Get Out of Your Head and Get Over It!: Weight Loss & Making Our Own Obstacles

This is a tough topic.  Most of us are reluctant to admit that we are the biggest problem we have when it comes to eating healthy, losing weight and being fit. We all like to think we have our act together when it comes to the “Important Stuff,” but the truth is that the things that matter most in our lives are the same things we have the biggest problems handling.

When most of us decide we are going finally going to lose weight and be more active, we are firmly resolved in our intent.  Yay! We made The Decision! Now, we just have to put that decision into action! …..Ummmmm….. okay….. going to lose weight……. yah… And there is our first obstacle! We know what we want to do and most of the time, we know how we want to do it, but actually doing it is where we trip ourselves up and end up face first on the pavement! Words and decisions are not action and the only thing that will get us to our goals is taking action! That usually includes doing certain things, such as making it to the gym on a regular basis, and not doing certain things, like leaving the bread in the bread basket! Frankly, these are easier said than done and that’s why weight loss and fitness are so hard for most of us.

Smoking is a prime example. Almost everyone knows someone who smokes and nearly every smoker has gone through a similar process: 1) They make the decision to quit smoking; and 2) they take action to quit smoking.  At least, they want to take action to quit smoking! When you ask them how their “Quitting Smoking” plan is going, you get answers like “I quit the quitting. It’s too hard!”

Everyone knows that tobacco and nicotine are addictive, which is a major reason it’s such a hard habit to break: you are dealing with an addiction!  Weight loss gurus constantly debate whether food is actually an addiction, but the question is really academic if you have a weight problem.  I believe that sugar is addictive (The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes) but even if you are not a ‘sugar addict,’ for most of us eating is calming, comforting and habitual. For many of us, our lives revolve around eating whether we planned it that way or not.

So when we make the decision to lose weight and be more fit, we are making a decision that will impact more than just mealtimes and then when we start taking action to eat healthier, we discover how big that decision really is! Think about it: we meet friends to do some shopping and someone suggests lunch or coffee; we go out to the movies and there’s popcorn, soda and candy; we take a trip to the coast so we ‘must’ try the local restaurants; there’s a family celebration: cake, snacks, drinks; we stay home and binge the new season of a favorite show– snacks, anyone? Food has become interwoven with our cultures and our habits, so when we make a seemingly simple decision to eat healthier, it becomes this huge issue that is so complicated, we can’t ever get out of it! OMG! It’s everywhere! I’ll never get away!

WRONG!!  The only thing stopping you from taking action is your thinking! When you go to the movies with friends, are they forcing you to eat popcorn and Twizzlers? When you meet your friends for coffee or lunch, are they making you eat croissants or pasta?  You don’t have to munch potato chips mindlessly while bingeing House of Cards on your own sofa and chowing down on lobster rolls isn’t a requirement for going to the coast.  It’s just habit and your own thoughts that make you think you ‘should’ or ‘must’ eat these things!  For a lot of occasions, eating is not the central activity: it’s not required for movies or tv and it’s not the point of shopping or sight-seeing.  It has become an accepted and habitual activity when we do these thing so when we meet up with friends, it’s expected that we will have lattes and croissants, but our friends won’t reject us if we say no to them. It’s our heads that tell us “you’ll be different!” if you don’t eat. When we go someplace new and we don’t try the local specialty, we’re afraid we’ll miss an amazing food, or that our family will shun us if we don’t have a piece of Aunt Lisa’s birthday cake. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves and we don’t want to appear ‘different.’

That kind of thinking is keeping us from reaching our goals.  Our head is making this process harder than it needs to be and we keep listening to those thoughts, partly out of fear and partly because it keeps us following the same reassuring behaviors.  We don’t want to fail at weight loss when everyone knows we are on a diet: it’s another way of drawing attention to ourselves. “Oh, dear. Sheila isn’t losing much weight, is she?” So we try not to ‘advertise’ the fact that we’re on a weight loss plan by not changing how we eat in public.  We don’t want to be the one at the table who’s not eating the brownies while everyone else is commenting on how yummy they are. It keeps us eating the same foods and following the same behaviors which means we are still not losing weight!

Taking action means we have to do things differently and that can mean some real changes in your old habits. That usually means your friends and family will notice these changes, and at the risk of sounding like old Aunt Lisa, “your real friends will support your changes!” (Your real friends are going to want to hang around with you, having fun and when you can’t walk around the mall without stopping to sit down every ten minutes, it’s not as much fun!) Aside from being supportive, if everyone knows you are eating healthier, then how likely are you to load your plate with potato chips at the family picnic? In this instance, their scrutiny (whether real or imagined) is going to help you reinforce those new habits you are putting into action!

Fear of missing out is all in our heads, just like fear of being different or fear of ridicule.  In many cases, our fear of these things is way out of proportion than the actual event, if it ever occurs. Once we get out of our heads, many of these obstacles vanish.  It makes it easier to build healthier habits if we aren’t so hung up on being afraid of missing out or of being different. Is it so bad if everyone knows that you don’t eat bread? (In today’s ‘gluten-free’ society, you might just blend in more!) More importantly, remember that Decision you made at the start of this process? There were legitimate reasons behind that Decision: important events like teaching your kids to swim, going hiking with your significant other, attending your children’s weddings; babysitting your grandkids, and maybe taking another trip to the Grand Canyon with your family.  Those are all great events, but you have to be healthy and fit enough to live long enough to enjoy them. Fear of missing out on coffee and beignets seems kind of silly by comparison, doesn’t it? What are you really afraid of missing?

 

Feeling the Burn?: Fitness Isn’t About Weight Loss

One of the myths about weight loss is that we have to exercise if we are going to lose weight.  Exercise and being active are great things and they can really improve our quality of life, but when it comes to losing weight, exercise is only about 10% of the equation.  The truth is that our diet and nutrition make up the other 90%.

We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet,” and it’s the truth.  When you think about that burger and fries you had on the weekend, it’s likely over 1100 calories.  How many sit-ups, crunches and miles on the treadmill will it take to burn off 1100 calories? Depending on your weight and muscle mass, you could spend all day in the gym working to get off those calories, let alone burning anything else you ate that day!

What really drives weight loss is a consistent healthy diet. What foods go into that diet is up to you.  There are always people who promote one style of eating over another but the real test is you and your body.  If you can lose weight and feel healthy on a vegan diet, then go for it! Personally, I can’t do the “vegan thing” but I do manage vegetarian on occasion. I am a fan of Paleo, which contains a whole lot of veggies contrary to those people who think it’s all about meat, but whatever works for you is the only thing that counts.

