people in the back could watch a movie on the way.  I remember thinking then that was not a good idea.  Parents love it for one simple reason: “are we there yet??” Yes, it puts an end to whining and complaining, but it also kills any family interaction. When we used to take car trips (way back in the Olden Days), we used to listen to the radio and sing along badly; we’d play games like License Plate Alphabet or Landmarks.  Maybe it wasn’t as exciting as watching the latest Fast & Furious or playing Candy Crush or whatever on your device, but at least my family spent some time talking to each other.

This might seem like it doesn’t have a lot to do with weight loss, but it’s part of our overall health.  Sitting around at home, in the gym or wherever, while you’re glued to your device isn’t healthy because #1) you are sitting!  Even if you are walking in traffic, you might be walking, but you aren’t looking where you are going!  #2) That bent over posture isn’t healthy: your neck and shoulders are rounded and it limits your ability to move (don’t believe me? Read Kelly Starrett’s Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World!) Our devices are destroying our mobility.  #3) The artificial blue light emitted by those devices are playing havoc with our circadian rhythms.  We are up all night scrolling through Instagram instead of sleeping and when we try to sleep, we are lying there awake because we’ve wired up our brains. Our body is interpreting the blue light as daylight, so it’s time to be awake, even if it’s 3:30 a.m.  Our brains think it’s daytime when humans should be awake.  #4) We are sacrificing our human interactions and relationships.  When is it better to meet people via an app instead of interacting with real live people? Again, there are the half-funny commercials where family members are texting each other across the breakfast table. They are only half funny because people really do it: let me send you a text instead of actually talking to you, even if you are in the same room with me!

The cumulative effect of too much device-focused living is becoming more and more apparent.  The obesity and lack of mobility is what most people think of: we are out of shape, unable to do simple physical activity and the physical stress of sitting with rounded shoulders and repetitive stress injury on our hands and wrists is showing up in younger and younger patients.  Not to mention the PSA (public service announcements) directed both at drivers and pedestrians about watching out for the phone-focused person on the street and in the car! Again: “Duhhh!” category!  We are chronically sleep deprived because we are too busy binge-watching, streaming something, Facebooking/ Instagramming or playing games instead of sleeping.  The lack of sleep takes a toll on the brain and the body: we have chronic brain fog, inability to focus and fall asleep at our desks because we were too busy watching silly cat videos on YouTube.  (I love a cat video as much as the next person, but at 1:00 a.m.???) Human interaction seems like the least important aspect: “But I am making contact with other people through my phone!”  I’m sorry but that is not actual interaction- you are interacting with a device! We are becoming increasingly isolated and humans have developed as social creatures.  Biologists have noted that animals that are social creatures, such as birds, primates and canines, feel stressed when they are isolated.  They will bond with other creatures in order to secure that feeling of being part of a group. (Check out all of those funny animal friends videos- that’s why they’re together!) As a college student, we watched the video of the baby chimp in the enclosure with two fake mothers: one was a wire framework with a bottle of milk attached and the other was a wire framework covered in fur.  The baby chimp spent all its time clinging to the fur covered mother and only went to the milk-mother when it was hungry.  Honestly, it broke my heart seeing that poor baby missing its mother.  We are not so different: being alone stresses us as social creatures.  We need actual interaction that involves hearing, seeing and touching!  (Robb Wolf brings this up in Wired to Eat.)  I admit that I am also not good at this: I am well aware that relationships are a major stressor for most people, including me!  I substitute a lot of my human interaction with my pets (natural stress relievers).  Although I do make a point of spending time with the people who are important to me (and NOT via the phone/ device), I also spend a lot of one on one time with my pets. In fact, my pets are pretty good at shoving the device out of my face so I can pay attention to them! When they do, I put the device away.  After all, they did ask me nicely!

I know this seems like a bit of a rant, but when we are stressed, not sleeping and certainly not being active, do you think we are losing weight and eating healthy? Nope! Do you think we are making good food choices when we are exhausted, stressed and feeling cruddy? Also, nope!Our body interprets the stress and the lack of sleep as an emergency situation and we are not burning fat, but storing it instead! It’s a simple fix: put the device away at certain times of the day, like being in the gym or before you go to bed or frankly, just turn it off at dinner and leave it off so you can spend time with the family, wind down and get some sleep! You can binge Breaking Bad together another time! Instead, spend some time with the real people in your life!

