Weight Loss & The Why: Does It Really Matter Why You Gained Weight?

I am going to admit right now that I have a love-hate relationship with asking Why.  There are a lot of scientific issues where I want to know why something occurs the way it does or how something came about in history.  I’m just curious that way and I realize that knowing the Why or the How doesn’t necessarily add anything to the outcome beyond satisfying my curiosity. When it comes to obesity and losing weight, I think knowing the Why can be risky.

When you end up gaining as much weight as I did (+/- 450 lbs), does it really matter Why I gained weight?  Other than a medical-physical reason such as a problem with my thyroid or another hormone, the Why is pretty much irrelevant. I can tell you when I started putting on a lot of weight and I know it correlates to my horrible home life while I was in middle school.  If you wanted a Why in my case, that would probably be it. Does it solve anything?  Does knowing that add anything to the outcome? Nope, not really! Living at home really really sucked and my escape from it was eating bags of chips, cookies and whatever else was available and doing it repeatedly.  End result: I learned to ‘solve’ my emotional stress with food. Not a whole lot of insight there: most people who are overweight ‘medicate’ themselves with food!

Does looking back at that extremely stressful time in my childhood and drawing the conclusion that I overate to soothe negative emotions help me with my current weight loss? That one can go either way: since I know I am a stress-eater, I can take steps to use other non-food methods to relieve my stress but do I have to go back to ‘when I first started to gain weight, it was because of the stress in my childhood and I overate to relieve that stress’? Again, most of us know by the time we are adults that we are stress-eaters and knowing that doesn’t contribute anything unless we take steps to manage our stress without food!  But beyond providing interesting but not necessarily useful information about ourselves, there is a small danger associated with digging up this Why.

That danger has to do with blame.  A recent post was about shifting the blame for why you aren’t losing weight or why you might be overweight now. Blaming it on our DNA or our family’s eating habits are common: it’s just an accident of biology or a family dynamic.  If a lot of your family is chubby or obese, you are just like everyone else! If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s no big deal!

The problem comes when you can point your finger at one act or one time in your life as The Reason Why and you refuse to move forward from that point. In my case, I can blame my initial weight gain on my parents’ crappy marriage and the roller-coaster home life that ensued. As I said before, knowing that doesn’t help me say no when I’m standing in Safeway’s bakery section debating whether I really ‘need’ that piece of German chocolate cake for dessert, but it does offer me an excuse to get it! “This is how I deal with stress and it’s been a horrible week!”; “I can’t help being obese- this is how I learned to deal with life!”; “I’ve been fat since I was a kid and it’s not my fault my parents didn’t stop me from eating!” Shifting blame, anyone?

For some of us, digging up the Why becomes our End Goal instead of developing healthier eating habits.  There are a million different reasons we might gain weight: a medical condition, an injury, an emotional issue, or the simple fact that food was scarce for a time in our lives and we learned to overcompensate. While all of these can be the cause of our weight gain, knowing that only helps us lose the weight if we take steps to correct the cause. In my case, it took me a few years to get distance and perspective on Why I gained the weight I did.  Obviously, while I was in the middle of that horrible home life, making a connection between scarfing bags of potato chips and zoning out so I don’t have to listen to my parents screaming at each other was pretty much impossible.  Looking back, it’s become pretty clear that my weight began to get out of control the crazier things got at home, but at the time I didn’t realize it was even possible to ‘medicate’ oneself with food.

After making the connection as an adult, it’s been pretty easy to draw connections between “I’m feeling crazy-stressed right now!” and the desire to wolf down carrot cake: “let’s forget how stressed we are by eating something yummy!” or even not-yummy.  Sometimes eating until we feel sick or eating just to eat or eating ‘so it’s all gone’: all of those are options to avoid the negative emotions we don’t want to deal with! I mean, it worked when I was a kid, didn’t it?

No, it didn’t work.  I felt better for the few minutes I was eating but gaining all that weight just made so many things that much harder.  It was hard to find clothes that fit; I was ridiculed by classmates, family members and even a few teachers for being overweight.  It was a continual problem between my mom and me.  Everything in my life that wasn’t already in chaos because of the poor family dynamics was thrown into chaos because of my ballooning weight.  My weight became the focus of how awful things were at home: my parents blamed my weight on each other; it was a constant landmine at home and the more there were problems at home, the more I ate and the bigger I got.  Eating my problems only added to my problems!

This is what I need to take away from Why I Gained Weight: eating my emotions made everything worse! Going forward, I need to remind myself that eating cake or chips or bread or anything does not solve any problems at all unless that problem is “my body needs fuel.” Eating because I am hungry is the only reason I need to eat! Even then, I don’t have to eat “right now!” just because I am hungry, especially if there aren’t any healthy options around.  If I can wait until later when I can eat something healthy or something I really enjoy, then I can wait to eat.  We’ve all stared into the fridge or the pantry looking for something to eat and asking ourselves “what am I hungry for?”  We aren’t really hungry because if we were,  we’d eat what was there, whether it’s eggs, broccoli, a can of soup, etc.  The fact that we’re ‘hungry for something’ means we’re looking for comfort or distraction, not food!

We all have unhappy events in our lives, some of them much more traumatic than others.  Some of us learned to deal with these incidences by eating our emotions and some of us turned to other methods to deal with the emotional and psychological fallout.  However we’ve chosen to deal with them, if our method is unhealthy (like overeating), then it is adding to our problems, not helping us deal with them. When it comes to our weight, knowing Why we gained weight initially only helps us if we take that incident or learned habit and use it to find ways to correct the detrimental behavior.

Yes, it sucks having to find other ways of dealing with stress.  Sometimes we have to face the yucky emotions and just deal with them.  Stress is uncomfortable, but until we find a healthy way of dealing with our negative emotions and situations, eating our stress only adds to the stress in our lives.  It may be that we have to learn meditation or a breathing technique or prayer or even a counselor. All of these techniques are healthier than eating our emotions. There’s also no rule that says you have to find only one technique either! In some situations I simply tell myself “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it” because worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet is just adding more stress.  In some situations I go to the gym and spend some time in the pool.  My Go-To Stress Relievers? My pets! I go home, spend some time playing with them and they are such a healthy distraction that I feel better almost immediately (and they are calorie free!)