The first thing about weight loss and diet everyone thinks of is calories of course.  We need to eat fewer calories than our bodies burn so that it can burn the stored calories aka ‘fat.’ Too many people take this Calories In v Calories Out (CICO) thinking to the extreme and do a starvation diet and heavy exercise to lose as much weight as fast as they can.  This is the kind of thinking that got The Biggest Loser ‘winners’ into trouble.  Our bodies have a one track mentality: stay alive! So when it comes to low calorie input and heavy calorie expenditure, it turns down all the other systems it controls in order to conserve resources (aka ‘fat) so that it has calories to burn later on.  This is why we often feel tired or cold when we go on the Crash diet: our body is reacting to the drastically reduced calories.  It is also why people like those Biggest Loser ‘winners’ can exercise over two hours a day, eat 1000 calories and still gain weight: our metabolic set point has been lowered by low calorie input + high calorie output.

The fact is that eating a healthy diet consistently is what works the best without our feeling fatigued all the time, working out all the time and starving all the time.  Our bodies don’t turn down the metabolic set point and we can still lose weight.

So why exercise? Because another truth about our bodies is “use it or lose it.” If we don’t use the muscles and systems we have, our bodies stop putting in the maintenance.  Remember when you broke your arm or leg and after six weeks in the cast, your arm/ leg was a lot smaller than the other one (not to mention hairier?) It’s because for those few weeks, you didn’t use the muscles in that limb, so they atrophied. The same thing happens with our bones: not being used? The body sends those minerals to somewhere else in the body where they can be used or just expels them. This is the reason working out with weights has become a hot issue for older people who want to save bone mass: it not only builds muscles but bones as well! When we get out and move our muscles and bones, our bodies keep maintaining them. It’s when we stop moving and lifting and walking and bending and stretching that our bodies stop putting resources into our bones and muscles, and seriously, other than bones and muscles, what else are we made of?

The other benefit to exercise is that it keeps our joints lubricated, so to speak.  You know when you’ve been sitting for a long period of time and when you stand up, you feel stiff? Imagine how stiff you’d feel if you’d been sitting for days!  There is a science behind how our bodies begin creating a sitting framework that we have to break out of once we begin moving again, but the simple truth is that if we don’t move, our joints, muscles and bones forget how to do it.  They are out of practice and this is dangerous because this is where people get hurt. We all know that one of the biggest dangers for older people is falling and breaking a hip. These fractures usually result in surgery and it’s the beginning of a downward spiral for many of these patients. The sad part is that many people stop being active because they are afraid of breaking a hip or a bone, which leads to decreased bone and muscle mass and stiff joints, which just makes them more vulnerable to falling and breaking a bone.  Talk about a downward spiral!

I have heard trainers advise that it’s the stiffness in the waist and hips that cause most people to lose their balance.  They don’t reach, bend, twist or squat so the middle part of their body (the torso or core) loses the ability to do so, and when they are knocked off balance, they fall instead of twisting or sitting or reaching.  Result? Broken bone!  While I am not a young thing anymore, I like to think I’m not exactly “old” yet (yeah, I’m deluding myself!) but I recently had a similar experience which really added to my understanding of how this happens. I got up in the middle of the night and as I was walking around the bed to get to the hallway, I stepped on one of the dogs’ tennis balls and lost my balance.  Instead of falling like a tree straight on the bed on my side, I twisted and ended up sitting down hard on the bed.  While I don’t think hitting the bed would’ve broken anything, my butt still has a lot more padding than my ribs or my arm so instead of ending up with bruises, I ended up with just a little muscle strain from the hard twist and in less than a couple of days, it was forgotten (after I picked up the tennis balls!) When people fall, they usually don’t have time to think “how can I fall so I don’t hurt myself?” but our bodies react to protect themselves. I didn’t think “twist so you land on your butt!”; my body just did it once I realized I’d lost my balance. The fact that I was able to move to minimize any injury is due to regular exercise: two-three times a week in the pool.  Even if you can’t get to a gym or exercise regularly, all you need to practice squats is a chair: sit down, stand up, repeat as often as possible! If you can add a stretch to the other side of your knees, even better.

There are some benefits to weight loss with working out: you do burn calories when you exercise and you maintain or build muscle, which burns more calories than fat, so the more muscles you build, the more you exercise, the more calories your body can burn.  Many people also find that the more they move, the more they want to move! Honestly, I dreaded the thought of working out even in the pool, and I am still reluctant to change clothes and take time out of my day to work out, but once I am there and afterwards, I have to admit that I feel much better and frankly, it’s a lot of fun to move! Unfortunately, when people believe that exercise is going to be the key to weight loss, they get angry or disappointed when they spend a lot of time at the gym and lose only a minimal amount of weight.  That’s because they are still eating most of the same foods that caused them to gain the weight.  Real weight loss begins and ends with what goes into your mouth! Exercise and activity are important components in a healthy lifestyle, even if they don’t have major parts to play in weight loss. Staying as mobile and flexible as possible is the best thing you can do for yourself and your weight because a body in motion tends to stay in motion while a body at rest just gets stiff.

Motivating Weight Loss: Oysters, Big Fruit & Cliches

Motivation is always a hot topic because it tends to be short-lived.  We hear a great podcast or see something online and we get all fired up.  We want to make progress and we want that progress to be fast! Go to it, guys! Burn that fat! Cut those carbs!

We all know it takes a lot of energy to keep at it, doing whatever program or plan we are following and the motivation eventually burns out because we can’t keep that fire going without constantly stoking it.  That means several times a week, we have to find something to keep that motivation burning hot so our progress doesn’t fizzle along with the motivational fires.

However, there’s something else that can keep us motivated that might not be as fun as listening to an inspirational podcast or a motivating YouTube video and that’s a bit uncomfortable because it’s discomfort. It’s not fun and it’s not pretty but it’s a major reason a lot of us end up losing weight and getting healthier.

I know lots of people like to use the idea of the little grit of sand that gets stuck in an oyster so the oyster turns it into a lovely pearl, blah blah, yadda yadda. Yeah. It’s a cute perky little cliche: we go from being ugly gritty sand into beautiful pearls! Ugh…. too perky for me! And any transformation into a ‘pearl’ takes a long long time- those pearls we pull out of those oysters took many many years to develop!

Of course, the cute perky response is that we are all ‘pearls’ to begin with, not gritty bits of dirt, but the truth is most of us feel like gritty bits of dirt. Why? Because we are uncomfortable! And though most of us come to loathe those feelings of discomfort, that discomfort is really what gives us constant encouragement to change.

Remember when you brought out your dressy blouse/ shirt for that important occasion only to be shocked that it’s too tight? Or when you went to button up your jeans and they also didn’t fit anymore? Even worse, you couldn’t get your good slacks up over your butt? How about all those times you had to suck in your gut to get the seatbelt in the car or the plane to reach across you? Or when you had to loosen the straps on your sandals because your feet are bigger than last summer?

