Getting Away With Nothing!: Weight Loss & Fooling Yourself

We’ve all lied to ourselves when it comes to our weight and what we are eating. We tell ourselves that having another dinner roll isn’t going to be the end of the diet. We convince ourselves that we really deserve a treat for being so good.  My personal favorite is “I’ll be better tomorrow so I can have the bagel today!” Except tomorrow, there is something else that looks really good, so…… ‘tomorrow’ again?

We really want to believe what we tell ourselves when we say we will be better tomorrow because we really do mean it, but along with ‘meaning it,’ there is also that little voice that says our excuse is just that: an excuse to get what we want! Do we need that piece of bread and butter? No, we don’t but we really really want it! Did we have to buy those Girl Scout cookies? Of course not! We could have just made a donation and walked away without them except that we really really wanted them! It’s the same process when we come up with excuses to bail on our workouts or anything else we don’t want to do! Even if we don’t really believe our own lies, we think we are fooling others and getting away with something. Nope! The truth is we aren’t fooling anyone, let alone ourselves!

The biggest lie we tell ourselves has to do with changing our eating habits. How we eat has everything to do with weight loss and our health, and if we aren’t going to make the necessary changes, we are wasting our time. The dinner roll, the bagel, the brownie, the ‘being better tomorrow’: all of those habits and excuses need to change for anything positive to happen!

You can call it a Pity Party or Crocodile Tears, but it’s all the same: “poor pitiful me!” At one time or another, almost all of us have used our diets or our weight as an excuse to get what we want.  In a recent episode of My 600 lb Life, Dr. Nowzaradan’s patient Maja was very good at crying on command to try getting pity from others.  When she falls in the parking garage, once she is back on her feet, she immediately starts crying. When her boyfriend asks why, she says “Because that was really hard and embarrassing!” When she returns to the rental car counter, she explains about her fall and starts crying again.  When Dr. Nowzaradan calls her on her weight gain, she turns on the tears right away.  He points out later that her tears are analogous to a child getting caught at the cookie jar: she’s sorry that she got caught, not that she ate the cookies!

We aren’t sorry we ate the cookies either, or the dinner roll or the bagel: what we are sorry about is that those extra calories and carbs are going to get in the way of our weight loss! We ate them; we liked them and we aren’t sorry! However, we try fooling ourselves and others by saying we were really hungry or we’d been very good or that ‘one’ won’t make a big difference. That’s true: one won’t make a difference, but it isn’t just one, is it?

The irony is that when we make excuses about how hard it is to stick to a diet, to build new habits or to exercise more, those statements aren’t lies. When we start out on a diet, healthy habits or being more active, it is hard– at first! Eating healthier takes a little practice and it’s easy to slip back into our comfort zone full of mac & cheese and garlic bread. It’s easy to forget to go to the gym, to turn off the phone and go to bed, to drink more water.  It’s hard because we are still learning the habit, but the only way to learn a new habit (or new anything) is to practice it! That means, those excuses really are excuses even though it really is hard! The fact that it’s hard just means we have to keep trying harder.

Not practicing your new habit is a self-fulfilling prophecy: eating healthy is hard so I don’t eat healthy, so it continues to be hard, so I continue not eating healthy because it’s still so hard and so on and so on until you wake up one day and wonder how you got to be 440 lbs! The fact that it is hard is true, but it’s NOT an excuse! Yes, it is hard work but –not a news flash here– the more we do it, the easier it gets! As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) points out often, ‘easy is earned.’ You want your healthy new diet to be easy? Then practice it! You want to make it to the gym regularly? Then you need to make a practice of getting to the gym regularly! What we do often tends to be easy but until then, it takes work and work, especially if it’s hard, can be a real hassle. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, though!

For most of us, we like to frame our new habits as positive statements.  We write them down and put them where we can see them to remind ourselves of the things we should be doing now, such as “I am eating healthier!” and “I go to the gym regularly!” These perky positive mantras work for a lot of people but have you ever tried phrasing these ideas in the negative? Such as “I don’t eat junk food,” or “I don’t blow off the gym”? Those statements can be just as effective or maybe more so.  Eating three cookies is healthier than eating the whole box, but if your statement is “I don’t eat sugar,” then you just caught yourself in a lie. If you keep” postponing” your workout, aren’t you really blowing off the gym? That is using the truth to kick your mental butt into gear instead of using the truth to let you slide some more!

Telling yourself that ‘it’s hard to give up junk food’ isn’t a reason to eat junk food: it’s an excuse to eat the Taco Bell you really want.  We trick ourselves into believing we are doing better when we are really just making it tougher. Yes, it is hard to change your habits and it is easier to eat the foods we always have, but excuses like “it’s hard” aren’t fooling anyone.  Until we are sorry we ate the cookies, it’s going to stay hard and all the crocodile tears in the world aren’t going to change that fact.

Going It Alone?: Weight Loss & The Support Group

There are a lot of people who roll their eyes when you ask them if they get any support when it comes to weight loss. There is a spectrum when it comes to the idea of Support: one extreme feels support is for ninnies and the other are those who are desperate for the support.  There are people who are perfectly okay with eating differently than everyone else in the house and won’t have any trouble saying no thanks to tortilla chips, and then there are those who prefer not to have temptation staring them in the face each time they open the pantry door.

Most of us know where our weak spots are: they are the little holes in the bucket where the water drips through.  Admittedly, for some of us it’s hard to admit that we need support or help and the flip-side is that others are so desperate for help, it’s almost like they need training wheels! Wherever you fall on the spectrum, there are only two basic things you need to remember: 1) there is nothing wrong with asking for help; and 2) no one else can do it for you.

At one point or another, we all need help and support, even if it’s just “hey, I found this great recipe for garlic shrimp!” It’s also a great feeling to know that other people also have intense cravings for sugary treats or balk at giving up the cream in their coffee.  You are not the only who finds it hard to say no and in my case, complaining about it makes me feel a whole lot better! Support, like motivation, is personal and changes with your journey and your goals. What worked for you when you began likely isn’t going to work for you after a year or so.

Weight loss, unfortunately, is dependent on our habits, and we all know developing a new habit is a monumental pain in the butt! This is why so many of us, even if we aren’t fans of support groups and structure, tend to rely heavily on both when we get started.  Remember what I said above about training wheels? Like learning to ride a bike, we need to find our balance when it comes to eating healthy and being more active: what is too much compared with what isn’t enough. Once we get find that balance, the training wheels just tend to get in the way.