Laughter, Fear & Weight Loss: Taking a Stand

Humans are bit of a paradox: we like to think we stand out as individuals in a crowd, but at the same time, we don’t want to stand out too much. We don’t like to think we are just ordinary but then we don’t want to be “that weirdo” either.

This is especially true when it comes to our weight: being as plump or chubby as everyone else is okay, but being really big? Not okay.  This idea of being too far outside the norm becomes a real problem just at a time when we think we’d be getting over it. I’m talking about going to the gym.

We’ve either started losing weight or we’ve made the decision to be more active so we head to the gym, and once we’re there, we realize it’s full of athletic, toned sweaty people in tight fitting clothes who know what they are doing.  Our first thought: “holy sh**! what did I sign up for?” It’s bad enough not being familiar with the gym itself, where things are, and how to use the equipment, but we’re also aware that we look a lot different from everyone else.  Now when we fumble with the equipment or get lost trying to find the weight room, it’s obvious that we’re chubbos who’ve never been in a gym before! This is pretty much why Planet Fitness’s slogans are “No Gymtimidation” and “The Judgment Free Zone.” They’re marketing to all the chubby gym newbies who are scared of sticking out!  (Planet Fitness was the first gym I joined, although their motto had nothing to do with my reasons: they were cheap and they were close to my house.  The gym I belong to now (In-Shape) is also close, though twice as much but it’s got a pool. If Planet Fitness had had a pool, I would still be there!)

There’s really not much you can do about learning how to use the equipment and where things are in your gym except experience and asking for help when you need it. The more you are there, the more you do, the more at home it becomes.  In this respect, everyone at one time or another was new to your gym and was wandering through the locker room looking for the showers or the towel bin.  It’s that being so much bigger, so ‘out of shape,’ that makes us feel even more self-conscious. It feels like everyone is looking at us and laughing.

As I mentioned before, I had been a Planet Fitness member and had gotten relatively comfortable with the treadmill, but when my doctor and physical therapist recommended a pool for me, I moved to In-Shape (the therapist’s suggestion). So about the time I was feeling pretty comfortable with my old gym, I had to start all over with new one, and on top of that, I had to wear a swimsuit in a public area, where everyone could see me!

It’s bad enough feeling like an idiot trying to figure out where everything is in the gym and then feeling like a fat lazy blob when you walk in and now you’ve got to wear a swimsuit so all your chubby parts and muffin top are visible to anyone who walks by the big glass walls of the pool. Ugh! Talk about torture! Isn’t this one of the top five nightmares that terrify most people?

In all honesty, being unfamiliar with the equipment bothers me the most.  I’m afraid of breaking equipment or injuring myself because I am doing the move incorrectly. As for wearing a swimsuit in public or a tank top or shorts? Not a problem! I remember years ago, I went by a weight loss company (something like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers) to check it out and the ‘counselor’ asked me if I wore shorts or tank tops in public. I remember telling her yes and being a little confused: “am I not supposed to wear them because of my weight?” She appeared equally confused because at the time I was easily about 375+ and apparently people “my weight” normally don’t wear revealing clothes in public out of fear of ridicule and embarrassment.

What this counselor didn’t know was that when I walked into her office sometime in the late 1990’s, I had already spent a lifetime being laughed at in public.  I went to a private grade school full of thin affluent white/ Anglo kids with ‘normal’ names like Jimmy, Molly, Kathy and Scott.  I, by contrast, was a poor overweight Mexican girl with a weird first name! In fact, outside of being overweight since grammar school, my name was the biggest target: Koren. (It really didn’t help that the teachers and administrators couldn’t spell or pronounce it either!)  Since childhood, I’ve been Karen, Koran, Korean, Korine and Koreen until the boys in the class finally settled on Korndog.  The teachers were completely aware of this appalling nickname bestowed upon me, but since it was the poor fat Mexican kid with the name no one could spell or pronounce– meh! whaddaya gonna do?

As I said, the teachers and administrators were completely unconcerned and neither my sister nor I mentioned this humiliation to my parents who would probably have raised a huge embarrassing stink with the principal (whose son was in my class and one of the offenders) so it went on for several years. My choices were either let the nickname bother me or go on with my life. In this day and age, this would be called bullying and harassment, neither of which would be tolerated at the school for fear of a lawsuit, but in the late 1970’s & early ’80’s, bullying and harassment were a part of every day life in grade school.  It’s just the way it was!

So when I walked into that weight loss center, I was pretty much over the whole ‘fear of being laughed at,’ at least for my weight. Being laughed at for doing something stupid was– and still is– a much bigger fear, and in these days of names like Jaeden, Brookline, Hadley and Genesis for little girls, having a different name at my age just puts me ahead of the curve!  The idea of changing what I wear so I won’t ‘look fat’ was a total non-starter.

All of us who are overweight know you can’t hide obesity.  Yes, you can wear clothes that minimize the pudgy parts and hold in that muffin top.  You can wear colors, patterns and designs that are more flattering and I think we should, because the better you feel about yourself,  the more confident you are.  Feeling bad about yourself because you are overweight is not a requirement for obesity or weight loss!

The problem is that’s what happens when you slink around the gym trying to be invisible!  When you try to hide how you look or that you’re uncomfortable in the weight room or you wear baggy t-shirts and shorts into the pool to hide your belly and thighs, you are shaming yourself.  You are telling everyone who sees you that you are not proud of yourself or that you are ashamed to be at the gym.  When I first started using the pool, the swimsuit I had was a tankini: shorts and a long tank-style top.  I had gotten it at Target in the plus size department and all they had were tankinis, so I had two of them.  Once those wore out, I went online and bought a regular two-piece with shorts and a bikini top– NOT a tankini!  Yes, they hide the muffin top and some of the pudgy thighs but overall, they get in the way of the workout! So when I walk out of the locker room headed to the pool area, going right by the weights and the sauna and the steam room and tanning beds, everyone can see me in my two piece: there’s the muffin belly, the saggy skin on my legs, thighs, bingo wings and my great big butt.  I don’t wrap my towel around myself on the way to the pool (on the way back, hell yes! It’s cold in that hallway!) I’m there to get some exercise and have some fun, just like everyone else in my class and everyone else in the gym.