It’s an embarrassing reality check and it makes us feel uncomfortable, just like all those chairs at restaurants where the arms dig into your thighs. Embarrassing. Uncomfortable.  This emotional and physical discomfort is important: it’s called an impetus. It’s what ultimately spurs some of us to change how we eat and how we live and it’s a daily reminder of why we need to change, so when we start thinking that “305 lbs isn’t the end of the world,” the next time we have to lay on the bed and suck in our gut to zip up our jeans (and then hope we don’t drop anything while we’re wearing them!), there’s that little annoyingly uncomfortable reminder of why 305 may not be the end of the world but it still doesn’t mean we have to live with it!

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of online ads for Big Fig mattresses.  It’s a mattress for a “fuller figured” individual and the ads show a plus-sized person lounging comfortably on the mattress reading, sleeping, with their tablet, etc.  Frankly, instead of being intrigued, I was outraged.  Why are we making it easier for people to accept being fat?? Instead of encouraging them to lose weight, they are making it easier for them to stay where they are: overweight and possibly unhealthy.  Now before you jump all over me for criticizing the obese (of which I am one), I realize there is a need for ‘heavy duty’ mattresses for the ‘heavy duty’ sleeper. I also realize that by making it easier for people to feel comfortable with their weight, they are reducing their impetus to change.  In other words, unless you feel the discomforting reason to lose weight, it’s easier for you to stay the weight you are and as all of us obese people know, we rarely stay at that weight: most of us gain, either quickly or slowly, but gain nonetheless.  So while we might be 305 now in 2018, come 2020 we will probably be at least a few pounds closer to 350, and come 2022, probably closer still if we haven’t passed it already.  Why? It’s not because we want to be fat and unhealthy– it’s because we don’t have any nagging little uncomfortable reason to change how we are living! (Read about the mattress for yourself: Big Fig Mattress Review )

When I was in high school way back in the 1980’s, I was already at the limit for ‘plus-sized’ clothing and that was about a size 20 or so. I remember buying school clothes one year and the only pants they had in my size were horrible old-lady looking styles in some horribly bright reds and blues.  I was mortified that I would have to wear these to school!  (FYI: the only person at my school who was bigger than me made her own clothes!) Now, although I weigh a whole lot more than I did in high school, I can go to a variety of different stores and find a whole lot of gorgeous clothes in colors and styles that are actually too big for me! I can find clothes in brick-and-mortar stores in my town all the way up to 32-34! Why the change? Because Americans overall have gotten more and more obese! There is a market for these clothes in stores, not just online, just like there is a market for Big Fig mattresses! People who are ‘plus-sized’ need clothes and furniture and mattresses and seatbelt extenders and all kinds of accommodations.  In fact, if you are a business and cannot (or will not) accommodate a plus-sized client or employee, you might find yourself on the wrong end of some legal action.

I don’t want to encourage discrimination against the obese, especially since I could find myself on the receiving end of it. I love having a lot of clothing options as well as getting some cool shoes that fit too, but I worry that making it easier to be plus-sized is doing more harm than good.  Being constantly reminded that we are larger than is healthy for us is a good thing. It’s that constant discomfort that makes us want to change! Think about it: while you were out with your friends in those suck-in-your-gut jeans, was it easier or harder to say no to the fries with the burger or the cheesecake for dessert? Didn’t that metal button digging into your gut tell you “not a good idea?” How about that seatbelt that barely made it across your lap? Didn’t it remind you that a second trip to the buffet might be pushing it? Or those shoes that pinch or that blouse/shirt where taking a deep breath might cost you a button? All those little uncomfortable reminders are urging you to skip the buffet and have a yogurt instead or maybe forgo the House of Cards binge until after you’ve gone for long walk (you can take the dog so it’s not really ‘exercise’!)

I know there are people who are happy with their weight even though the rest of the world considers them obese.  I don’t want to point at them in condemnation. If they are happy with their health and their body, I congratulate them!  (I myself will probably always be considered obese by the rest of the world.) But I do want to question the wisdom of making us feel just a little too comfortable. We have plus-sized clothing, extra wide chairs and plus-sized mattresses  and those are good. Everyone deserves to be comfortable in their skin and in their home, but there is a price to pay for that comfort and I don’t mean the price tag on the clothing or furniture.  I mean the price tag on our health and our bodies. Most of us carrying extra weight feel it on our joints even if we don’t see it in our blood sugar or our blood pressure. We minimize the effect our weight has on our lives until it’s literally too much for us to ignore and by then, we’re suffering health problems from it.  Our weight keeps us from doing some things we might want to do because we are afraid of being embarrassed or because we physically can’t do the activity.  Those are the nagging little reminders that we can be healthier and more active, but then we go home to our comfy chairs and get into our comfy lounge clothes and we forget how uncomfortable we were.  All of us have some kind of limits on our lives, either those we put upon ourselves or those put upon us by circumstance.  Just make sure your weight isn’t something you’ve allowed to limit your life and happiness.

 

Doing For Yourself: Weight Loss & Decision Fatigue

There is a lot to be said for doing things yourself.  The list of things I prefer others to do for me is pretty short and mainly consists of driving places I don’t like to go.  Obviously the more others do for you, the less you do for yourself, but what we forget is how much of the decision-making is out of your control.  When I let someone else do the driving, we leave on their schedule, follow the route they want to take, stop when they want to stop and return when they want to return.  A friend of mine was visiting some long time friends who had moved some distance away and she went along as a passenger with some mutual friends. It was going to take a couple of hours to drive there and since her car is a compact, they all decided to take the bigger car and she would not be driving.  The trip was going great….. until the driver and family decided they wanted to stay much longer than they initially planned on.  As a result, my friend ended up getting home well past midnight (instead of around seven or eight).  She was very tired and fairly concerned about her dog, who had been left inside in the dark, since she’d planned on getting home when it was still daylight (summer time).  She came home to a dark house and a frantic dog who could hardly hold it much longer.  Next time, she vowed she was taking her car and they could meet her there!

This is an example of unintended and unforeseen abdication of control.  My friend was perfectly happy contributing to the gas and letting someone else work the GPS but what she hadn’t intended to give up was the freedom to decide when to leave.  They had agreed to leave at a certain time, but the driver made an ‘executive decision’ and as a passenger, she had no choice in the matter. She was literally along for the ride.