Too many people reject the idea of support because they are thinking in terms of “support groups” such as Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous.  In reality, all we really need is a supportive community.  That can be something as simple as family members, friends,  a Diet or Exercise Buddy or even an online group such as My Fitness Pal or the Primal Potential Facebook Group (both free and open to all).  Depending on the level of commitment you want, your community can be as intense or laid-back as you need! The point is that when you need that support, whether it’s just advice or to vent or commiseration, that group is there to provide the help you’re looking for.  It doesn’t even have to be a two-way street: when I started, I listened to a lot of podcasts that gave me information, helpful advice and different perspectives on weight loss, exercise and how to eat healthier.  Although I tuned in to them often, when it came to ‘talking back’ to them, it was only when I needed it.

I also have a supportive community through My Fitness Pal, where I am more interactive.  It’s also online, so it’s on my own schedule again, but it’s a great place to get advice, ask questions or even get some important feedback.  Recently I posted about a change I’d made to my eating habits but after doing so, I was very tired and low energy.  Even though I was making more of a statement rather than asking for advice, one of my fitness friends pointed out that I’d essentially changed my diet to a keto diet (unintentionally) and what I was feeling was likely ‘keto flu.’ Bingo! Problem solved! After a few more modifications, I am feeling much better.

Obviously, my support community has changed as my weight loss journey has progressed and it even changes from week to week. Some days we feel we need more support than others, but the most important part is that the support is there when I need it!  I also find being more supportive of others helps keep my own goals in focus. As I pointed out above, there is nothing wrong in asking for help, advice or even just a different point of view, especially if you are starting a new process or habit.  Trying to go it alone is often a recipe for disaster!

I admit, I am someone who likes to figure things out on my own.  This is not always a great practice and it’s one of the reasons just about every other attempt to lose weight remained an ‘attempt to lose weight!’ It’s like learning a new language: how do you know if you are understanding and being understood if you are talking in a vacuum? Trying to lose weight without any support is just making it harder on yourself and increasing your chances of giving up.

The other end of the spectrum isn’t productive either: having a supportive community is a great help, but all that heavy lifting is your job and yours alone.  Back to the language analogy, a study-buddy is great but you’ve got to be able to talk the talk yourself! Whether it’s taking a test for a class or finding yourself alone in Barcelona, si tu no hablas la lengua, tienes un grande problema! (if you don’t speak the language, you’ve got a big problem!) Leaning too much on others doesn’t get you very far and can lead to ‘excuse abuse.’  We’ve all been guilty of that: my family wants pizza, so I have to have pizza; it’s my wife’s birthday so I have to eat cake; or my favorite catch-all excuse: ‘no one is supporting me!’

Whether your family decides to make healthy eating choices or not, what you choose to eat or not eat is ultimately up to you. Too often, I see and hear complaints about how family members or coworkers keep bringing ‘forbidden foods’ into the home or office, so it’s easy to blame them for ‘not being supportive enough.’ I admit, having that safety zone is great: when I go home, the only temptations are the ones that I brought into the house myself; but the office or my friends’ homes are very different situations.  Even with all the support possible at home, going out into the real world means there’s going to be lots of opportunities to eat those forbidden foods! When we are learning to find our balance, it’s nice to be able to stay safely at home, but sooner or later, we need to take those training wheels off and ride on our own.  No one else can do that for us, no matter how supportive they are, but still it’s nice to know that someone else is riding along next to you.

 

 

Motivation: Keeping The Motor Running

Motivation is definitely one of the most asked questions when it comes to weight loss, eating healthy and exercising.  Everyone wants to know how to stay motivated! All kind of health and exercise professionals yammer on about “building consistency” and “staying motivated,” but seriously, when you work late, have a lot of tasks still on your plate for the evening, you’re already drained emotionally and physically, it’s a helluva lot harder to do what you know you should do vs. what would be easiest for you. Sometimes the easy thing is what you should do, i.e. “the healthy thing,” but more than often, it isn’t.

This is the stumbling block that gets all of us at one time or another and to be honest, it gets really easy to be irritated at some professional who gives us The Lecture about how we all get tired; how stress is just part of life; and this is where ‘the tough get going,’ blah blah blah.  We can hear it in our heads as we are stuck in traffic on our way to yet another errand on our long list before we can even think about getting home to cold leftovers or nothing available for dinner at all.

So what’s our motivation for finding the energy to make something healthy or make it to the gym or say no to the fast food on the way back from the bank or the pharmacy? This is the where all those platitudes and lectures go right out the window– and I don’t mean in a bad “I stuffed my face with junk food, so now I feel like a giant slug” kind of way! That’s because what keeps you motivated– what keeps your motor running– is entirely up to YOU! This is your life, your goal and your choice and listening to some guru’s lecture on ‘fueling your body fabulously’ is probably just going to irritate you. (I know they irritate ME!)

One of the things that works for me is keeping quick healthy foods available. There have been days when I get home too tired or too late to make a real dinner, so I settle for some scrambled eggs. They’re fast, they’re healthy and I won’t feel like crap afterwards.  Believe it or not, not feeling like a giant slug is a huge motivator for me. I’ve given in to the fast food and frankly, it makes me feel sick later on, so even though it’s right there, it is off my list!

I do have some Go-To’s that are a close second place, and those are usually something from the supermarket, either a rotisserie chicken, a bag of salad, a deli wrap (not the best but sometimes there isn’t any chicken left!) or even just some hummus and veggies.  My only ‘rules’ are it has to be something I can feel good about that won’t make me feel like a slug afterwards! FYI: there is nothing wrong with some plain yogurt and heading to bed for some well-needed rest!

As for getting to the gym when I don’t feel like it? Another personal motivator is asking myself “how will I feel about bailing on it later on?” If I am making excuses to myself for not going, then I really need to go! It also helps that I have friends at my gym and my not-going means I miss out on time with friends. For some of the classes, I bring the workout soundtrack and equipment, so my not-going means the rest of the class is disappointed. While I don’t have an actual obligation (as in I won’t get booted from the class), there is a sense of commitment which is pretty important to me.  Not disappointing the class or friends is usually more important to me than being tired or feeling stressed– ironic, but true!

That’s why listening to some guru blather on about breaking promises I made to myself typically falls on deaf ears with me. I know my schedule and I know how I feel, so if dinner ends up being a deli wrap, I am not going to sweat breaking a promise to myself about ‘fueling my body fabulously!’ Motivation is completely personal and that’s what makes it so hard. We keep looking for motivation outside of ourselves but in the end, it comes down to what works for us.

The other problem with motivation is that, when we are unmotivated or we give in to something like fast food, we tend to beat ourselves up and go running back to the Motivational Mantras we find online.  There is nothing wrong with those mantras if you like them, but we need to remember that while these professionals might have good advice, they are also not living your life. One of the mantras I like to keep in mind? “Make the best choice you can in this situation.” If that ‘best choice’ is a deli wrap, I am not going to apologize for it, nor am I going to apologize if I skip my workout to go home and fall into bed! We all need to learn our limits, when to push and when to back off. Finding our own motivators takes a little work but once we find them, they are kind of hard to ignore. It didn’t take long for the ‘no fast food’ or the ‘bailing on the workout’ motivators to kick in. They make it easier for me to keep the engine running on making the right choices for me, but they probably make others just roll their eyes! Only you know what works for you: after all, it’s your motor you’re revving up!