It’s Time to Eat! So Should I? Umm, Maybe…..

This really seems like a complete no-brainer.  Unless you’re fasting, most of us don’t even think about it: it’s lunch time, it’s dinner time, it’s time for breakfast, so let’s eat! We usually don’t stop to think: am I actually hungry?  Even if we do, I have learned that my body will lie to me and, sometimes, my body gets tricked. Smelling food, especially if it’s something we really like, is one of the ways we get tricked into thinking we are hungry.  We’re sitting in traffic and the wonderful smell of Chinese food wafts in through the vents.  After a couple of minutes our stomach growls and we start thinking “I’m kinda hungry.”  We probably really aren’t hungry- we’ve just smelled something that’s triggering our digestive hormones and enzymes.  It’s a biological reaction: food is available so eat it!

My body will also lie to me by telling me I’m hungry, even if I’m not,  because it is “time to eat!” I’ve noticed it happens a lot around lunch time and again about 3:00 p.m. I call it ‘snack memory.’ Lunch time is pretty obvious, but I usually get off work about 3:00 and this is when I normally make a Starbucks run or if I stop for gas, I’d get sunflower seeds or some jerky.  So in addition to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, my stomach expects a snack around 3:00!  The funny thing is that if I tell my stomach no, I stop being hungry about about 20 minutes or so.  That’s how I know it’s not “real hunger”  and I think that’s the important difference.

We’ve pretty much been taught to eat according the to clock rather than determining whether we’re actually hungry.  We’ve also been taught to eat in certain situations.  We meet up with friends and they’re all drinking mochas, lattes and having brownies: want a brownie? Sure!  It’s polite.  Saying no draws attention to you ‘being good’ or ‘being on a diet.’  Why can’t I just not be hungry? It’s a social situation, so coffee, drinks, snacks are expected.  It’s how we socialize, so there’s a feeling of ‘not being social’ if you say no to whatever your friends are having.

It’s a catch-22: if we listen to our body when it says it’s hungry, we’d eat every time we smelled something good or food was available (isn’t that how I got to be 438 lbs?!) or we don’t eat when we’re hungry and eat when ‘it’s time’ instead (even when I’m not hungry??) So how do we find the right answer? Is there a ‘right’ answer? If it sounds like I’m being obnoxious, maybe I am a little, but as fitness and nutrition consumers, we’re constantly bombarded by advice along these lines: eat when you’re hungry! eat on schedule! And after being utterly confused by the internet, we decide to ask a live health care professional, like our doctor.  Doctors unfortunately are pretty much in the same boat we are in.  Unless they have a specialty in diet and nutrition, most of them have had about 12 to 24 hours of nutrition education.  (That’s about one semester to give you some perspective.)  They are as confused as we are, so don’t be surprised if they refer you to a nutritionist or a dietician.  Even then, the question of when to eat is less of a issue for them than what you eat.

I’ve listened to many experts discuss the merits of fasting, eating on a schedule, and eating only when you’re hungry. There are those who insist that we need to eat three times a day with snacks in between.  The logic is that eating on a schedule keeps your metabolism ‘revved up.’  I’ve also heard experts say that eating on a schedule or when you aren’t hungry keeps your body from burning any stored body fat, because rather than letting it draw from its stores (ie the fat in you’re trying to lose), you keep fuel in the bloodstream (that snack you just ate). They argue that constantly feeding your body keeps your glucose high and promotes fat storage rather than fat burning.  It also keeps you craving foods on a regular basis (like my 3:00 p.m. snack memory).

There are those who promote eating only when you’re hungry (also called intuitive eating).  Your body knows when it needs fuel and when you’re legitimately hungry (not tempted by sights, smells or snack memory), you are feeding your body appropriately.  They argue this means that your body has burned through whatever fuel is in the bloodstream from your last meal or snack and now it needs more.