This happens to us whenever we let others do things for us.  We lose our control of the situation and depending on what it is they are doing for us, we might not learn how to do it for ourselves. Being ignorant keeps us under their control too!  Dr. Nowzaradan on My 600 lb Life looks for this controlling mentality in his patients’ enablers.  Some of them are content to keep the patient dependent on them since this dependence gives them control over the patient.  Obviously if you can’t go to the grocery store, you are dependent on someone else to do it for you and you are at their mercy when it comes to what they buy!

I remember one of his patients shopping at a grocery store for the first time.  Although he had a personal care assistant with him, he was essentially on his own in the store, making his own decisions.  As they passed the produce section, he pointed to a fruit and asked his assistant what it was: “That’s a mango?!” It was fairly obvious that there was more than the just the mango that was unfamiliar to him, but he had always had others do things for him and he was reluctant to have to do them for himself. It’s hard learning to do things for yourself.

One of the excuses Dr. Nowzaradan hears a lot is “I have to eat what they bring me.”  While a lot of his patients are either bed-bound or cannot stand long enough to cook for themselves, most of us are not in that situation.  We let someone else make the decision about meals or food and we just accept it, even if pasta or chicken nuggets really aren’t on our meal plan. “Oh, well. It’s what he/she/ they made for dinner!” We are letting them do the planning, preparing and cooking because we don’t want to be bothered with it. When we’re out with friends, they decide on the restaurant because we let them.

There is actually a syndrome called Decision Fatigue.  According to studies, the more decisions we make in a limited amount of time, the more our mental resources are depleted and the worse our decisions become.  The studies theorize this is why we opt for pizza at the end of a long day: our willpower and mental resources are zero so rather than try to get water from a dry well, we choose something ‘easy’ which isn’t the best choice for us!

But we can’t get decision fatigue if we don’t make any decisions! If we let others make all or most of our decisions for us, not only are we at their mercy, we are at the mercy of their decision fatigue! They’ve likely been making decisions all day and they come home to find us waiting for dinner: “I’d like to order a large pizza…..”

If our ability to make decisions is like a muscle, then we need to make sure it doesn’t get flabby.  We also know muscles atrophy when they aren’t used so we need to keep it toned.  That means when our friend asks if we have any preferences about where to go for lunch, we can say “anything but fast food!” That’s a decision, albeit a simple one.  I get that question every time I go out to meet friends: they want to know if I have any thoughts about getting food.  Usually, I don’t so my own decision is along those lines: “anything but sandwiches!” or “I’m open to ABC or XYZ.”  We don’t have to reply with “I wanted a grilled chicken breast with roast red peppers and garlic zucchini noodles.”  You can always ask “what are my options?” or “what did you want?” and go from there!

The other problem that comes with letting others do for you is that you don’t learn how to do it yourself.  As a legal secretary, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to an attorney at another firm whose told me “my assistant is out sick today and I don’t know how to fax something over to you.” You can also substitute “scan” for “fax.”  The idea is the same: as the attorney, they are used to giving the documents to the assistant slash secretary and having them get it filed or transmitted or somehow taken care of and when the assistant is out, the attorney is hobbled. One of mine keeps trying to ‘fax’ on our scanner and doesn’t know how to access the voicemail on our new phone system- I have to keep showing him! While it is beyond annoying to have to stop to show him or fix the scanner, he really gets points for trying to do these on his own.  He doesn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else when it comes to getting things done.

One of the commercials I see a lot is one encouraging parents to teach their children to cook, a very necessary skill! I know there are a lot of parents who don’t do it because they don’t want their kids getting hurt in the kitchen when no one else is home.  It’s a valid fear, but they are also dooming their child to take out and microwave food when they get older. My 27 year old cousin had no idea how to cook anything other than condensed soup and microwave bacon when he moved out.  Seriously, no joke.  Why? Because MOM always cooked for him!

Think about how many decisions we make when it comes to weight loss. We decide what we are going to eat, how much we are going to eat, how often we are going to eat, and in each of those decisions are many little decisions. If we are going to have eggs for breakfast: fried, scrambled, boiled, poached? Quiche or frittata?  with veggies? with crust? with meat or cheese? Do we want anything with the eggs? How many eggs? What about skipping breakfast? What about lunch? With just those two meals alone, it’s easy to see how we can get decision fatigue! But like any muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets, and with a little planning, we can learn to skirt decision fatigue. For my part, when I come home, I make sure I have healthy options because I made healthy choices when I wasn’t fatigued.  I don’t have everything planned out for dinner, but I have some salad greens and some healthy protein choices that don’t take a lot of work.

I’d like to say that this came naturally to me, but it didn’t.  It was one of those things I learned on my own, and I learned it because I chose to make my own decisions over and over again at the grocery store. It took some time to try out one choice and try another when that one didn’t work out as well as I wanted.  It was a lot of flexing that decision muscle on a long learning curve.  It took practice to get that planning muscle strong and toned but it was worth the effort! As with any exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

The more we learn to do on our own with shopping, cooking and planning, the more choices we have available to us.  The more we can grow, experiment and find things that work for us and not only with weight loss. When we learn to do things for ourselves, we feel more secure when we let someone else make a decision for us.  If we feel secure with making choices at a fast food restaurant, it’s okay if our family wants fast food for dinner.  We can get them what they want and still get ourselves something that we feel good about too.   It takes practice and it means we have to make a decision for ourselves.  It’s not always easy but like riding a bike, we never forget how to do it, and we’re never just along for ride!

 

Weight Loss & The Best Intentions: Plans Are NOT Action

We all know what they say about the road to Hell. They might as well cross out that destination and replace it with Weight Loss.  We all intend to eat better; we all intend to exercise more and we all certainly intend to stop snacking on junk food.  Those intentions and a $1.08 will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s! We can “intend” all we want but until we actually DO something, it’s all just talk!

I realized again how important it is to follow up our intentions with our actions while I was watching the most recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?  This episode featured an update on Sean, the young man in his late twenties who lived with his enabler mom. Following his surgery, now in the third year of his weight loss journey, Sean has had a tremendously stressful and difficult few months.  He loses his mother to renal failure and then many of his belongings and his apartment to hurricane Harvey. During these difficult months, he begins to gain weight, eventually reaching 600 lbs again. While this kind of stress and tragedy are certainly triggers for emotional eating, Sean’s biggest stumbling block continues to be his lack of action.  Although he has a therapist, he stops treating with him and pressures Dr. Nowzaradan to get him admitted to a care facility rather than live on his own.  He is forced to move into a smaller apartment, but continues to view it as ‘temporary’ until he can move into a care facility.  His father comes from California to help him move, but Sean seems disappointed that his father is unable to take care of him himself.  Sean has to live on his own which means doing things on his own.