Cheap Eats?: Weight Loss & The Real Meaning of Cheap

Sometimes when I’m in the mood, I will watch cooking shows on PBS, usually Martha Stewart Cooking Class or America’s Test Kitchen. The idea that I would attempt to make anything they demonstrate is absolutely laughable, partly because it’s usually far too complex for me but also because some of Martha’s ingredients are more than a little pricey! Also, where the heck am I supposed to find candied lemon rind in my podunk town?

While America’s Test Kitchen’s recipes are still too involved for me, they will let us know where we can skip a step or what we can use in place of a more pricey or hard to find ingredient without seriously bungling the recipe. When you go through all the steps to put together some of these recipes, the last thing you want to do is waste all that time and money!

Time and money are usually the biggest excuses when it comes to eating healthy. We have this idea that making healthy food is complicated and expensive, but in reality, it’s like anything else: we can make it as hard or as simple as we want it to be.

Example: my dad and I both love home-made enchiladas but making them the way my grandmother made them was an all-day job, so I figured out a quicker way to do without too much difference.  Granted, they weren’t quite as delicious as my grandmother’s, but they only took about an hour or so to do and it was good enough for us two!

I know from experience that we can google healthy whole food recipes that will take all day and require a long list of ingredients, some of them more than you want to spend on a weeknight dinner. Whether you are looking at dinner for one or two or even a family of four or more, a cart full of healthy whole food groceries starts looking more like a major investment!

I’ve seen the “it costs too much” excuse used a lot on My 600 lb Life.  Rather than buy whole food groceries, they run through the drive-thru. Listening to what they order, the cost of that fast food meal can run from $10 to $30 (for two). That’s not particularly cheap either! My groceries routinely include a $5 box of salad greens, bottle of salad dressing ($4) and package of meat which usually runs around $6.  The box of salad will last me at least five meals; the salad dressing about 10 meals and the meat at least two.  That means if I increase the meat for another three servings, I’ve got dinner for about five days which would run me about $24. That’s less than five dollars a meal! Yikes! That’s expensive–NOT!

What’s the real difference here? I had to make the dinner myself. That means I took out the skillet, put the meat on to cook, cooked it for about twenty minutes or so and then I dumped out the salad greens into a bowl and poured on some dressing.  Dinner usually takes me 30 minutes or less to make at home.  Granted, I eat pretty simply.  If I added some other veggies to my salad, it would obviously cost more, but even adding a few tomatoes, radishes, mushrooms or cucumbers, the cost per meal might go up as high as $7 dollars a meal! (Seriously, how many cucumbers do you put on a single salad?)

I eat pretty cheaply mainly because I like simple food (see that Martha Stewart remark above!) I get the box of salad greens because it’s cheap and it’ll last me until Friday.  I buy my meat in the Manager’s Special section of the meat department.  This is the meat that has a “best by” date in the coming week, so it’s been discounted by 30-50%. Since I either eat it or freeze it by the date, it’s no problem for me! Sometimes, I do spring for the tomatoes, mushrooms or avocados on my salad, or I opt for Brussels sprouts instead but the cost still isn’t exorbitant. Even if the meat isn’t ‘grass fed’ or ‘organic’ it is still fresh and even organic grass fed meat isn’t much more expensive than the ‘regular’ stuff if you know where to shop. (I like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts for good bargains on those!)

There is also something else that usually gets missed in comparing cheap eats and whole foods. How much of them do you eat in one sitting? One of the more interesting details about human anatomy is our satiety signals in our digestive tract. These are the hormones our bodies release to let us know that we have eaten enough. We have signals for protein, fat and fiber but none for carbohydrates.  That’s why I can eat half a bag of Brussels sprouts and feel like I can’t choke down another bite but could easily eat the family sized bag of Ruffles potato chips without even slowing down. Unfortunately, the only “sensor” we have that we’ve eaten too much ice cream, chips, crackers or cupcakes is the actual discomfort that comes from an overstuffed stomach! I am way too familiar with that one!

The Cheezits, chips, bread and rolls might seem cheaper but we don’t stop to think that we finish them off way more quickly than we do the whole foods. That box of salad greens isn’t any bigger ounce-wise than that family size bag of chips I used to polish off in one or two sittings, but there’s no way I can eat the whole box of spinach and butter lettuce at one go without throwing up! That’s because those whole foods aren’t just more ‘nutrient dense’– they are just plain dense! Let’s compare that bag of Brussels sprouts to that bag of Ruffles potato chips: The sprouts are 10.8 oz (Birdseye Steamfresh) and the chips are 9.5 (Ruffles Family Size).  There’s four 3/4 cup servings in the sprouts and ten in the bag of chips ( ~1 oz) but seriously do we only eat one ounce of chips at a time? Although they are about the same size, after eating about a cup and a half of sprouts, you would be getting the “stop eating” signal because your nutrition needs would be met. How long before your brain would tell you to stop eating the chips? Odds are, you’d be probably three fourths of the way through the bag before your stomach would be feeling full, and if you are me, you’d be polishing off the bag!

Honestly though, there are things that are missing from the sprouts: like preservatives, sodium and extra carbs, plus the vegetable oils that are fast coming under scrutiny. On the other hand, they do have lots more vitamins and fiber (that’s the stuff that makes you feel full!) I know for a lot of people, foods like sprouts, salad greens and other whole foods can taste pretty blah without all kinds of sauces to ‘dress them up.’ That’s because we have gotten so used to eating those additives and flavor enhancers in processed foods.  Those are the additives that don’t actually have to be made from food to be called “all natural.” Most pre-shredded cheeses have cellulose added to them to keep the cheese from sticking together.  Cellulose comes from wood pulp but because it comes from trees, they can call it “all natural.” Yummy!

It’s all a matter of taste and budget: you don’t have to eat as simply as I do, but think about what you are really buying. What is really in that burger and fries you ordered? It might be fast and it might be convenient, but what is the real price we pay for cheap eats?

 

 

Dropping the Hammer: Weight Loss, Choices and Consequences

“Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today”~ James Dean

Admittedly, that sounds a little bit grim but how many of us go through our lives putting off our dreams until tomorrow? Why are we waiting? That’s not an easy question to answer. We have lots of excuses but, really, not any reasons.

Yesterday at the gym, another member asked me about our water aerobics class. She had been sitting in the therapy spa watching us and wanted to know how often we had class and what kinds of exercises we did. Then she proceeded to tell me that she had a problem with her leg and her doctor had advised her to lose about 40 lbs. From there she went on to tell me how hard it was to lose weight and how she had been trying for months. I did try to tell her she needed to eat more vegetables than starches but she right away began giving me ‘reasons’ why that was hard too!