Having been a regular at gyms for a while now, I’ve noticed a few things: those toned athletic young people are just about out-numbered by the older chubby less-toned members.  For every shirtless young guy in shorts is an older guy with a belly, age spots and cut off sweats.  For every tanned young woman with sculpted arms and legs is an older grey haired woman with chubby thighs and a double chin. No one points at anyone else and most members are happy to help someone new by pointing out the locker room or how to use the equipment. I admit the first time I walked into a gym, I was nervous. I didn’t know where anything was or how anything worked, and it took a little time before I got comfortable with everything.  Being nervous is okay but being afraid isn’t.  If you let your fear of being laughed at dictate what you do and where you go, you will have a very narrow and lonely life. Being overweight isn’t a crime any more than being poor, Mexican or having a different first name. Being afraid of being laughed at or being ashamed of who you are has no place in the gym or in our lives.  I learned that in grade school.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s Genetic!”: Weight Loss & Shifting Blame

One of the most common excuses for being overweight is genes. Lots of people who are overweight have grown up with overweight family members. A lot of it has to do with the family’s eating habits: either too much food, too much low quality/ processed food or too much of both. In that kind of situation, it’s easy to blame it on genetics or the family. “I’m big because my whole family is big! I can help it! You can’t fight your DNA!”

It’s true you’re stuck with your genes. I can color my hair and buy blue contacts but I’ll always be short with thick ankles! (If I could change one thing about my body, those ankles would be it!) But one of the things researchers are learning is that what we eat and how much of it can affect gene expression, which is the fancy term for what genes are turned on and which are turned off.  Whether we subscribe to gene expression or not, when it comes to what you put in your mouth, that’s all up to you!

We all know families with picky eaters: the kids who won’t touch vegetables or who only eat white bread. Sometimes it’s the adults who are picky:I have one adult cousin who won’t eat meat with skin and/ or bones!  (Really?!) Either way, it’s a personal choice that person has made and instead of pressuring them to eat like everyone else eats, we should applaud them for taking a stand for individuality.  For whatever reason, they’re not going to eat what they don’t want to eat!

Most of grew up eating what was put in front of us with the horror stories of starving kids elsewhere in the world who’d just love what you are snubbing on your plate! But too often, what was on our plate wasn’t the best food for us. I ate a lot of rice and noodles as a kid because that’s what was cheap and easy to cook. Pretty much every dinner was heavy on the carbs; breakfast was usually carb-heavy cereal and lunch was usually a sandwich with chips and a ‘juice drink.’  In short, my childhood meals went from one carbfest to another! Ironically, the things I complained about the most were the healthiest things in my meals: the lunchmeat in my sandwiches (still not a fan of Genoa salami or olive loaf!)

It would be easy to blame my size on my genes: a lot of my dad’s family is on the plumper side and the same for my mom’s (her nephew was 600+ lbs before dying at a young age).  Between the ‘bad genes’ and the poor family-taught eating habits, I’ve got this excuse nailed! “I’m fat because I’ve got fat genes and no one taught me how to eat healthy!” Boom! That’s done!

Except…… my family isn’t the one putting the food in my mouth.  Remember those picky kids? Family members! They stood up for not eating what everyone else wanted them to eat! True, they were pooh-poohed as being difficult, but at the end of the day, that food they didn’t want to eat was still on their plates uneaten! They chose what to eat and what not to eat, and there were a few who were literal picky eaters, as in they picked at their food a couple of times and left most of it on the plate. “He doesn’t eat enough to keep a mouse alive!”  Really? ‘Cause he looks pretty healthy to me!

While the Go Ahead & Eat It people definitely outnumbered the Picky Eaters in my family, as we all grew up, we all learned to eat differently and eating differently became the norm in our family: this one hates onions, that one won’t eat olives or mushrooms, that one is vegetarian, that one won’t eat fish, etc. So at most family gatherings, there were the foods without olives, onions or mushrooms, the veggie foods and only a couple fish dishes.  I leaned to make my chocolate chip cookies in two batches: those with extra nuts and those without any at all. This was simply how it was done once we became adults because we learned to choose what we wanted to eat.

And that’s what it comes down to: we choose what we put in our mouths.  Genes can’t be changed but our habits can be, and if gene expression has any validity, choosing to eat better can mean choosing to turn off those unhealthy genes.  We aren’t destined to be fat; we are choosing to be fat when we eat food we know aren’t good for us.  Yes, this is not what we want to hear since those of us who’ve been overweight from childhood grew up being ridiculed for being fat. As a kid, I heard a lot from family and other kids about my ‘choosing to be a glutton.’  As a kid, it was certainly not my choice: I didn’t know any better! Everyone ate chips, so why not me? Everyone had cookies, so what’s wrong with my having cookies? My parents fed me the rice, the bread, the pasta and the biscuits and the pancakes! Saying no to what they gave me got me in trouble but apparently eating them also got me in trouble because they made me fat! It was pretty much the same rock-and-hard-place situation for most overweight kids: eat what mom and dad gave you and continue to put on pounds, or say no to what they fed you and face recrimination and punishment. For me, it never occurred to me to say no to the rice or the pasta or anything else because it never occurred to me that my parents would feed me something unhealthy!  I don’t think it ever occurred to them that there was anything wrong with what they were feeding me, either!

Even though we are now adults,  there is still a lot of blame-shifting going on, only this time it isn’t our parents we are blaming, it’s our own family.  “My kids hate vegetables!” “My spouse loves potatoes!” “I’m the only one trying to eat healthy!” Remember those picky eaters I mentioned above?  Just because there are potatoes, rice or cookies on the table or in the house, that doesn’t mean you have to eat them!  Face it, as one of the parents in the family, you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to eat.  It’s not like making your kid eat his broccoli (though if he really hates it, maybe try another veg for him?) Even when it comes to eating out, you can either be That Person who orders the chicken alfredo but get it over broccoli instead of pasta, or you can be a little more casual and simply leave the stuff you don’t want to eat on the plate.  I’ve ordered lots of stuff that came ‘on a bed of rice’ and left the rice behind. Just because something is offered or available to you does not make you obligated to eat it!  If someone offered you something you really detested, would you have any trouble saying no? (In my case, if kale were the only thing to eat in the house, I would be extremely thin!)

Now that I am an adult, what I eat is up to me. I can choose the junk food or I can choose something healthy- whatever I eat and how much of it is entirely up to me. While I may be at the mercy of my DNA with some things, like these icky ankles, myopia, and predispositions to diabetes and hypertension, that doesn’t mean I am “doomed to be fat and sickly” the rest of my life.  How and what I eat, how active I am, how I manage stress and how much sleep I get– among other things– are all up to me and each of those affects my health and my metabolism.  As easy at it would be to blame our genes or our family, your DNA is just the framework of your body: what you choose to build on that framework is all up to you!