He gets back on his feet in a new apartment largely due to the generosity and assistance of others but once he has passed the ‘living situation’ crisis, he goes back to the emotional eating while continuing to justify his need to ‘take a break’ to ‘recover’ from everything he’s been through. That’s the first Red Flag!

I’ve fallen into that particular trap myself so I know how inviting it is! It’s the Weight Loss version of a Honey Trap: it looks warm and safe and comforting when it’s everything but! It lures us in and before we know it, we are right where Sean is: gaining weight without really paying attention! I am not going to point fingers at Sean since I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to suffer such devastating losses. Even Dr. Nowzaradan gave him a pass for the weight gain following his mother’s death; however, he also reminded him to keep treating with his therapist to find constructive ways of dealing with his emotions.  Having a resource as insightful as Dr Paradise is not to be thrown away so thoughtlessly; but that is exactly what Sean seems to do.

As Dr. Paradise had pointed out in an earlier session, Sean is intimidated by Dr. Nowzaradan as an authority figure and it is quite possible that Dr. Paradise has become a similar authority figure, which means he is also to be avoided as much as possible.  Why? Because both of them will hold him accountable for his overeating and poor eating choices. This is part of the danger involved with the Taking a Break scenario: once you have indulged until you feel safe, you have to deal with the consequences of your indulgences, which is usually weight gain! I am actually involved in the process of extricating myself from my own particular Honey Trap, so I know it’s not easy and it’s more than a little humiliating!

However, Sean continues to avoid both of his doctors because he’s ‘taking a break to get back on his feet’ but actually he is spending a lot of time sitting down.  I don’t mean to be flippant, because one of his complaints is how difficult it is to move around.  For those of us who have seen the earlier episodes, this is the second Red Flag! The last time Sean complained about how hard it was to move around, he’d gained almost 100 lbs, reaching a mind-boggling 1003 lbs.  When his mother passed away, Sean was fairly mobile in the 500’s but when he went back to see Dr. Nowzaradan, he was essentially 600 lbs again.  Anyone who has been overweight knows we don’t need to gain 100 lbs or be 600 lbs to notice unpleasant changes in our bodies.  When our knees ache a little more, when our pants or tops are a bit too tight, when we feel a little winded walking across the big parking lot– that’s our body telling us we’re carrying too much weight! When ‘squeaking by’ the file cabinets really is ‘squeaking,’ we know we’ve put on a few pounds.  This is when we need to stop talking about losing weight and start doing something about it!

For Sean, the first clue is that it’s harder to get around.  This is where Dr. Nowzaradan essentially gives him the pass on his weight gain, but rather than take action during his housing crisis– an admittedly difficult situation– Sean continues eating badly and overeating.  By the time the situation is resolved (a couple months), Sean is having a very hard time moving around.  He is content to sit on his new chair with a sheet spread over his lap so he doesn’t have to get dressed with a bucket to function as his toilet ‘when it gets too hard to get to the bathroom.’  As he opens the door to get his pizza, ‘dressed’ only in the sheet, he admits it’s not on his diet, but he really needs to take a break right now.  He laments that the Personal Care Assistant doesn’t come every day like she’s supposed to and on the days she doesn’t come “my bucket doesn’t get emptied.” He called Dr. Nowzaradan primarily to get the Personal Care Assistant assigned but also about the rashes on his skin becoming worse due to his lack of poor hygiene (which Sean denies)  because bathing has also become much more difficult. How much clearer can it be that he needs to stop talking about “going to get back on the diet” and just do it already?!

By the time he goes back to the hospital, he has obviously gained more than a few pounds and appears to be back over 700 again. The rashes have now become open infected wounds and forced his hand. Doing nothing and ignoring the infection could kill him and will kill him faster than his overeating. He tells Dr. Nowzaradan that this is a wake-up for him and he’s ‘going’ to get back on his diet, but the doctor’s reply is frank and a little harsh: “I’ve heard that before from you.”

That statement, more than the painful open wounds, is the real wake-up here.  How many times have we said that to ourselves? “It’s time to get serious about the weight loss/ poor eating choices/ blowing off workouts?” I know I’ve said it to myself through much of the last two months:” Okay, no more banana bread!” “I need to stop eating candy!” “I’ve got to get back to my regular eating plan!” And…. we all know how that turns out….

While Sean is obviously an extreme example of The Best Intentions, ‘going to do something’ is NOT the same as doing something! ‘Planning to make healthy changes’ does NOT mean you are implementing those changes! I’ve been ‘planning’ on eating right for the last 8 weeks or more and it wasn’t until the past three days that those ‘plans’ actually became actions!  Of course, my metabolism didn’t give me credit for those 8 weeks’ worth of plans: it didn’t tell me “your plans were pretty good so I’m deducting 10 lbs off this weight gain due to those good plans!” Like Sean, I have to deal with the consequences of my poor eating choices and my ‘taking a break’ mentality.  That means I have to deal with cravings and weight gain and admit to the doctor that I screwed up! It’s not fun and it’s more than a little humiliating.  However, once we begin actively doing something, we begin to feel better almost immediately, mentally, emotionally and physically. I’m not stressing over my ‘plans to eat better’ because now I am actually doing it! I’m not feeling guilty about eating bread and popcorn because I’m not eating them anymore and physically, my joints don’t ache because of the grains and my knees pop a little less and if my clothes are a little snug right now, I know that I am already doing something to fix that!

We all make plans to eat better and eat less and be more active, and plans aren’t all bad unless they stay plans.  Planning fools us into believing we are doing something but planning is NOT doing! We all intend to be the best versions of ourselves and we make plans to implement those changes.  No one plans to end up alone eating pizza in an arm chair and peeing in a bucket. But if we don’t turn those plans into actions, sitting alone with peanut butter cups in a recliner is a very real possibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Cravings: The Pause Before You Go Over the Edge

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you make a well-thought out decision to share a dessert with a friend and then a few days later, you start craving something similar and before you realize what’s going on, you’ve eaten way more sweets, desserts and other not-so-good for you foods than you have in the last few months! Can you all see me waving my hand in the air like Hermione Granger in class? Except my answer is actually the wrong answer! No one wants to be in that situation, like a car skidding out of control before sliding into the ditch. It’s a disaster waiting to happen!

You would think that the problem was that well-considered decision to share a dessert: “if only I hadn’t had those three bites of cheesecake!” That may be one way of dealing with it. I know there are lots of people who just say no to things they consider triggers.  They choose to view it as an addiction and anyone who knows addicts knows “you can’t have just one [fill in the blank here.] If you were okay with never having cheesecake or chips or whatever your particular weakness is ever again, that would solve your problem. If you don’t want cravings for bread, just don’t ever eat bread again.  Never ever.