I know it’s hard to make changes. I know it’s hard to motivate yourself and stay motivated. Being consistent is damned hard work, but seriously, what choice do we have? Every episode of My 600 lb Life begins with the same sentiment: “I hate my life. I hate my body.” So why don’t they change how they are living and eating? They will-  and do-  tell us how hard it is to change, but we already know that. We are trying to make the same changes too!

There’s a parable about a man hitting himself in the head with a hammer as he is complaining about his head hurting.  Obviously, we know the answer, but we don’t realize that in our lives, we are that man! We are hurting ourselves, we want the hurt to stop but somehow, we don’t make the connection between our ‘hammers’ and our pain. Why don’t we make the changes we need to make? Why doesn’t that guy stop whacking his head with the hammer? I don’t know why either.

Short answer? Change is hard because it’s scary. Where do I start? What if I’m wrong? How can anything I do make any difference? When we look at ourselves as a Project, we feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter if it’s losing 20 lbs or losing 120 lbs: it feels like we’re buried before we even begin. We can listen to the ‘experts’ telling us to give up processed foods or sugar or carbs and we can almost hear the excuses forming in our brains. There is always something getting in our way of making changes, of making progress and that something is US. More accurately, it’s our fear. What if I can’t do it?

I’ve got a better question: what if you never try? If you never change your habits and your choices, then nothing ever changes! You will be stuck living the life you don’t want FOREVER. Look at that picture of yourself that you really hate. (We all have one!)  For me, it’s one where my face is so broad and bloated I almost look like it’s been flattened. I’m a little sweaty because I had to walk in across the parking lot and when you weigh as much as I did (440 lbs), walking is never easy. Remember what I said about every single episode of My 600 lb Life? That’s pretty much what I was telling myself every day: “I hate being this fat.” I wanted to change but I didn’t make any changes because “insert every excuse in the book here!”

I finally made changes because I was pushed to the wall.  My biggest excuse was my Job From Hell: I worked late every day; there was too much stress; blah blah blah. I had friends, family and coworkers telling me to get out of that job before it killed me and one morning, I realized they were right. I asked myself why I was staying at a job I hated and the answer was because of the benefits. Then, like the guy with the hammer, I realized that the benefits weren’t really ‘benefits’ if I died. I put down the hammer and began making changes. Part of those changes were to my horrible eating habits: since I wasn’t getting home at 8:00 p.m. every night, I stopped eating the horrible fast food which was a staple in my diet. Voila! I lost 40 lbs without really trying!

That’s when I started looking at my life and I literally began seeing ‘hammers’ everywhere! Making changes was still scary and still overwhelming, but I realized that if I don’t change, I will be hating my life forever. Like those patients on My 600 lbs Life, I’d be ‘waiting for my life to start’ until my life was over. It came down to one simple question: which is scarier– living a life I hate? or making the changes that scare me? That question I asked earlier: “What if I can’t do it?” I already know the answer.  It’s that fat ugly photo of my old life. There is honestly nothing in my life that is more frightening than living that life again.

Take a good look at that photo you hate and ask yourself this question: Is that a picture of the rest of your life or is that a picture of your life as it used to be? You can make one positive change today to make your life better than yesterday, and then tomorrow, do it again. One positive change every day is all it takes. Use that photo in your hand as your hammer but this time use it to build yourself a better life!

 

 

 

Consistency Isn’t a Four Letter Word: Weight Loss & ‘The Diet’

When I tell people I’ve lost over a hundred pounds, they usually assume that I had ‘The Surgery.’ When I tell them no, they want to know how I lost the weight, how long ago I lost it (going on 4 years now) and then they want to know how I’ve kept it off. Some of them are rather unhappy with my answer: I changed the way I ate. Permanently.

I think they expected some kind of secret magic answer as to how I haven’t gained all the weight back. It’s not magic and it’s really not a secret either. I made permanent lifestyle changes. I can understand their disappointment: this answer is simple to say but it’s hard to do! It means making the healthy choice every day. It means I have to be consistent, and no one likes being consistent! It’s a whole lotta work without time off for good behavior!

I usually tell people that watching My 600 lb Life is my version of a 12 Step Meeting.  They think I am joking but I’m not. Watching that show reminds me of all the bad food decisions I used to make and all of the excuses I used to tell myself. I still catch myself trying to use those excuses! We all know what they are: “this one thing won’t hurt” (Yes it will!); “I deserve a treat!” (It’s not a treat if it’s bad for you!); “I’ve been so good lately!” (So being bad is a reward?) This show keeps me focused on what happens when I decide to take a vacation from Consistency!

I know it can be a major disappointment to people when they realize they can’t “eat healthy,” lose the weight they want, and then go back to eating all the foods they used to eat. They are looking at a lifetime of no more pasta, no more garlic bread, no more milkshakes, or ice cream or peanut butter cups– whatever their particular vice is, it is PERMANENTLY off the menu! When you start down that road, it can feel kind of bleak. It did for me!

This idea of a ‘temporary change’ comes up a lot on the show. Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients believe they can ‘be good’ for a while, get The Surgery and then eventually go back to eating like they did before.  They think The Surgery will ‘fix’ them so they don’t have to be consistently good with their diet. Truthfully, that’s a lovely fantasy and I wish it were true, but in Real Life, what you eat matters! In reality, all those foods you think you love eating? They become way less important compared to how you feel physically and after a while, you don’t miss them anymore.

Permanent changes are fundamental changes and the farther you get away from the way things used to be, the less hold they have on you.  Before I lost the weight, a big part of my regular eating routine was eating out and that menu was full of bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. Recently, I got treated to several dinners out at restaurants to celebrate my birthday and the morning after one of those dinners at an Italian restaurant, I realized I hadn’t had pasta in probably a couple of years or more. I used to love pasta, but it’s not on my menu anymore because it doesn’t make me feel good after eating it.  My dinner the night before had been fish with sauteed veggies. I felt good eating it, it was satisfying and when I went home, I didn’t feel hungry later on. So why would I eat pasta that’s not going to make me feel as great? Honestly, I don’t miss pasta anymore and I hadn’t thought about my choice not to eat it until that morning.

About the same time I was eating out a lot, my gym decided to be a real pain in the butt. For the last four years, I’ve been going to water aerobics classes two days a week. They only offer two evening classes during the week and none on weekends so some of us in the class get together on Friday or Saturday to work out on our own.  A couple of weeks ago, my gym decided to cancel our Monday class because the instructor is on an extended medical leave. In the past, my first thought would have been “whoo hoo! I’ve got Mondays off!” but now it was “WTH?? I’m going anyway!” So that’s what I did! I showed up for my workout like I do every Monday evening, and so did a lot of my friends.  Now on Mondays, we make our own class, just without the instructor, kind of like our Friday or Saturday ‘classes.’