Coming Up For Air: Weight Loss & Getting Perspective

When it comes to losing weight, most of us know what are problems are.  We get lazy about food choices; we give in to cravings; we bail on our workouts because we just don’t feel like it– whatever the excuse is, we know it’s an excuse no matter how we try to justify it!

For some of us, though, we don’t know what the problem is until we are away from the problem.  I remember last year when my weight loss started to hit a few bumps and I was feeling really tired, really stressed and there were quite a few days when I made the ‘best fast food choice’ I could because I didn’t have time to cook.  I was very depressed about the whole situation, mainly blaming myself for making excuses. I was emailing a friend about what was going on in my life: I was working & commuting as usual (2 hrs each way x 5 days a week); I was taking care of my mom’s dogs (going by her place 3-5 times a week) and taking them to the groomers/ vet; I was taking care of my own errands (my dog, groceries & truck maintenance); I was trying to make my workouts (2-3 x week) and I had been doing this since August.  At the time of my email, it was November and of course, now I had to add holiday shopping into that list.  After spending most of one day each weekend with my mom’s dogs while she was in the hospital and going by her home evenings 3-4 times a week after I got off work/ gym/ grocery store, I was too tired to cook when I got home at 8 or 8:30 p.m.  If I didn’t have something healthy I could quickly heat up, then here comes the ‘healthy fast food!’  After taking care of my own pets, housework and dinner, I’d be lucky if I got to bed around 10:00 and then I’m getting up again at 5:30 a.m.  While it still feels like a lot of excuses to me, there were a few of my gym friends whose mouths dropped when I told them what I was doing on a regular basis, and had been doing for nearly four months straight.  No wonder I was tired and cranky!

When I actually stopped to re-read what I had written, I realized that’s a lot to cram into 168 hours a week, and that includes sleeping! Once I wrote it down as an objective list of what I was doing on a daily and weekly basis, I got perspective on my situation. There were legitimate reasons I was feeling so tired and cranky and my eating choices were seriously skewed. The point isn’t “great! I have reasons, not excuses!”; the point is that now I have some perspective on the situation, I can begin to formulate a planned response instead of just jumping from crisis to crisis!  In a lot of ways, this situation was nearly a mirror image of the last two years I worked The Job From Hell: late hours, poor eating choices, no activity, no sleep and triple stress!  I was too busy bouncing from crisis to crisis to stop and get perspective on my situation or figure out how to improve it.  This is the same situation that propelled my weight to nearly 440 lbs and caused my general health to head into the toilet.  In short, it nearly killed me and, while my health and weight were greatly improved by August 2017, I was heading back down the road to where I was in September 2014. Definitely not a good place to be!

Perspective is important, and not just when it comes to weight loss.  What I had been doing at The Job From Hell and those four months last year was slapping band-aids on problems that needed serious attention, and unfortunately, that’s what a lot of us do. When we aren’t being deluged with crises, we all know what kinds of problems can get by with a band-aid and what needs a real solution but when we are drowning in emergencies and ‘gotta do it now!’ situations, we can’t see that. We are too busy trying to keep from drowning to realize that we are bailing out an ocean liner with a teacup.  Maybe you’ve seen the commercial for car insurance where the driver spills his coffee and since he’s reacting to the spilled coffee, he doesn’t see the car in front of him.  It’s because our focus has shifted to what looks like an emergency.  Maybe it is a genuine emergency but unless we keep our focus where it needs to be, our overall situation will never improve.  This is why we need to step back and get a good objective view of what is really going on.

On a recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?, we got an update on Erica’s weight loss journey. Her first episode was heart-breaking for me because while she lived alone, she was completely dependent on her brother, sister and niece for any assistance such as shopping and some personal care. Only her niece seemed to have any sympathy  or real concern for her situation.  Her brother was apathetic at best and her sister was downright cruel at times.  Although her sister and brother-in-law eventually helped her, it was blatantly obvious that it was not from the goodness of their hearts!  Their nasty snide remarks and threats to stop helping her made it clear that Erica had two choices: meekly accept the abuse or go it on her own.  As it was, their assistance was minimal at best and at worst, it literally put her life at risk. Rather than take the few days to drive her from Central California to Houston, they would only take her if she went on a plane, despite the risk of fatal complications involved with flying. With a flight of about five hours and weighing 661 lbs, Erica was in real danger of developing a fatal blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism). As it was, upon her arrival in Houston, she ended up being hospitalized due to severe dehydration. (She was so dehydrated she had blood in her urine.)

Erica’s overall attitude was more negative than most patients. It was apparent she had made a difficult last-ditch effort to save her life and she had almost no support from her family. She was not only struggling against her own issues: she had to fight her family’s negativity as well.

It wasn’t until after she had moved to Houston and been living there for a while that she realized her separation from her family and the situation in California allowed her to get perspective on her struggles. When she had to return to California due to finances, she was able to put together a planned response to the issues she knew she was going to have to face. As a result of getting perspective and formulating a plan, Erica was able to make significant progress on her weight loss and at the end of this update, she was within 60-70 lbs of her goal weight.

Getting perspective is hard, mainly because we’re too close to the problem to realize we’re drowning. This is one reason some kind of support community is so important to success: you get the benefit of perspective. You don’t have to get a therapist like Erica did; in my case, I was just emailing a friend. I also share my frustrations and experiences in an online community (My Fitness Pal). A supportive community of any kind not only provides encouragement, ideas and suggestions but it also lets someone who is not drowning in your situation to offer an objective opinion, even if it’s something as simple as “don’t you think that’s a lot of changes all at once?” (They were right!) Perspective allows you to make well considered decisions instead of just reacting to what’s going on around you. It allows you to exercise some control over a situation that may not be entirely within your control. It allows you to develop contingency plans, which in my case meant keeping quick-cooking healthy food on hand (eggs, steam-ready veggies) so I didn’t have to resort to ‘so-called healthy fast food.’

It’s not easy for some of us to find a supportive community and a lot of us think we don’t need one. We do. All the other times I tried to lose weight failed and a big part of that failure was because I was toughing it out on my own. Ironically, having no perspective on my situation kept me from seeing I was drowning all alone and it didn’t have to be that way. Your support community doesn’t have to be others involved in weight loss: some of my biggest supporters are my friends who don’t need to lose weight! They offer motivation, ideas, encouragement and that so necessary objective perspective. Being my friends is all they need to do: giving me their honest opinions, listening when I need a sympathetic sounding board and occasionally helping me come up for air.