For some people, that can be a pretty bleak view, looking at the rest of your life without ever eating things you like, such as cheesecake, brownies, bread or cookies along with a host of other things! On one hand, it’s just food. It isn’t like you’re giving up electricity for the rest of your life! There are thousands of people who’ve lived their entire lives without ever tasting a brownie or cheesecake! (Come to think of it, there are thousands of people who live their lives now without electricity!) Seriously, it’s not the end of the world, but it is something that brings a little bit of happiness into your life.  At least it does for those few minutes you are eating it!

If we are being truthful, it also brings a lot of pain into our lives too. I remember in college there were times I’d come home from the store with a frozen cheesecake and as soon as it was thawed out, I’d eat the whole thing.  Of course, I didn’t intend to, but…. We all know how that story ends: “I just couldn’t stop once I started eating it!” And once I was stuck holding the empty tray for a seven inch cheesecake, I’d feel awful. Not only did I feel horrible emotionally, but physically, I felt like a beached whale because obviously I wasn’t hungry when I ate it! I ate it because it was there!

This is what most of us are afraid of when it comes to cravings: once we start, we can’t stop, so it’s easier just never ‘starting.’ The problem is that we blame our cravings on self-control and that’s only a small part of the problem. When we don’t have cookies in the house and we start craving cookies, how many of us are going to leave the house to buy cookies? But, if the cookies are in the house already, it’s all too easy to ‘wander’ into the kitchen and grab one or two. Or three or four.  If they’re small, maybe five… And that’s where we blame our lack of self-control or we blame the cookies for being so good or we blame the family member who brought them home!

Part of the problem is the craving, especially if it’s something sweet.  Sugar really is addictive (Gary Taubes’ book The Case Against Sugar is a great resource!) Foods like bread (my own private weakness) are simple carbs, which the body metabolizes like sugar, so even if it’s garlic bread, to my body, it’s a ‘sugar’ and just a leetle bit addictive! So blaming self-control for not being able to stop ourselves eating a whole bread basket or cheesecake can be a legitimate defense.

However, the plain simple truth is that we knew better when we ate the cheesecake or bread that started our latest sugar binge! If you know that you’re going to be craving sugar within a week of sharing that dessert at lunch with your friend, is it really so difficult to tell your friend “no thanks” when she offers? A friend will understand when you say no to the dessert and you are under no obligation to indulge in something that will cause problems later.  So not starting is one way of dealing with the cravings: no trigger = no craving = no binge.  Problem solved! Yeah…riiighhhttt!

However a trigger food like that shared dessert is not the only reason we develop cravings.  In my case, a lot of the cravings come from boredom. How many of us binge in the evenings? (Hermione Granger here again!) I’m watching tv and I’ve got nothing to do with my hands, so let’s wander into the kitchen and see if there’s anything to snack on! Danger, Will Robinson!  Believe me, if I had a robot, it’d be stationed in the kitchen door each night after dinner! I’m obviously not hungry because I just finished dinner; my problem is I’m feeling bored! Somehow my brain equates boredom with the need to eat something, preferably sweet! “Find something sweet to eat and eat it until it’s gone or you feel like you’re going to throw up!” Really, that was my evening operation for most of my life! In the event I had nothing sweet in the house, Plan B substituted ‘salty’ for ‘sweet’ and the Last Ditch Back Up Plan was substitute ‘salty’ for ‘anything in the house!’ I really really wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I’m not.

But the good thing to come out of this debacle is that since I know what triggers my cravings, I can take steps to stop it before it skids wildly out of control. If bored and feeling the cravings start, I look for something to do other than eating! Even if it’s something like scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or– even better– My Fitness Pal! It can be logging my food and reminding myself how much I’ve already eaten, so how can I be hungry? It can be writing notes for this blog, playing with my dogs or doing my nails (my most recent distraction). It just needs to be something to keep my hands busy so I’m not eating to satisfy a craving that has nothing to do with hunger.

Another trigger for a lot of us is emotion.  How many of us have heard and used the expression ’emotional eater’?  Again, it’s a legitimate issue but once we realize it’s our trigger, we need to take steps to cut off the craving/ binge before it starts.  This issue is obviously more complex than just alleviating boredom.  If emotion or stress is a serious problem in your life, you might need to meet with someone to help you find constructive ways of dealing with it that don’t involve eating. For most of us who find ourselves staring into the fridge after a fight with a loved one or opening a surprise bill not in our budget or some other stressor, it can be less problematic. We have to find a way to alleviate our anxiety that doesn’t involve eating. In some ways, it’s easy and in other ways, it’s not so easy! Suppose your method of ‘coping’ with a problem is eating an entire bag of chips. While you’re eating the chips, you’re not feeling anxious or stressed (as much), but when those chips are gone, the anxiety and stress come back, usually coupled with the guilt for scarfing down a whole bag of Ruffles! Now what do you do? This is where some of us will find something else to eat and  repeat the cycle while others of us will either find a way to deal with the cause of our anxiety or we find something else to soothe it.  In my case, after eating a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s or the bag of Ruffles or King’s Hawaiian, I’d turn to my pets. My pets are a huge source of comfort to me! Depending on what the problem is, there is also venting on Facebook or calling a friend to share the anxiety and frustration.  Most of us who have normal every day stress and anxiety in our lives have methods for dealing with it; the problem is our knee-jerk reaction to eat our emotions first! What we need to learn is to cut off that reaction to ‘soothe’ our anxiety with food.

You’re probably thinking, “Duhhh!  So tell me something I don’t know!” It’s not rocket science, but it does take patience and practice. We all know the trick about not losing our temper by counting to ten and this isn’t much different.  It involves taking a couple minutes to see into the future: “I’m emotional and I want to eat something, but how am I going to feel when I’m done eating?” Usually the answer will be “pretty cruddy!” or “worse than I do now!” The object is to step into those few seconds between feeling the anxiety-eating trigger and the actual eating! As I said it takes practice and it takes patience. It’s a seemingly simple behavior modification technique. The actual action is simple: stopping the knee-jerk reaction to eat by switching it with another action; it’s ‘seemingly simple’ because changing behavior can be a difficult process. This is where the patience and practice come into action.

We have to remember to ask ourselves that question when we feel like eating because of our emotions and then simply skip the eating! Instead of eating all the potato chips and then holding my dog, I just pick up the dog! Or I start venting online or to my friends or whatever I can do to relieve the anxiety and emotion without eating.  The good thing about this technique is that is also works with those sugar-addiction cravings I mentioned at the beginning.  When we feel the urge to eat whatever it is we’re craving, we need to remind ourselves of how cruddy we’re going to feel after we’ve eaten it.  It can be we feel guilty or ashamed or physically terrible.  In my case, sugar or simple carbs like bread really cause pain in my hands. When I stop eating the sugar, I can feel the improvement within a couple of days. When I start craving something either because of boredom, anxiety or just wanting that not-so-healthy forbidden food, I ask myself how I’m going to feel after eating it. Remembering how bad my hands felt is an obvious deterrent!