Then there are the fasting advocates. When most of them talk about fasting, they mean Intermittent Fasting (IF), which can take different forms.  The one most of us are familiar with is pretty simple: you limit your ‘feeding window’ to certain hours and don’t take in any calories the rest of the time.  Example: you only eat all your calories for the day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the rest of the time you fast.  Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn’t it?  The fasting experts say this is pretty much what we did in ‘the old days,’ and that’s why we were a lot healthier.  (It’s kind of hard for me to argue with that because it’s what my grandfather did and he lived a long healthy life to age 96!)  Another way to do Intermittent Fasting is what they call ‘alternate day fasting,’ which is just like it sounds: you eat on Monday, fast on Tuesday and so on.  There are also other patterns like five days eating and two days fasting, etc.  Most fasting proponents like to move the hours or days around to suit their lifestyles, and there are some who are also fans of ‘extended fasting,’ as in not eating for several days at a time. (If you think fasting might be something you want to try, the best book on the topic is The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmie Moore.)

Then there are those who just offer advice, such as don’t eat within three hours of bedtime, or eat your biggest meal in the early part of the day, or wait until noon or later to eat instead of eating breakfast. As if eating weren’t complicated enough!

Having listened to lots of experts and their arguments, my own choice is to eat on a loose schedule with a little IF thrown in.  Truthfully, the IF tends to happen more if I am some place that doesn’t have great food choices for me or if I am caught up in the middle of something.  For me, eating every two hours is a recipe for disaster (yeah, it’s a bad if apropos pun!) It keeps me feeling hungry and my energy level (ie blood sugar) tends to crash if I can’t or don’t eat ‘on schedule.’  There are some days when I don’t exactly ‘fast,’ but my calorie intake is less than normal simply because I’m not hungry or I’m just too busy or there isn’t anything available that I like or want to eat.  There is also the flip side: days when I eat a little bit more than normal because I’m really hungry.  [I’d like to say that all these ‘experts’ agree on how much we should eat, but again there are those who say we should eat to satiety (no longer hungry but not full), and those that say we should eat a minimum number of calories daily or we start breaking down our muscle tissue to burn that! Another argument for another day!]

The best common sense advice I can give you: do what works best for you and fits best into your lifestyle.  I tried some of the more conventional methods of IF, and it just doesn’t work out for me.  However, it works out great for my sister and some of my fitness friends.  I also know people who eat according to a schedule and they are successfully losing weight.  The only thing they all have in common is that they are doing what works best for them.  I know this seems like a cop-out answer, but it’s the only answer that works for you.  We each respond better to different foods so why should it be so odd that we each respond better to different eating schedules?  This is one of the reasons so many of us have trouble losing weight: we try to cram our needs into someone else’s schedules.  If eating intuitively is working for you, then stick with it! If it’s not having the results you want, then find something you like better. Too many of us are looking for The Right Answer and there are a lot of companies that will happily sell it to you with no guarantees attached! Their Answers tend to be quick simple little Cookie-Cutter plans.  Unfortunately, I’ve never met any Cookie-Cutter people.

 

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

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

No Man is an Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Road Trip, Anyone? Traveling and Staying on the Path to Weight Loss

Summer is here and with it comes all the family road trips and vacations.  For most of us who are trying to lose weight and be more fit, it’s a time full of either anxiety or wild abandon, followed by crushing regret upon our return home.  We love going on vacation but we never know what to do when it comes to food.  Exercise usually isn’t a problem, because even if we are booked somewhere that doesn’t have a gym, there’s usually a lot of walking that comes with a vacation.  It’s the food that is almost always the elephant in the room!

Road Trips: For probably more than half of our vacations, there is some kind of road trip involved, anything from a few hours to a few days.  I’ve been seeing a lot of posts from my fitness friends in MFP (My Fitness Pal): “help! we’re driving to XYZ!” Road trips are a common excuse for poor food choices: we’re stuck in a car and most of the time when we stop to get something to eat, choices tend to be pretty limited.  If we are with family, especially kids, then most of the time our food options are limited to whatever is quick, easy and we know the kids will eat without too much fuss.  A lot of times, it’s also whatever we can eat in the car as we’re driving.  Those options are usually pretty limited: burgers and fries immediately pop to mind!