Weight Loss & Winning: YOU Decide if You Want to Let Go or Finish the Fight

Most of my friends know that I am a rabid fan of what are now called “police procedurals.”  Back when I was a kid, we just called them “cop shows” or “detective stories.”  But, whatever you call them, books, movies or tv shows, if it was about cops and criminals, odds were I’d checked it out at least once. (FYI: I include lawyers/ court dramas in ‘police procedurals’.)

These days, my current fascination is with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.  I’ve read several of the books, listened to some more via Audible, and watched all four seasons currently available on Amazon Prime Video. One of the things I like so much about the tv show is how much of what’s in the books has made it on to the show.  For example, one of the things that made it from the books is Harry’s sign on his cubicle wall that says “Get off your ass & go knock on some doors.”  This is part of Harry’s no-nonsense, do-whatever-it-takes attitude when it comes to solving murders.

For those of you not familiar with the fictional character of Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch, he is the archetypal “cop on a mission.”  (The title theme on the show is pure Bosch: “Can’t Let Go” by Caught A Ghost.)  For his good or ill, and sometimes it’s both, Harry Bosch doesn’t let go.  He’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if means he takes the heat for getting in someone’s way.  As far as fiction goes, it makes for some great drama, and while watching the tail end of season four, I spotted another sign on the wall of the precinct that I think was some great subliminal messaging: Harry is leaning against a bulletin board listening to one of his fellow detectives update the task force and right next to him is a sign saying “Winners are simply willing to do what losers won’t.”  While that statement is an accurate description of his character, as a viewer, it made me ask myself that question: what am I willing to do?

Not too long ago, I posted a similar phrase I found online: We seldom do things to best of our ability; we do them to the best of our willingness.  This one is along the same lines, but it also stresses this is the difference between winning and losing. If we knew the difference between losing 100 lbs and not losing 100 lbs was giving up bread, are we willing to make that choice?  If you knew you could be so much healthier if you didn’t eat sugar, are you willing to stop eating sugar?  While it’s easy to say, “if I knew for sure, then I’d do it!”  But as long as it’s just ‘an educated guess,’ we’re not going to stop eating bread or sugar? This doesn’t mean that we have to be rigid in our eating or super-strict when it comes to counting calories, but when it comes to our goals, we need to keep our eyes focused on what we are trying to achieve.  Sometimes that can mean being a little strict and sometimes that means doing what’s hard. 

Let’s be honest when it comes to fictional Harry Bosch: if Connelly’s cop took the easy way out the way some of his fictional colleagues do, no one would be reading the books or watching the tv show! We regularly tune in to see Harry go through the wringer and come out the other side with the killer in tow! It’s the struggle that makes for great drama, but in real life, drama and struggling are not so much fun!  It’s one thing to watch a tv character take it on the chin in a fistfight but it’s another thing to be sitting at a BBQ watching everyone washing down chips and hot dogs with beer and soda! It’s bad enough to see it and smell it but having to say no thanks when others offer you the same? Talk about struggling! Real life can be a real pain in the butt! No one wants to make things hard for ourselves, especially when it comes to the ‘simple pleasures’ that add so much to our lives, like hanging with friends at a BBQ! Not eating what they’re eating may not be the ‘pleasure’ you mean, but your not eating or drinking can draw unwanted attention and make others (and you!) feel self-conscious.  What’s fun about that? Now ‘eating healthier’ just got in the way of one of your major relaxation activities!

This is where a lot of us will try to choose the lesser evil or the greater good and choose one hot dog and/ or one beer to be part of the crowd.  I’m not going to judge, because only you know what’s in line with your goals and what’s not.  I am going to say that some of us (raising my hand here) will use this as an escape hatch for making too many ‘accommodations.’  It’s like the old saying: the exception becomes the rule.  If we are constantly making exceptions to have the one hot dog & beer at each BBQ, how long before it turns into two beers/ hot dogs, or even if it stays just one of each, there’s a difference between having one hot dog & beer once a month and having ‘one hot dog & beer’ once a week, because you get together with your friends on Friday nights and then at the BBQ later in the month and then there’s that work luncheon- meeting and you don’t want to draw attention to being different, so you have one slice of pizza and a soda.  It’s easy to allow those little ‘accommodations’ to take over the majority of your eating! Making too many of these exceptions, even if they don’t take over the majority of your eating, they can counteract all the good eating choices you are still making! Does it matter if you had a salad and lean beef for lunch if you then have pretzels, beer and a burger with your buddies when you want to ‘be part of the crowd’?  Been there- getting away from that!

Maybe that’s why the sign in Bosch jumped out at me.  (I actually backed it up so I could write it down!) What am I willing to do that I have not been willing to do up to now?  For starters, I can stop with all the exceptions! I can still be part of the crowd and not have the same food as the others, and if they are my friends, they will support my choices.  If they’re my coworkers, how I eat isn’t their business (not my friends’ business either, but I care what they think!) If it means a few awkward moments, my friends will get over it and so will I. It also reminds me that sometimes doing what it takes to win can be hard.  We all know weight loss is right up there with quitting smoking and if they were easy, we’d all be skinny nonsmokers! Sometimes, it means we have to make the hard choice and say no thanks to the cookies at the party or pass the bowl of chips without grabbing any.  For me, this means keeping my hand out of the bread basket and leaving the licorice alone.  It’s easy to make an excuse: it’s just one; it’s because of the party; it’s a vacation day; etc. We make it hard to let it go because of where we are putting our focus: we focus on what we want (the chips, the beer, the licorice) rather than on our goals of being leaner or healthier.  We all know what we get if we keep doing what’s easy– all we have to do is look in the mirror! If we really want to win, then we need to get off our butts and go do something positive about it!

Drifting Along: Weight Loss & Going with the Flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

As Perfect As We Need to Be: Weight Loss & Perfection

Many of us are familiar with the idea of “progress, not perfection.” In fact it is one of the slogans at my gym and I think it’s the right idea.  The problem with slogans however is that too many of us spout them and repeat them to others without stopping to think about what they really mean. One example from my own life (sooo embarrassing!): when I was learning to drive, an older experienced driver told me that before I pull out into traffic, no matter which way I am turning, look left right before I pull out because those are the drivers that will hit me first. I followed his advice, although I never really thought about it and years later when I was teaching my cousin to drive, I repeated the advice to her. Her face lit up: “Oh yeah! That’s smart advice!”  Me –thinking: “It is?? Why?? [pause] Oh, yeahhhh….” Translation: “Duhhhhhh!”