It still takes a lot of patience and a whole lot of practice.  There are some times I really really want it and eat it anyway, and when I end up regretting it, I remind myself there’s a reason it’s on my not-to-be-eaten list, especially if my hands start hurting! The craving for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is followed by “is it worth your hands aching for a week? Remember how smushed and stale the last ones were? Not to mention 400 calories!” Changing our behavior takes time and we have to be patient with ourselves.  Remembering to pause before grabbing the King’s Hawaiian takes practice and when we screw it up (because we will!), we have to be patient and forgive ourselves. Cravings are what kill most weight loss practices and that’s what this is: it’s a practice!  We won’t get it right the first time we try it but the more we do it, the easier it is to remember and the longer that pause becomes. The knee-jerk reaction to eat our boredom, anxiety and cravings becomes less of a reaction and more of a decision.  That’s what we are really looking for: the ability to make a decision instead of being out of control.

 

 

 

If You Can’t Hear Anything Nice, Maybe You’re Not Really Listening: Weight Loss & Criticism??

We’ve all been told at one time or another that if we can’t say anything nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all.  I think that’s good advice if all you have to say is something mean or negative. Most of us have also heard the expression “think before you speak,” but we rarely hear any good advice about listening. Maybe that’s because we’re not listening?

In all seriousness, we not only hear what we want to hear, what we hear is usually run through a filter of what we were expecting to hear.  In other words, if we are expecting negativity, that’s what we’re going to hear.  Although it sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Example: my mom has historically been my biggest critic.  All through my childhood, it always seemed like I wasn’t smart enough, ambitious enough and I definitely  wasn’t thin enough! She would be the one to point out that my clothes or makeup or hair weren’t very flattering or that I’d gained more weight.  There was usually very little that was complimentary from her unless it was that ‘I didn’t screw up as big as she thought I would!’ As a result, my knee-jerk reaction to anything she says is to ‘hit back’ since I am expecting to get ‘hit,’ so to speak. Secondly, I’m not really listening to what she’s saying because I’m already halfway to some mean-spirited retort!

The problems with this all-too-common scenario are obvious: forget about ‘listening with an open mind’! How about starting with ‘listening while not in Attack Mode’?  It would be easy to blame my mom for always putting me on high alert: “if you weren’t always so critical of everything I did, then I wouldn’t be like this!” Maybe that worked when I was a kid, but I haven’t been a kid for a really long time now.  That means it’s all on me! (Yikes! Talk about the world going crazy!) All joking aside, as easy as it would be to lay all this at my mom’s door and just walk away from any responsibility for my responses, that’s the problem right there: they are my responses!

If we are going to hold others responsible for their words and behavior, then we need to do the same for ourselves! That means instead of jumping all over someone for what they just said, maybe we should listen to what they have to say before we attack them. This idea of Listening means we first need to listen with an open mind and then think about what they said before we respond. Remember that “think before you speak” I mentioned earlier? This saying always reminds me of another line from The Simpsons: Lisa wisely telling Homer “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” to which Homer makes a typically foolish response.  Key point here: don’t be Homer!

Truthfully, my mom brings out the Homer in me. It’s partly because of a childhood full of criticism, disappointment and recrimination. After thousands of verbal slings and arrows, my automatic reflex is to return fire immediately after her opening volley, but that means I’m also automatically assuming that whatever she has to say is going to be another criticism, and that’s not always the case anymore. Sometimes she has a good idea or– gasp!— something nice to say about me, which means my mean or cold-hearted retort makes me small, petty or just plain stupid.  My automatic reflex may have been born out of a painful childhood, but now as an adult, I can choose either to fix that or let it continue.  That choice is not a childish defense mechanism: it is an actual choice I am making with a clear head. That means I am responsible for my responses and my behavior! Yikes! Yeah, that’s one of those Lisa & Homer moments! Who am I going to be today?

When it comes to our weight loss and exercise, most of us are in the same camp: all we seem to hear is criticism from our family and loved ones.  The ones who were always there to point out that Boston cream pie isn’t on your diet and that the sourdough garlic bread you had with lunch isn’t Paleo are the same ones who always make you feel like a failure with their criticism.  Your diet isn’t the right one; you aren’t exercising enough and obviously you must be doing something wrong because “you haven’t lost much weight in the last month, have you?” It’s easy to run all those statements through the filter of criticism and fire off a few return volleys back at them.  It’s easy to begin to feel like “everyone criticizes” and “no one has anything good to say about my weight loss.”  After that, it’s a short ride to feeling stressed and depressed and “I’m such a failure again!” We all know the danger that carries with it: emotional eating!

But before we open the bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and go to town, let’s try using our Listening Mode instead of our reflex Attack Mode. Not everything everyone says to you is criticism.  Sometimes it’s just an observation or sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes there is a compliment involved, but until you listen with an open mind, you might never hear anything but criticism! Sometimes just keeping an open mind when one of your critics makes a comment is much harder than it looks. It means thinking about what they just said and staying silent until you can think of an appropriate response while your emotions are screaming at you to attack. Example: you tell a family member you want to try a three day water fast and her response is “you think you can do that?”  This is one of those phrases that is open to interpretation.  If it were a text, you’d hope there’d be an emoji attached to give you an idea of how they mean it: either a Scream face; eye-roll; mind blown; or at least an OMG! It can mean “wow! that’s extreme! do you think you can handle it?” or it can mean “yikes! is that healthy?” or it can mean “yeah, right! you won’t last three hours!” Most of us who feel we’ve been criticized to death go right for that last one! We don’t even consider there are other interpretations: “Obviously, my mom thinks I have no self-control!”

That’s where the pause, listen, interpret and thinking before we speak keep us from putting our foot in our mouth and hurting someone’s feelings when they only meant well.  When I started eating Paleo, my mom kept pushing other diets at me and encouraging me to eat differently. It was easy for me to ignore her suggestions because what I was hearing was “you don’t know what you’re doing again!” when now I realize it could have easily been “are you sure that’s healthy?” It seriously took a while for that to sink in because I was hearing it through the “criticism filter” instead of listening with an open mind. It’s ironic. I try to keep an open mind about just about everything else in my life: food, nutrition, exercise, pets, books, movies, etc! But when it comes to my mom, I just automatically assume she’s got something negative and critical to say.  That narrow-mindedness is all my own fault, since it’s a choice I made.  And it’s not a good choice, either!