The gym has been another part of my permanent lifestyle change for the last four years. I like it; it makes me happy and I feel better afterwards. Of course, if I didn’t feel well or had to work late or had another appointment, I would have made a different choice, but those options aren’t the rule. The rule is Mondays and Wednesdays are workout days, not because I ‘have to’ but because I like it! I also like seeing my friends, so it’s not only a healthy exercise; it’s a healthy social activity as well.

I know for a lot of people, being consistent sounds hard or it sounds like I live a life of deprivation.  Actually, when I was 440 lbs (sadly, not a typo!), I was feeling pretty deprived. Being that big was physically and mentally painful! The physical pain was pretty obvious: back, hips, knees, feet- they all hurt all the time! Lying down was best except for the sleep apnea and even sitting hurt my back.  Mentally, I was always afraid of going anywhere new simply because I’d be wondering “what if I don’t fit?” And I don’t mean ‘fitting in!’ Do I fit in the chairs at that theater/ restaurant/ vehicle/ conference room/ wherever? Do you know how embarrassing and painful it is to sit in a chair and have your thighs bulge over the arms? How about trying to sit in an older theater where the seats are smaller and not adjustable? Let’s cram my fat butt in those! Just worrying over trying to maneuver my large body was enough anxiety to make me consider bailing on any new situation. And forget doing any walking! If I couldn’t park somewhere close by without another car next to me, I’d freak out. There’s nothing like walking in the door huffing and puffing like I ran a marathon! Or worrying someone will park too close and I wouldn’t be able to get back into my car- more fun! Let’s not discuss the particular torture that are stairs….

Deprived? Yes, I was very deprived! I didn’t go to a lot of places because of my weight. The places I did go to were those where I had no choice or I felt that I could maneuver my 440 lbs body well enough. Even in those places, it was still somewhat embarrassing that I had to go sideways through some obstacles. Like most situations in life, it was a trade-off: I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and as much as I wanted, but as for going anywhere or doing anything? Nope! That’s what I was giving up!

Now I go a lot of places. Besides the gym, I went to our local Highland Games this fall and walked all over the fairgrounds without having to stop every few minutes to rest. In 2017, I toured the Queen Mary several times in one weekend, going up and down many flights of stairs! When I go someplace new, I park wherever is convenient for me, not where it’s closest. Standing up and walking no longer requires a moment of thought and a deep breath before doing it. When I make plans to go anywhere, my first thoughts aren’t “can I fit there?” or “how much walking/ standing is involved?” Believe me, not having to wonder about that is pretty liberating! In addition to the walking, standing and fitting, there’s not having to get up to pee every two hours, even at night. There are a lot of changes to my new lifestyle and most of them don’t revolve around food.

So what did I trade to be able to do all these things? I gave up processed foods: the mac & cheese which was a staple at my house; the other pastas; fast food; sugar; cookies, cakes, brownies; chips & crackers of all kinds; breads, cereals and oatmeals; pretty much anything that came in a box! Do I miss it? Not really. I was watching one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients eat a huge bowl of cereal last week and I remembered that I used to eat cereal: “oh, yeah….” That’s how much I missed it! Chips, crackers, pasta: most of those foods I don’t even think about anymore unless they cross my path. Bread, especially garlic bread and croissants, I miss the most, mainly because they cross my path on a regular basis. Giving up these foods doesn’t mean I never ever eat them: it means when I do eat them, I make sure they are worth it and they are the exception instead of the rule.

It doesn’t take much to remind me what it was like when processed starchy foods were the staples of my diet: waking up every two hours to pee; my joints aching from the inflammation; not being able to fit into chairs. To be honest just the constant bathroom breaks are enough to remind me why I don’t eat bread every day or why cookies are an occasional treat instead of dessert each night!

Just remembering how I felt before I lost the weight is enough to keep the weight off for good. I keep some pictures of myself around to remind myself of what I looked like back then, but it’s not the pictures which are the impetus to stay consistent: it’s the aches and pains; the embarrassment; the inconvenience; the constant running off to the ladies’.  So whenever someone asks me if giving up processed foods makes me feel deprived? Not one little bit!

Turn Off the Food Faucet!: Weight Loss & Five Simple Steps

We hear expressions like this one almost daily: “Stuck in a hole? Then stop digging!” You would think it’s common sense, but sometimes we get so caught up in what’s going on in front of our faces that we miss what’s really behind the problem. Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has an analogy I really like: you’re in a boat with a hole in the bottom so you start bailing out water as fast as you can, but bailing doesn’t fix the problem. You have to fix that hole to fix your problem!

Of course a hole in the bottom of your rowboat is pretty noticeable but when it comes to weight loss, figuring out why you are not losing weight, or gaining- even worse- can be more of a problem! There are millions of books, infomercials, websites, podcasts, pdfs and blogs about how to lose weight because finding the problem is so damned hard. Solving the weight loss problem a billion dollar industry and everyone wants a piece of that pie! (yeah, it’s a pun!)

It took me nearly 45 years to figure out a few simple truths that started my weight loss and have kept me from gaining it back. Whether they are the legitimate Answer to the Weight Loss Problem or not, they work and they aren’t rocket science (good thing ’cause I suck at math & physics!)  You don’t need to follow them in any order but when you do all five, in my experience, you lose weight and you don’t gain it back!

First Step: Eat whole foods.

This is pretty basic: whole foods tend to have more fiber and nutrients than processed foods, which are usually carb-rich and nutrient-poor. In short, whole foods, like eggs, raw fruits and veggies, cheeses and meats, fill you up faster and keep you filled up longer than processed foods. This is because they take longer to digest than processed foods. Also, foods like eggs and meat are mostly healthy fats and proteins. Your body has receptors which signal when you’ve eaten enough of these, so you get the “I’m full” feeling. With carbs, there are no receptors so we eat and eat and eat until stomach discomforts signals we’re full! That’s how we get full on a small steak but can binge a whole bag of potato chips!

 

Second Step: Only eat when you are hungry.

This should also be pretty basic, except we’ve been trained to eat according to a schedule! How many times have you seen kids who aren’t hungry out at a restaurant being told they “have to eat”? We also encourage our kids to eat everything on their plate too! Then the kids grow up and turn into us: eating according to a clock and eating everything (usually) on the plate! For some of us, we can’t really tell if we are actually hungry or if our stomach is expecting to be fed at a certain time each day! Believe it or not, if you think you are hungry and you wait about twenty minutes or so, you might be surprised to find that you really aren’t hungry anymore! Skipping a couple of meals or at least holding off on them will give you a pretty good sense of what real hunger feels like instead of ‘meal memory’!