It is smart advice and it’s too bad I’d never considered it until my younger cousin made me think about what it meant! But this is how ideas can be passed around and not put into practice, despite being repeated on a regular basis. Too many of us see pithy slogans, repeat them to ourselves and others and then go on our merry way doing things the way we’ve always done them, and if that’s not the way that works for us, we get frustrated.  “Why does X work for everyone else but me?!”  Umm.. are you sure that it’s right for you??

There are a lot of us who fall into the “I can’t do XYZ” category.  As in, “I can’t eat Primal/ Paleo because I need a certain amount of carbs each day or my blood sugar drops too low;” or “I can’t be keto because my doctor wants me to limit my fat.”  Whatever your doctor told you, listen to your doctor! But when you use the ‘doctor’s orders’ for your excuse for not losing weight, there’s a problem!

No one begins at a perfect starting point! Even fitness gurus like Chris Powell and Jillian Michaels started out less than perfect! While they look amazing now, what we are seeing is the Final Product, not the First Draft.  No one- in weight loss or anything else– started out perfect their first time around.  The hang-up comes when we want to be as perfect as possible the first time out or even before we start.  We want to begin from a perfect starting point so we can get to the Final Product as soon as we can.  It’s an admirable sentiment, however unrealistic it is. There is no Universal Perfect Starting Point; there is just where we choose to start!

While I realize I might be making some enemies here, I don’t believe either Chris Powell or Jillian Michaels are perfect.  They look great and are in great shape, but I’m sure if you ask either of them to point out things about themselves they wish were better, they’d have a few items on the list!  Each of us excels at pointing out our flaws.  When we stand in front of a mirror and our friends and family tell us how great we look, we still think “yeah, except for my hips/ my chest/  my neck/ my butt/ my thighs/ my whatever.”

This is where the idea of perfection has gotten stuck in our heads.  We want to eat perfectly.  We want to work out perfectly.  We want to look as perfect as we can.  Those are very admirable goals, but again, how realistic are they?  Is anything or anyone in this world perfect? Who is eating the perfect diet? Who is doing the perfect work out?  Even if they are ‘perfect’ most of the time, what they are doing is ‘perfect’ for them!  There are people who eat a lot of veggies like leeks and kale and tomatoes.  That’s great, if you aren’t sensitive to allium veggies, cruciferous veggies or nightshades!  Some people have trouble with the excessive sulfur in allium veggies like leeks, onions, garlic, etc.  People with thyroid conditions are sometimes told to limit their cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.  For some of us, we are just sensitive to nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes). So when you look at someone else’s ‘perfect’ diet, it might be worse for you than the diet you are following now!  The same with their ‘perfect workout’: what works for them might hurt you!

[What sparked this particular post might seem fairly far afield. As a ‘recovering English major,’ I was reviewing John Milton’s Paradise Lost. (Talk about a heavy unrelated topic!)  But the commentary I recall most from my classes about this epic poem is that while God made humans flawed and imperfect, He made them as perfect as they need to be. Adam and Eve had everything they needed to exist forever in Eden.  They were lacking nothing but through their own choices were cast out of Paradise. Their choices were not imperfections.]

Whether you are Christian or not, the fact remains that each of us has the skills and ability we need to lose weight, eat better and be more active.  We don’t need to start at perfection and perfection as a goal remains relative.  What works great for me might not work at all for my sister or my friends. Each of us needs to begin at our own starting point and move forward.  Some of us might be starting at a much lower benchmark than others and some of us might not ever reach as high as someone else’s midpoint!  We need to seek our own perfect eating plan and fitness plan and stop comparing ourselves to others.  It’s okay to try something someone else is having success with eating or doing, but if it’s a huge failure for you, it’s not your failure! You did not fail- this particular tool just doesn’t work for you. One of my favorite podcasters, Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has a favorite recipe that she eats often.  She calls it her ‘cabbage bowl’ which has raw shredded cabbage, bacon, an egg and usually avocado. She leaves the yolk runny and uses it with the avocado to make a kind of dressing.  If I had to eat raw runny egg yolk, I would seriously throw up! It’s one of the few foods that I have detested all my life.  (I only eat really hard cooked egg yolk with enough hot sauce on it to kill the taste!) I eat a lot of the other stuff in that recipe but not the egg! Does that mean my diet isn’t perfect? Not at all! It means the bacon avocado coleslaw I have is what works for me.

There is no reason to compare yourself against anyone else.  You are unique and while there are some basic healthy human guidelines to follow, no one else can tell you that you’re a failure for not eating or working out like they do.  Are you eating healthier, according to you? Are you being more active than you used to be?  If the answers to those are yes, then you are doing just fine, and if you think you can make improvements, great! As long as they work for you!  If they aren’t working out for you, find something that does, and odds are, it won’t be someone else’s eating or workout plan!

The Secret Saboteur: Weight Loss & Stress

Let’s be honest: stress gets the blame for a lot of things we screw up in our lives.  We forgot to make the car payment because we were stressed over our job; we missed our dentist appointment because we were stressed over the kids; and the classic: we blew our diet because we were just so stressed!

We are so used to hearing Stress being painted as the villain that we regularly dismiss it now. Friend:”yadda yadda yadda Stress made me do it yadda yadda!” You: “Yeah, whatever!” But while Stress might be a convenient villain, it doesn’t mean that it really isn’t a villain. In fact, Stress is as ubiquitous and all-pervasive as Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Prof. Moriarty.  Stress seeps into every facet of our lives, working its corrosion into our best laid plans.  While you’re probably rolling your eyes and telling me, “duhhh! old news there!”, let me ask you “so what are you doing about it?”

When I was a kid (lo, those many decades ago!), drunk driving was no big deal. Everyone knew someone whose parents drove drunk a few times and even when I was in high school, no one thought twice about getting buzzed at some party out at the reservoir and then driving home. They were more concerned about getting busted by their parents than busted by the cops. The truth of the matter was that drunk driving was never a “big deal”….until it was. Once the general public became aware of how many lives are destroyed daily by drunk driving, then we saw it for the huge problem it really is.  But until we were actually paying attention, it was ‘nothing to worry about.’