But your weight loss goals aren’t doomed, even if you are on a road trip! Yes, it’s a little tougher, but there are some options.  The easiest is to take some healthy food with you.  I was listening to an audio book yesterday where the author suggested the same thing, but frankly, I was a little appalled at his idea- seriously, it involved an entire suitcase full of food, including a cardboard tube full of avocados! Definitely not a good idea! Depending on what your goals are, you may need to bring a small cooler or a lunchbag, but probably not more than that unless you are packing food for the whole family, which may not be a bad idea. The last time I took a road trip (it was an 8 hour drive followed by a three day weekend at a hotel without a gym and an 8 hour return drive), I brought bags of nuts, sunflower seeds, some dried fruit, some beef jerky, and some water.  None of these needed a cooler and, other than the bottles of water (a 6 pack) they weren’t too bulky.  These could also be picked up at most gas stations along the way.

Most major highways also have travel centers such as Love’s, Pilot, and Travel America.  These are bigger better versions of the old-fashioned ‘truck stop,’ offering gas, food and other amenities (such as showers and laundry) for people who literally live on the road.  The nice thing about them is that they have more food options than just burgers and fries and most of them have a small market available with options like cheese snacks or fresh fruit.  While the restaurants still tend to be quick and easy, one of the better options is Subway.  While a sandwich may not be in keeping with your goals if you are eating low carb or keto, I think they have better salad and protein options than just a burger or a formerly frozen chicken breast.  Even if the only food option is something like a burger or taco place, most of them still offer some kind of salad, and a lot of them do the ‘lettuce wrap’ sandwich option too.  Some of my favorite fast food places are Subway and also Arby’s (they have good side salad and if you do opt for a sandwich, their classic roast beef isn’t drowned in sugary sauces).

Hotels & Resorts: If you are the one making the hotel accommodations, you have a few choices.  Most hotels have a microwave and a small refrigerator in the rooms.  Marriott Residence Inns actually have small kitchens which are a great idea, especially if you are going to be there for a while. If possible, opt for one of those, since you won’t be stuck with takeout/ delivery or eating out. While the rooms may or may not be more expensive, you can usually make up the difference by buying groceries and preparing them in the suite. Also, anything non-perishable can either be eaten on the way back or once you get home.  These are especially good choices if you are eating a special diet or if someone in your family has a food allergy.

Even if you are stuck eating out or getting delivery, there are still some better options than pizza or Chinese, although most pizza places also deliver salads and if you get Chinese, you don’t have to eat the rice or noodles.  There are a lot of services, like Grub Hub or Food To You, that will deliver food from a real restaurant for a fee.  That means you can order something healthier and have it delivered if you opt not to go out.  If you do opt to go out, then you’re making the same choices that you normally would make at a restaurant.  If you don’t have a lot of experience eating out, check out the menu online if you can and don’t be afraid to ask the waiter or the chef about the food and how it’s prepared! You are the customer and you are paying for it! If it makes it easier for you, tell the waiter that you have an allergy or a medical condition- sometimes they are more forthcoming if you do!

Once you reach your destination, your hotel may or may not have a gym or a pool available.  This is something you can check on prior to your arrival and if your vacation is not going to include a lot of exercise, then you can pack something light such as resistance bands or a jump rope.  (One of the podcasters I listen to brings her kettlebell if she’s traveling by car so she can use it in her hotel room.)  The last hotel I stayed at was actually the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.  The only gym on the premises was the replica of the gym available for passengers when the ship was in action, but I seriously think no gym was needed.  Just walking around the ship was plenty of exercise (my Fitbit logged 12 miles in 2 days!)

If your vacation is actually a cruise, then you have the best and the worst of both worlds! Cruises usually have an enormous variety of buffets on board, almost 24 hour food! While it’s Temptation City, it’s also a huge variety of healthy choices also. You can pick and choose what you want to eat, so even though the dessert buffet can be pure agony, there’s usually a whole smorgasbord of better choices.  Cruise ships, besides being huge and involving a lot of walking, also have excellent gyms, so you can work off those temptations too!

Vacation Rules: Ultimately, you are going to be making the same choices on vacation that you make when you’re at home.  While your choices may be a little more limited, they aren’t all that different.  When you go out to eat on a weekend, weekday or vacation, there are choices on the menu.  The same goes when you are at a grocery store or running errands with the kids: the food is there and you have to make a choice.  Most people dread vacation because they think they either have to give in to temptation and ‘be bad,’ or they have to deprive themselves and ‘ruin their vacation.’  You don’t have to do either- make the same choices you’d make while at home, whether it’s indulging in a little cheesecake or chocolate or saying no to them.  Make the choices that make you feel good about yourself and when you get home, the only dirty laundry you’ll be unpacking won’t include any Food Guilt!