The second part of this is to stop eating when before you feel full! By that time, you have likely eaten too much, so eat slowly and when you realize you are no longer hungry, stop eating.  Again, this is connected to the “clean your plate” mentality we learned as kids!

Third Step: No snacking.

Snacking is something most of us grew up with.  When I was a kid, we were always told that snacks ruin our dinner or if we had a snack, we wouldn’t be hungry at meal time. Then sometime in the 1970’s, some food manufacturer came up with the idea of “snack foods,” which has turned into an entire industry! We can buy “snack-sized” foods and “snack packs” at the store so we don’t have worry about fainting from hunger in the middle of the day.  In my opinion, snacking is why so many of us are overweight. We’ve been told that snacks are good for our metabolism and we should eat every two hours.  Both Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life, TLC) and Dr. Jason Fung (The Obesity Code; The Diabetes Code) emphatically state that there is no such thing as a healthy snack! Why? Hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin) is why we gain weight: it’s a storage hormone. It’s what takes glucose out of the blood into the cells where it gets turned into FAT! All foods, not just carbs, trigger insulin, so that healthy snack of cheese or an apple or carrot sticks still triggers insulin. We burn fat when there is no insulin in our blood but if we are eating every two hours, when does that happen? Ummm… never? Bingo! Listen to grandma: no snacking!

Fourth Step: Pause before eating.

This step and the next seem like they don’t have much to do with weight loss, but these two steps really do help.  Remember the last time you had a craving or when you got really anxious about something going on and felt that urge to grab anything to eat? This is when that pause gets between you and the bag of Oreos! It is kind of an offshoot of Step Two: checking to see if you are really hungry.  Odds are that you aren’t really hungry: you either saw/ smelled/ or heard of something you really wanted or you are trying to distract yourself from your problem by eating something. I know whenever I get anxious, it’s my first reaction! Pausing before you reach for the chocolate or starting prowling through the fridge lets you redirect that urge. It gives you time to realize that you really don’t want the chips, you just want to feel better or that the only reason you want to eat is that you can smell the garlic bread someone had for lunch! It gives you time to take control away from the craving and the emotional eating. Take a walk; meditate; turn on some music: they can all help and they don’t involve eating!

Fifth Step: Rest and relaxation.

We’ve all been told that stress and lack of sleep don’t help with weight loss, and a lot of us just roll our eyes and flip the page.  Going back to the flooding rowboat analogy, imagine that hole in your boat is stuck somewhere you can’t see it. You know that water is coming in but you don’t know where it’s coming from so you can’t fix it. Stress and lack of sleep take their toll on your body. Your body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) which triggers your body to release glucose for quick energy, which means- you guessed it! Insulin! Because most of our stress (including the sleep deprivation) is chronic and not associated with physical activity anymore (like running away from a bear), that means our body is always triggering cortisol, glucose and insulin! Your stress is that hidden hole in your boat that keeps letting water flood in! Learning to relax such as meditating, taking a walk, listening to music, playing with kids or pets, reading or hey, here’s an idea- taking a NAP: all of these can help with stress and getting your body to calm down some. You will be surprised at how much better you’ll feel physically and mentally! Even better, you’ll lose some weight!

 

 

Whole Foods are Habit Forming!: Weight Loss & Giving Up the Junk

We’ve all heard that junk food- and especially sugar- are addictive. To some extent that is true, but it’s true because we made it true! We’ve gotten accustomed to eating sugary junk food so that’s what our palates and subconscious have come to expect.  We are all familiar with Pavlov’s dog, only in our case we are the dog and sugar is the bell!

Anyone who has tried to make a New Year’s Resolution or build a new habit knows that it all comes down to repetition. You do it over and over and over again until it becomes lodged in our brains and we can do it without effort or even thinking about it.  It happened to me yesterday: I was leaving the office and as I got in my car, I reminded myself I had to pick up my dry cleaning and it had to be picked up that day. I put the claim ticket on my console, pulled out of the parking lot and got in the wrong lane out of habit! The dry cleaning was on the north and home was on the south so of course, like I do 95% of the time, I got in the south bound lane, after telling myself not to do it! What can I say? Habit won!

This same kind of repetition is how we end up craving sugar and junk food: we eat it over and over again! We aren’t born addicted to Hostess cupcakes and Lays potato chips, but because they end up in our mouths so often, we start to expect and then crave them. We don’t even taste them anymore: it’s just the sugar and carbs we are expecting!  Compared to sugar-rich snacks, foods like broccoli and spinach seem to come up short, but the same principles apply: if you eat them enough, eventually your palate and your subconscious will start to expect them!

It seems silly but it’s true.  A couple of years ago, I was out with friends celebrating a birthday and the guest of honor had chosen a pizza place.  There were lots of appetizers on the table like fried cheese and beer battered shrimp.  I had chosen an antipasto salad for my entree and after politely declining all the appetizers, when my entree arrived, I actually said “yay, salad!” out loud and I meant it when I said it. It still surprises me, because while I don’t hate veggies or salad, I didn’t realize until I saw it how much I was looking forward to the salad! I’d taught myself that salad was delicious.

Something similar happened just last week at the grocery store: I wanted Brussels sprouts for dinner.  I had salad greens in the fridge but on the way home, I started wanting (dare I say “craving”?) Brussels sprouts and I was so disappointed that the store was out of the fresh ones that I like! When I was a kid, you’d have to pay me to eat them, and now I was craving the dang things!

It’s all about repetition: we want the foods we are used to eating.  Our brains and our palates expect them on a regular basis. Dinner for me is usually salad, veggies or both along with some kind of meat: chicken, beef, lamb or pork.  When I get hungry, this is what my palate and my brain start looking for! Without thinking about it, I end up in the produce section of the stores looking at the lettuces: “baby spinach mix? butter lettuce?” Some times I mix it up with other produce like tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., but dinner for me usually begins with a big pile of green leaves!

Compared to what I used to eat regularly, salad can seem pretty blah. This is one of the biggest complaints when it comes to eating whole natural foods: “they don’t taste great.” Actually, it’s not that baby spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts don’t taste good: it’s that you aren’t used to eating them! Once you get used to eating whole foods, you develop a taste for them the way you developed a taste for those boxes of cupcakes and bags of potato chips.

Example: remember the first time you tasted beer? I am pretty sure you made a face! That first sip of beer is universally awful but as an adult, you certainly don’t think it tastes horrible.  You probably have your favorite brands and brews, but that first time? Ugh! So how did you get used to the taste of beer? By drinking it over and over, of course! (In high school, one of my sister’s friends got busted by her dad when he let her taste his beer and the fact that she didn’t make that face told him this wasn’t her first beer!)