While Stress normally doesn’t have the catastrophic and tragic results that drunk driving has, it still has some really negative results and depending on how severe the Stress is, it can be pretty bad. When it comes to weight loss, Stress is that secret saboteur that gets in your way, leads you astray and continually confounds your progress, and if your weight is contributing to a condition like diabetes, kidney, heart or liver disease, that can be just as catastrophic as a car accident!

For most of us, our weight isn’t life-threatening and usually doesn’t have such overreaching effects on our lives. It’s that annoying twenty pounds that makes us ‘feel fat’ when we wear jeans or keeps us from taking off the cover up on the beach.  Still, how much better would our lives and our health be minus that annoying twenty pounds? Probably a lot better! So… why haven’t we lost that weight? The answer probably has something to do with Stress!

Like I said before, we probably look at Stress as the ‘Convenient Villain’ that gets blamed for our over-eating, eating Forbidden Foods, skipping workouts, etc.  While Stress may not be the actual villain in those scenarios (admit it- you ate the chocolate cake because you wanted the chocolate cake!), it really is working against you! Whether it’s physical or emotional/ mental, when we feel stressed, we have a physical reaction which spreads throughout our bodies and damages us.

If you’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes, hopefully you’ve seen the Robert Downey, Jr. movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows where he shows Jude Law’s Watson his wall full of pictures, news clippings and notes all connected by strings to a central figure. In the stories, Holmes describes Moriarty as the spider in the center of web controlling it all.  Stress is the Moriarty spider in the center of our lives!

We all know about the Fight or Flight reaction we have when faced with a potentially dangerous or threatening situation.  Stress is part of that reaction.  Something happens that puts pressure on us, either mentally/ emotionally or physically, and our bodies react to it.  Most of us discount this Stress because hey, we aren’t going to die if we’re late back from lunch or if our morning meeting runs long and the 10:30 client has to wait a little while.  Our boss or the client might not be happy but some things (like traffic and long meetings) are out of our control.  It’s called the Modern World, people!

This is exactly my point: Stress is still in our lives, but because we don’t think “we’re going to die!“, we tend to discount it.  How bad can Stress be if it’s not going to kill us? The truth is that it is killing us, just very slowly.  Stress, especially chronic Stress, keeps our cortisol levels elevated.  Cortisol is the “stress hormone” and the main mechanism which causes so many of the problems related to Stress. Prolonged and recurring Stress, such as the kind that comes with a high pressure job or a hectic family life, effects us in ways we don’t think of as any “big deal.”  So we have “a few” sleepless nights; we forget the dentist appointment; we pour the coffee on the cereal in the morning because we’re preoccupied with the upcoming project. Nothing to freak out about, right?

Ummm, that depends. You know how little treats add up when you’re trying to lose weight? How those two cookies at lunch aren’t a big deal but how those two cookies are joined by the bag of chips on the way home and the grande mocha in the morning and then the bowl of ice cream after dinner? One of those treats alone isn’t that big a deal but all of them together turn into a diet killer!  That’s what happens with your Stress:  a couple sleepless nights aren’t a big deal but they add up and are usually joined by Stress-triggered effects.  These are things like headaches, muscle tension/ pain, fatigue, digestive troubles as well as the sleepless nights.  Stress causes anxiety, feelings of restlessness, hopelessness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, inability to focus/ concentrate, anger and depression.  These can lead to eating disorders (over-eating and under-eating), angry outbursts, substance abuse (food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco) and social isolation.

Those high cortisol levels are mainly responsible for increased inflammation which many studies are now showing are behind a lot of our autoimmune disorders (such as arthritis and fibromyalgia) and also behind some of those problems I mentioned earlier: heart disease and kidney disease.

The sleepless nights aka Sleep Deprivation also has a whole host of negative effects, such as memory issues, mood changes, inability to focus/ concentrate (brain fog), drowsiness, weakened immunity, high blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes due to the increased levels of insulin, weight gain due to the resistance to leptin (the satiety hormone) and increased ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and the increased inflammation- again!  The attendant drowsiness that comes with chronic Sleep Deprivation is usually responsible for all manner of accidents, from tripping and falling to car accidents due to drowsy driving (it’s now listed on police collision reports!)

All of these negative effects are the result of Stress.  This is why I call it the secret saboteur. Stress really does sit in the center of the web of many of our health problems.  Our weight is just one of the many things that is affected by the ongoing Stress in our lives.  While we may not be fighting off a tiger or a wolf, we are now constantly bombarded by little stressors such as traffic congestion, late-paying clients, lost phones, too many activities and pressure from family and friends. It doesn’t help that we manufacture our own Stress when we stay up too late scrolling through Facebook or ordering online and then we feel rushed in the morning because of the traffic and where’s our phone and are you taking the kids to basketball tonight? All this Stress leads to poor eating choices, lack of exercise, giving in to hunger and cravings, over-eating, and increasing waistlines.  How can we be expected to lose weight with all this Stress in our lives?  This is where we blame Stress (“That’s why I ate the whole bag of Chips Ahoy!”) but what are we doing about all this Stress?

Let’s be honest: Stress is not going away, so we need to learn to manage it. There are a lot of strategies to manage your Stress (google that late at night!) and they include simple things like going to bed at the same reasonable time each night; making time for relaxing hobby (I like puzzles); being more physically active; socializing with friends or pets; relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing and meditation; and the simplest is absolutely free: keep a sense of humor! I know it’s easier said than done but at the end of the day, we need to decide what really deserves our immediate attention, what can wait until later and what we need to let go.  When my cable box recently died, after a fairly major tantrum that night, I put off replacing it until the weekend.  So I miss a week of tv! It’s not worth the Stress of rushing around to “get it done now!” As a result, it was fun “camping out” with my kindle for a few days and I got to spend more quality time with my pets (my favorite stress relievers)!

 

Tunnel Vision: Weight Loss & Broadening Your Vision

We’re all prone to tunnel vision at some time or another. We get locked into one way of thinking and forget that we locked the door ourselves. When it comes to weight loss, we often don’t realize we’re locked into tunnel vision because we’ve never seen outside the tunnel. Even when presented with outside-the-tunnel options, we may not recognize them as options they are: to us, they may seem crazy or completely out of our reach!