 

We Get What We Pay For, But Do We Know What We Are Buying?

When you are on a fitness or weight loss journey, we are used to taking the budget approach to calories and fitness. A lot of our calorie calculators look like a long math problem: 1200 calories + 1350 food = -150 calories + 400 exercise = 250 calories left over. Yes! I can eat that 200 calorie cup of yogurt after dinner! It’d be nice if it really was so simple, but the truth is that metabolism isn’t so cut and dry, and more than food and exercise affect it. 

What we don’t realize is that almost everything we do in our lives has a cost and a consequence, whether weight related or not.  Relationships, work, food, exercise, and every day life: they all have a cost in our lives and a lot of times, that cost is hidden. 

We’re get used to looking at labels and putting on our activity trackers with our watch or jewelry. We diligently log our food and water, and we make a point of getting more sleep. These are all good healthy habits we should be proud of, but when it comes to the stress in our lives, we don’t see it as something with a cost, or at least a cost that can be controlled. 

Stress, both good and bad, is a normal part of life. That’s a given but we don’t always think about the effects stress has on us or on our health, fitness and weight loss. Even ‘good stress’ like exercise or a vacation trip, puts pressure on our health. We’ve all heard the expression “a vacation from the vacation.” It’s because the packing, the traveling, the being away from home, and then all the unpacking, laundry, and fitting back into every day life: you guessed it! There’s stress! Even if the vacation was wonderful and relaxing, getting back into your routine can take some work. 

There are other stressors in our lives we may not recognize, like helping someone out. Even something as simple as picking up someone’s mail or feeding their cat while they’re gone can be a stress, especially if you already have a busy schedule. It’s one more thing to get into your day, and the more of those “little easy things” you add to your day, the more stress you are under. We’re used to thinking of calories and exercise adding up, but stress also has a cumulative effect. 

When we don’t manage our stress like we manage the rest of our health, simply put we are buying trouble. Managing our stress can be as simple as not cramming our schedule full to bursting, even if it’s “healthy” stress like exercise. (That’s why we need recovery/ rest days.) “Fun stress” also takes a toll, if you finish the end of every day or every weekend exhausted. Stress relieving activities don’t have to be things like yoga or meditation: they can be simple things like walking the dog, taking the kids to the park, or just spending some leisurely time in the pool. Other choices: doing a puzzle or crossword, getting a manicure, reading a book. Essentially, if it’s something you enjoy that’s restful, then you need to make time for it in your schedule on a regular basis, but cramming it in just so you have “stress relief” may work against you. These should be activities that don’t really have a timer attached. 

We know there’s limits on our calories and our time for sleep and exercise, but they are also limits on how much stress we can handle. We’re mindful of things like gluten, sugar, and overtraining, but we also need to be mindful of what else we sign up for when we sign up for the other non-health activities in our lives. 

When We Believe Our Own Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Choosing Independence- It’s Worth The Battle!

One of the things I hear a lot on weight loss shows is “I have no choice!”  Whether it’s having to eat the junk food that their family likes, that’s available at the office, that they have no time to be more active, etc.  It’s not their fault because they don’t have a choice.  Another complaint I hear a lot of is that their weight is something that “happened” to them.  Both of these are common complaints/ excuses on My 600 lb Life– new word ‘explaints’! The patients often act like they are victims, either of whatever event “happened” to them or of their family’s poor eating habits.  The irony is that when you talk to the family members, you get a different story at least in regards to the eating habits: “if you come back without the food he/ she wants, he/ she gets really angry!”

I don’t deny that many of them have been the victims of some terrible events, whether abuse or rape or whatever, but we all have choices when it comes to dealing with trauma.  Not all of us handle it well. I personally am the queen of avoidance- I can ‘not-see’ some really big events in my life! I also recognize that choosing to avoid the issue isn’t the best way to handle it. When I do look at it and feel the stress and other negative emotions that come along with dealing with the problem, yes, I made it worse by not dealing with it.  Yes, it is my problem and if I continue to avoid it, it’s only going to get worse. It may have been something that started with an event that really did happen to me, but my avoiding it and not dealing with it has only made the problem worse, and that exacerbation was my choice!  Let me say boil that down: the ultimate exacerbation is the result of my choice not to deal with the issue.