The same thing happens in reverse: when you stop eating the junk food and sugar, it stops tasting good. You lose your taste for them. I used to eat a lot of fast food on a regular basis. I was seriously on a first name basis with the Jack in the Box drive-thru guy (his name was Dennis.) Once I stopped eating it for a few months, I decided to ‘treat’ myself to the same dinner I’d had several times a week for months. Same meal; same drive-thru, but what a difference! It certainly didn’t taste delicious and in truth it just tasted really weird to me! It wasn’t the food that changed: it was me!

It wasn’t just my palate that changed either. Not only did the fast food not taste good to me: it made me feel bad. It’s cliche to say ‘you are what you eat,’ but we all know how true that is. Changing what I ate not only changed my taste buds: it changed how I felt and how I looked. Not only did I lose 40 lbs by just giving up junk food, my skin looked better and I felt a whole lot better, emotionally and physically. It was a combination of not eating junk and eating more nutritious whole foods instead. Why eat the weird fast food that makes me feel like a blob when I can eat the fresh vegetables that make me feel good?

It is a lot like Pavlov’s dog: a learned response to stimulus. The sound of the bell is the sound of a treat! If we rang the bell and gave the dog something that tastes bad each time, he’s not going care how often you ring that bell! What you’ve got, he doesn’t want! Does all that junk food really taste good? Or are we just used to eating it?

It’s Not Just Food We Need to Let Go: Weight Loss & Forgiveness

When we think of emotions, eating and weight loss, the first thought that comes to mind is “emotional eating.” It’s become a cliche excuse: why am I overweight? “Because I’m an emotional eater of course!” However, our emotions can get in the way of our weight loss in other ways.

Anger isn’t something we think about when we think of weight loss. Again, some of us have been known to eat out of anger, but it gets in our way especially when we choose to hang on to that anger rather than let it go. One example that comes to mind is eating out of spite or resentment. This was especially true for me when I was a kid. As an overweight child, I was constantly hounded by my parents about my size and whatever I happened to eat.  (FYI: if you have an overweight child, this is NOT the way to handle it!)  Potato chips, sandwiches, mac & cheese, even fruit: “Don’t eat too much!”; “Haven’t you had enough?” I hated the negative attention, hated being watched all the time and I was angry that ‘everyone else can eat what they want,’ so when I was alone, I ate whatever I wanted! It became reflex: there are cupcakes and no one to tell me no, so I ate them! I was out at a store and I had the money to buy junk food, so I bought it and ate it! While I knew this behavior wasn’t good for me, it was my way of demonstrating my anger at the way I was ‘persecuted’ by others.  Did I want to lose weight? Yes and no.  I wanted to be thinner but I also knew that my weight upset and embarrassed my parents, who in turn embarrassed me by constantly badgering me about my weight, so it was my way of getting back at them. Talk about dysfunctional!

Of course, I was a kid at the time and I was still very angry, hurt and humiliated by how I was treated. I remember being out at a restaurant with my family and every time I took a bite of food, my mom would chant “chew! chew! chew!” The fact that I recall this episode more than forty years later says a little bit about how much it hurt me, so yes, I think my anger was justified. Was it helpful? Oh hell no!

There are instances where anger can be motivating, but this anger was really spiteful and I held onto that anger way too long.  I used it to get back at my mom mainly and there was some pride in there which also got in my way.  I called it righteous indignation and told myself I was happy being overweight. It really didn’t bother me…. except I hated buying clothes because I had to go to the ‘fat girl’ stores. And I hated getting my hair cut because I had trouble fitting in the stylists’ chairs. And walking anywhere hurt. And standing hurt. And my shoes had to be special-ordered because my feet were so wide.

You get the picture: being angry and indignant was more important to me than doing anything about my health and my weight or the quality of my life! Aside from being an emotional eater, I was stubbornly refusing to try to lose weight because of how ‘persecuted’ I had always been. My pride was part of it too. We all know how hard it is to lose weight. What if I tried and I failed? How stupid would I look then? So in order not to look stupid, I refused to try at all! (Yeah….let’s look at being ‘stupid’ again….)

Sometimes we bury our emotional hurt so deep inside us that we don’t realize how much damage it’s actually doing to us.  It’s like an infection spreading inside that we can’t see although we slap a band-aid on the cut on our hand. We think that band-aid took care of the wound and it’ll heal soon enough, but when it’s an emotional wound, the hurt festers inside us and doesn’t go away.  We might acknowledge that “yeah, I eat my emotions,” but until you lance that emotional infection, it’s going to keep festering. You might learn to distract yourself with something other than food, but that hurt won’t go away until you let it out.

As I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life, TLC) routinely sends his patients to therapy to deal with the emotions which drove them to compulsive eating.  Some patients are resistant to going because they don’t see the connection between their compulsive eating and whatever happened to them in the past. In several instances, the therapist will encourage them to forgive those who’ve hurt them in the past.  One patient flat out stated she wasn’t ready or able to forgive those who hurt her since she didn’t think they deserved it.  The therapist, Lola Clay, pointed out what most of us know already: forgiving those who’ve hurt us is for our benefit, not the one who did the hurting. When we forgive, we let go of our anger and pain, so they lose their power over us. I remember being told that the flip side of Love isn’t Hate; it’s Apathy. Whether you love someone or hate them, they are the focus of your emotion. When you don’t care about someone (apathy), they obviously aren’t your focus! When you give up that emotional focus, whatever they do- or don’t do- to you is no big deal.

In my case, forgiving my parents, especially my mom, meant doing a whole lot of growing up! Once I started to let go of my anger and resentment, I realized that they were trying to help me, even if they didn’t exactly know how to do it. (Who does?) Yes, they made mistakes and God knows, I made some real whoppers too! More importantly, I was able to admit that I really needed the help! I didn’t know how to help myself but I let my anger, pride and resentment get in the way of asking for it and accepting it when it was offered.

If we truly want to heal and start making progress with weight loss, it means letting go of these old hurts and the negative behaviors that go along with them, such as refusing to keep an open mind because “I already know that!” or refusing help when someone offers out of wounded pride or doing things our way because “I know what works for me!” Do you really? Because if you knew what worked for you, it would have worked already, wouldn’t it? (That last one is a perennial pitfall for me!) We might think that we have no hurts or emotional wounds to let go of, but think about it. How about when a friend makes an offhand comment not intended to hurt, but still stings (“Are you on another diet?”) or when your spouse buys you a belt or a dress that’s way too big (“he thinks I’m a size 26?!) The embarrassment and the hurt can fester into resentment, which can come out as that emotional eating binge or get pushed down to mix with other hurts to become self-destructive hopelessness.  In this instance, we really need to be the bigger person by forgiving others, whether they meant it or not.  Even if they don’t deserve to be forgiven, we have to do. We’ve got enough to carry around without adding any more!