When it comes to weight loss, so many of us think in the ‘All or Nothing’ mindset: either we’re completely on board with our diet or we’ve blown the whole thing. This is where most of us get stuck in the tunnel. We look at our Diet as difficult, restrictive, bland and miserable. We see it as something temporary and our goal is to get done with it so we can go back to our Normal Life aka Eating Like Before.  Welcome to the Diet Tunnel!

The most successful weight loss plans aren’t diets: they’re lifestyle changes— as in permanent. But permanent doesn’t mean we’re locked into that Diet Tunnel. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever eat bread or pizza or cinnamon rolls again. It means we are selective about when we eat them. It means we think about what we eat before we eat it! Not thinking before eating is how many of us gained as much weight as we did.  We see it; we want it; we eat it! At the end of the day, most of us never thought about how much we ate during the day, unless we were super stuffed. If we did happen to think about it, we either moaned about how “out of control” we are or we gloss over it and leave out some of the foods that we tell ourselves ‘don’t count.’  These would be things like the odd bites of pastry or the handful of chips at lunch or the energy bar we picked up at the gas station to ‘tide us over’ until dinner.

Five tortilla chips really don’t amount to much but five chips + one Quest bar + half a danish begin to add up over the day and the week and finally take up residence on your muffin-top belly.  They count, but how much they count depends on you and whether you thought about them before you ate them! This is where most of us are in that Diet Tunnel: we see the chip basket on the table and our first thought is “NO CHIPS!” Having a few chips is okay as long as you think about them and then before you grab that Quest bar on the way home, you pause: “I already had a handful of chips and half a danish.  Maybe I should skip the bar.”  If you really want that bar, maybe you skip the butter on the Brussels sprouts at dinner or cut the sweet potato in half.  You are in charge of your eating and you don’t get points for making yourself miserable, starving yourself or eating only lettuce.  This is why the permanent lifestyle changes win out over the Diet Mentality: once we learn to eat healthy things we enjoy in a way that keeps us healthy and losing weight, we don’t have to moan and groan about the chips or the ice cream or the bagels.  The key is balance, not deprivation!

The other place where most people get tripped up is when it comes to eating at home.  In an effort to promote healthy eating, a lot of magazines, books and websites publish recipes: healthy food, usually low calorie or low carb, and full of flavor!  It’s a great idea…IF you enjoy cooking!! Some of us aren’t fond of long ingredient lists or complicated steps or hours of prep time. That doesn’t mean I’m stuck with boring bland food unless I get take out or go out to eat.  It means I have to look outside that Tunnel and see what options are available to me that I feel comfortable making at home.  This can mean putting something in the slow cooker when I leave for work; it can mean preparing a lot of food on the weekend and putting it in the fridge or freezer.  Usually for me it means I make three or four burgers, steaks or ribs on one night and heat up the rest during the week. (I usually undercook the ones I’m saving for later so when I heat them up again, they aren’t overcooked.)  This works for me because I don’t need to eat something complicated: I like simple food.  For me, ‘make it yourself coleslaw’ and a pan-fried pork steak are just fine for me! That doesn’t mean they’re bland either: I usually dress them up with some of my favorite spice blends.

If you really don’t feel like cooking, there are healthy options at most grocery stores.  My old standby is still bagged salad/ veggies and rotisserie chicken! They also have frozen burgers ready to reheat, frozen quiche and many other healthy options you just need to reheat.

Getting out of the Tunnel doesn’t just mean food or cooking: it also means activity.  When your main evening activities are sitting in front of the tv and eating;or getting online and eating; or reading and eating; or [insert sedentary activity here] and eating, you need to look for something else to fill your time.  Believe me, doing what you used to do and thinking about not-eating is just rubbing salt in the wound.  It’s a lot like an alcoholic hanging out with his drinking buddies and thinking about not-drinking. When my uncle stopped drinking, he started hanging out with my dad a lot.  There were phone calls every night except for his Meeting Night and lots of activities on the weekends and it was for the same reason: my dad has never been a drinker so when he’s with my dad, it’s never an issue or an option.  While we may not all be food addicts, we still have behavior that triggers us to eat out of habit.  How many of us automatically stand in the popcorn & soda line when we enter a theater?

When we’re used to getting a bag of chips and sitting down to watch our usual show or we hit the Starbucks to grab a Frappucino and scroll through our Instagram, those are triggers.  We can still watch our show and scroll but we are usually conscious that ‘something is missing.’  Triggering the craving is making it harder than it needs to be! It’s keeping us locked in the Tunnel as well as pushing us over the edge when it comes to ‘sticking to our Diet.’  That doesn’t mean you can’t ever watch tv or hit up a Starbucks, but it does mean that you have to think outside the Tunnel.  That can be something as simple as watching tv and keeping your hands occupied with something else, such as folding laundry, writing in your journal, playing tug of war with your dog, or (in my case) doing my nails. There was a transition period, since I obviously can’t do my nails every night, but once I got in the habit of doing something other than eating while in front of the tv, the trigger went away.  The same is true for just about any behavior or activity: if it triggers the impulse to eat, either replace the eating with something else or re-evaluate that activity’s importance in your life. If sitting at Starbucks is too much temptation, find someplace else with WiFi to scroll through your phone. (My gym has free WiFi!) Or maybe you make a new ‘phone’ habit, like doing it at home or you check your social media at home on the laptop?

It takes some practice to find out what’s outside the Tunnel and what options will work for you and what won’t. I hear a lot about “batch cooking” on healthy lifestyle podcasts but while making that much food doesn’t work for me, I do a version of it that does: instead of cooking one burger or serving of veggies every night, I do enough for two or three and just warm up the rest. When I hit Starbucks, instead of a macchiato or a latte, it’s brewed coffee or an americano with cream.  Sometimes I’m really out there and just get tea! The activities don’t have to be drastically different- they just have to be different enough to change your triggers and keep you on track with your weight loss goals.

Having a solid support system is critical when it comes to seeing outside the Tunnel.  As I mentioned before, if we’re not used to looking at things differently, we probably won’t see the options available. This is where having resources come in. I have a fitness community (My Fitness Pal) but you can still use any supportive community (Facebook, Instagram) or even website with ideas or recipes (Nom Nom Paleo; Primal Potential, etc).  The idea is to surround yourself with options and try them out! There is a way out of the Diet Tunnel but until you unlock that door yourself, you may never get out.