So, something traumatic happened, and for most of these patients, their choice was to eat to avoid the problem.  Now they are 600/ 700/ 800 lbs and it’s not their fault.  This is the result of their parents’ divorce, the abusive father, the sexual trauma, etc.  They complain that this isn’t the life they wanted.  They can’t do anything and they have no life at all.  “If XYZ hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be trapped in this bed.”

Fifteen years ago, I was trapped in a bed.  I weighed somewhere between 350-385 lbs and I broke my arm and leg.  As a result, I needed surgery to fix the broken bones and was stuck in a bed for almost four months.  I needed help to do just about everything: bathing, dressing, eating- everything! It was a truly horrible experience for me. I hated every minute of it and the thought of using my injuries as an excuse to stay in bed and be waited on and cared for like an invalid (even though I was an invalid!) never occurred to me.  Getting out of that bed ASAP was my choice, even though it required a lot of hard work. I had to have surgery to have hardware installed (I’ve got a pin holding my lower leg together and a plate with five screws in my wrist) and then I had nearly six weeks of physical therapy. It was years before my wrist was ‘normal’ again although my leg healed a lot faster.  I could have said: “this accident happened to me and now I’m trapped in bed with these injuries.  It hurts too much to try to get up because I’ve been trapped here for so long.”  It really was painful to move around after laying in bed for six weeks waiting for my wounds to heal. I couldn’t put any weight on the leg until the doctor was able to confirm that the bone had healed and my wrist was so stiff, I couldn’t bend it at all or even use my fingers much.  I remember the first day I tried walking with a walker after the doctor gave me the okay- it was so exhausting just trying to walk, and it hurt my wrist too since I had to use a walker! I could have given up and gone back to the bed. It could have been me saying “I have no life. If this accident hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t be trapped in this bed!” Instead I chose to work harder to get better.

This isn’t about how “wow, I’m so tough and I did all the hard work! Aren’t I just awesome!” It’s about picking your battles.  I chose to fight for my independence, because for me, the thought of being helpless and trapped in a bed was a truly horrifying thought- not exxagerrating!  It was pretty much the worst thing that could happen to me, in my eyes.  By contrast, I have seen some of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients fight to stay in their beds!  The irony is that they fight so hard to stay helpless and stay trapped in a situation they claim to hate, and if they used that strength and determination to work on simply standing up, they would be out of that bed in short order.  They are choosing the wrong battle!

The same thing is true of eating choices.  They fight for their helplessness when it comes to the “junk food.”  They argue that they have to eat what the family feeds them and the family insists they want the junk food.  If they argued with the family for the better choices that they insist they really want, they would get the better choices.  If they fought harder to be more mobile and more independent, then “what the family chooses to feed them” would not even be an issue: they could go get what they wanted on their own!

We all have these same battles in our own lives: the work meeting where everyone is eating donuts or get-together where everyone is eating fast food; the days when our obligations fill up our schedules and our planned activities get shoved to the side.  This is where we have our choices: either fight for what we want, take what everyone gives us or find a compromise.  I’ve learned to compromise at get-togethers where food choices may not be the greatest; I’ve learned to reschedule workouts when the day goes sideways; and there are some days when I just plain lose the fight.  The battle is sometimes lost, but the war goes on: I will keep fighting to make my own choices.  It may not seem like it’s a big deal: “we’re having takeout because that’s what they want and I don’t want to make a fuss! They don’t like ‘eating healthy.'” It’s when this becomes your default mindset that it becomes a big deal! You can always choose to say no; you can always choose to stand up for what you want and deserve.  When you choose to give up your autonomy (independence), it’s hard to complain about what they give you.  You’ve already given up that option. I’m sure most of us have had the experience where you’ve asked someone what they wanted and they’ve said “surprise me!” How many times were they not happy with their surprise? They had a choice and they abdicated responsibility! They made it your decision! Don’t let someone else make your decision for you, whether it’s what to eat, how to live or what to do.  Your independence is worth fighting for, because you really fighting for your life!