Speed Up Your Health By Slowing Down: Weight Loss & Slow Food

Some of you might have heard about the “Slow Food Movement” in the restaurant industry (Slow Food).  Essentially, it’s about creating healthy nutritious food in a green sustainable community, which isn’t a bad idea.  There are a lot of reasons why slow food isn’t just good for the environment and local community but also good for you.

At the risk of sounding like your grandma, I am old enough to remember (barely!) when fast food was still something of a novelty. When I was a kid, the main street in my hometown had more drug stores, gift stores or Five-and Dimes than it did fast food chains and the fast food places it did have were local independents.  When the first McDonald’s opened in our town, it was kind of a big deal. Because fast food was still new, it wasn’t something we had every day or even on a regular basis.  Food made at home, from scratch, was more the norm.

It’s not just restaurants that have ‘fast food’ either. Processed foods were also something new back then and most of us thought of it as something good. We can make mashed potatoes in ten minutes instead of an hour. Macaroni and cheese takes fifteen minutes instead of all day.  Oatmeal and rice take no time at all now that we have microwaves! So now that fast food and processed food have been around ‘forever,’ how are those working out for us?  Ummmmmm…. let’s think about that!

For most of us, the best thing about processed food is that it saves us time. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. For holidays and family gatherings, I would spend most of the day in the kitchen with my grandma and my aunts.  That is where I learned to make all kinds of foods that I could probably get at a restaurant or in a grocery store now, but none of it would taste like what I made in that kitchen with my family. Not everything that came out of my grandma’s kitchen was completely homemade, but most of it started as a whole food.  Grandpa’s chile started with fresh jalapenos he cut up, garlic he peeled and mashed and pork steak he cut up himself.  The only can he opened was the tomato sauce.  All of those ingredients were sauteed and simmered for a couple of hours or so.  My grandma’s adobo recipe began with pork steak and chicken cut and boiled in vinegar and water with her blend of spices added.  After a couple of hours or so, it was served over rice that had been steaming on the stove next to it!

As a kid, most of the food we ate started out as whole potatoes, whole dried beans, whole chickens from the butcher and rice from bins at the grocery store.  Our salads were lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers that we washed and sliced or shredded ourselves. Making dinner wasn’t ten or fifteen minutes of opening a plastic bag while something heats up in the microwave.  Preparing food took longer because it started out as close to whole as possible!

A few years ago I was watching one of those chef competition shows with Gordon Ramsay, something I normally don’t watch, but I was glad I saw this episode. There were about five or so contestants who all touted their cooking skills as ‘chef quality’ and this show was to weed out the pretenders. The first chore? Take this whole chicken and cut it into eight equal pieces.  I was unimpressed with the task until most of these wannabe chefs looked at the chicken and their eyes glazed over: they had no idea what to do! REALLY?!?!  I’ve been cutting my own chickens since I was about twelve and I am certainly no chef! Even at twelve, I could have done a better job than some of them did.

Another incident I recall had to do with potato salad.  At a luncheon, I was talking to the woman next to me about potato salad (it came out of a box!) and I mentioned that when I made it, I sometimes added tuna to make it more of a main dish. When she asked me about making it, she commented “isn’t it hard to take the skin off all those little pieces of potato?” I waited to see if she was joking (she wasn’t) so I told her gently “You peel the potatoes before you cut them up and boil them.”

As I mentioned above, I am definitely not a chef and until incidents like those above, I never really considered how far away we have grown from whole natural unprocessed foods. Yes, they can take longer to prepare but they also have more nutrition and less chemical additives and stabilizers. Most of us know this but what we might not realize is that processed foods are quicker because they are in a lot of ways “pre-cooked” and “pre-digested.” That box of potato flakes are potatoes which have been so highly processed they have virtually no fiber or vitamins or minerals. They have virtually no protein and no fiber, although they do have a little potassium (150 mg) and iron and even less vitamin C.  What else is in those ‘potato flakes?’ Sometimes it’s stuff we can’t pronounce, let alone spell! (Ingredients in Instant Potatoes)  I am sure that comes as no surprise to a lot of us: there are chemicals in our processed foods! Yes, let’s all roll our eyes at that one!

Think about it for a minute: we are eating food with less nutrition but with more chemicals. How much of what we are eating is actually food? And what do those chemicals do to our bodies? While listening to a couple of my favorite books for the second time (The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung and Brainmaker by Dr. David Perlmutter), I was reminded of a few things. Margarine is only one molecule away from becoming plastic; transfats cannot be expelled from our bodies, and artificial sweeteners not only raise our insulin levels, they kill our gut bacteria. Humans invented most of these chemicals in the last century so they are absolutely foreign to our bodies. Our bodies have no idea how to process them or expel them, so some of them end up in our liver or fat permanently because these compounds are recognized as “food” (because they aren’t). There are a lot of chemicals in processed foods that were never intended to be “food,” such as the sawdust in your processed grated cheese.  The manufacturers put it in there to keep the cheese from clumping together but our digestive bacteria and our intestines don’t know what to do with it, so…. what happens to it? (Woody Cheese?)  FYI: it’s not just in Parmesan, either!

It’s not just about nutrition: processed food can get in the way of your weight loss. Remember I called it “pre-digested”? That’s because the manufacturers have already begun the digestion for you! That is why it takes less time to cook! Consider those mashed potatoes: when they are made from potato flakes, the potatoes have been cooked, dried out and then processed with chemicals so they won’t spoil on the shelves.  When you eat them, it takes no time at all to digest them because 90% of what your body would do to them has already been done to them! Mashed potatoes from whole potatoes have more vitamins and fiber because those parts haven’t been removed or broken down yet. A simpler example is broccoli: raw broccoli is a whole lot crunchier because the fiber isn’t broken down by the cooking process. It’s the same reason canned green beans are mushier than fresh or even thawed frozen green beans. The canning process requires cooking while freezing doesn’t.  This is why your nutritionist will tell you if you can’t get fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen is the next best thing.  On the can, the label usually reads “green beans, water, salt” while your bag of frozen beans reads “green beans.” The biggest difference is the fiber and nutrition which aren’t lost in the cooking.

Faster processed food means it’s digested faster, hits our blood stream faster and so we get hungry again faster.  Add to that there is less nutrition in what we are eating but more stuff that is making us fatter, such as the carbs, transfats and sugars. As someone who eats a Paleo diet, rice is one of those things I like to stay away from, but it’s not the natural rice that makes people fat.  Many cultures using rice as a traditional staple in their diets weren’t obese until their diet became more Westernized.  It’s not the steamed rice that makes them fat: it’s the processed Western diet that did that! Real whole food takes longer to prepare, has more nutrition and is something your body knows how to digest. It also takes longer to be absorbed so we tend to stay full longer. It just makes more sense! One of my friends jokingly calls the processed cheese food she buys “plastic cheese” because of the individual plastic wrapper on each slice. She doesn’t know how right she is!