We started out on our journey to improve our health and our lives, and most of us were laser focused on ourselves, but that laser focus can also lock us into seeing only what we are expecting to see and hear. Changing for the better means thinking about old things in new ways, and sometimes that means realizing that the person you always thought of as a critic might actually want to help you.  We can’t make those realizations without keeping an open mind and really listening to what they have to say.  Even Homer has a good day now and then!

It Really is All About You! Weight Loss & Doing It Yourself- or Not

I think I do a lot of posts about being independent. Like just about everything important in life, it’s a double-edged sword. Being independent means you make your own decisions but it can also mean you have to do things without a whole lot of help or even support.  There’s a price to be paid for anything of value and admittedly, there are a lot of days I wish I had more help and maybe not so much independence!

Unfortunately, we really can’t have it both ways. You can only rely on others for a limited amount of things without sacrificing a big chunk of your independence.  For example, if you are going to rely on someone else to do the majority of the grocery shopping, then you can’t complain too much when they come home with something you don’t want when the store was out of the product you chose. For me, the example that springs to mind is bagged salad greens.  I hate iceberg lettuce, and the popular mixes that come with shredded cabbages, carrot shavings and tons of iceberg are NOT on my list! The same goes for the Spring mix blend full of baby lettuces and radicchio.  My list of salad greens NOT welcome in my house includes: iceberg, radicchio, arugula and if I can avoid carrot shavings, bonus for me! Cabbage of any color is great; so are spinach, butter lettuces, endive, romaine or practically any other lettuce!

So if someone else is doing my grocery shopping and comes home with the wrong blend of salad for me, it’s my loss.  I can choose to eat the salad or not, but yelling at them for getting me the wrong kind of lettuce would be unfair. (It’s not like I have an allergy to radicchio or arugula!) If I don’t like the way they do the shopping, I can do it myself! But by relying on someone else to do something like this for you, you are tacitly agreeing not to scold them too harshly if they get the wrong items. When you rely on someone else to help you out or take over a regular chore that you normally do, you are giving up some of that independence in exchange for convenience.  It’s the price of asking for help, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. We all need help occasionally and usually I get scolded by family and friends for making things harder on myself than they need to be because, frankly, it usually doesn’t occur to me to ask for help!

The most recent example is when my car died on the freeway, and after spending the morning getting it towed, I had to arrange for a rental while it was at the shop, and circumstances conspired to make that way more difficult than normal. So since my options were limited, I called a cab, which took over an hour to arrive and the driver, despite having a Garmin, didn’t know how to get to the rental car place. (What can I say? I was having a day!) When I was talking to my friends and my family later on about the whole “car situation,” most of them who either work from home or are retired asked me the same question: “Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve given you a ride!”  My well-thought out and eloquent response? “Duhhhhhh…..”

It had honestly not occurred to me that at least three of my friends in the area would have been able to run me down to get a rental in much less than time than waiting on a cab or an unreliable Uber/Lyft driver. I’m not being stubborn about ‘being self-reliant.’  I think it’s because I am so used to handling things on my own that the idea of calling a friend doesn’t even show up on my list of options.  While not being completely reliant on others has its benefits, this Doing It Myself mentality that I have really just limits my options and makes some things much harder than they need to be, as in the “car situation.”  Yes, it’s great that I can figure stuff out on my own and not have to call family constantly to help me out, but at the same time, I am isolating myself, not to mention stressing myself.  I am sacrificing ease and convenience for independence.  This situation isn’t any better than sacrificing independence for ease and convenience!

Most of us are far more familiar with those who are always completely dependent on others, either out of laziness or learned helplessness.  We learn to avoid these people pretty fast: they are the ones who always need you to run by their pharmacy/ other errands because they’re feeling too sick or are in too much pain or just can’t do it on their own; they are the ones who can’t find the address or phone number for anyone or anything because “the website/ google is confusing”; or they can’t change the batteries in the tv remote.  We all know people like this: they are utterly helpless and it’s a learned helplessness.  They’ve learned that they don’t need to do it on their own because if they are pathetic enough, someone will do it for them!  Why do they need to worry about it?

Obviously, there are many issues that come with this kind of learned helplessness/ laziness, including and especially abdicating responsibility.  If you are completely dependent on someone else to do your grocery shopping, then it’s not your fault if you only have junk food in the house! You didn’t buy it- they did! It makes it easy for nothing to be your fault or your responsibility since you are completely dependent on other people to ‘help you out.’ This is the opposite problem that I have (Doing It Myself mentality), but it’s still easy to fall victim to the same problem of abdicating responsibility. In my case, it’s because “I have too much to do and no one to help me!”

It really doesn’t matter if you are totally on your own or if you are totally dependent on others: sooner or later, you have to be the one to take action! It really is all about you and the decisions you make regarding your health and your lifestyle. We all hear comments about how we don’t have time to exercise because we are so busy or we can’t eat healthy because the family doesn’t like healthy food or that we get stuck eating junk food during the day because that’s what’s available at work. We make it easy to escape our responsibilities regarding our choices, either by blaming being busy or someone else’s failings.  If we don’t want to go to the gym because we don’t feel like it, then we need to own that decision. If it turns out that we were at the gym only three times (or less) in the last month, whose choice was it not to go? Do we get ‘workout credits’ with our bodies if we were really too busy or the trainer canceled?  Of course not! Busy, no trainer or just blowing it off, the result is the same: we didn’t exercise!

I’ve noticed that the things that are really important to people tend to be the things that don’t get left out of the schedule. Our favorite junk food keeps showing up at our house.  We manage to watch our favorite shows even though we are too busy to go to the gym or do the grocery shopping.  We manage to make our mani/ pedi appointments even if we cancel with our trainers.  It’s called priorities, and since those things are important to us, we make time for them!  The healthy eating, the workouts, going to bed on time, drinking more water instead of soda: all those fall to the wayside because they are not our priorities.  We can tell when they are important to us, because we will reschedule our workout, go to the grocery store instead of the nail salon or blow off a Friday night out to get some sleep! Our healthy is mostly the sum of our choices and if our health is pretty cruddy, whose choice was that?

Ultimately, those people who are either completely dependent on others or people like me who are way too busy doing it all myself have a few decisions to make.  We may have to learn to be more independent or to ask for help or even– gasp!— give up some other things on our schedules.  Yes, there will be times when we really are so busy it feels like we’re chasing our own tails, and yes, there will be times when the Uber driver gets lost and you miss your appointment.  There will be times when you show up at the luncheon and it’s full of the foods you’re trying to avoid.  Some things are just beyond our control no matter what we are prioritizing and we just have to accept that it really isn’t our fault. But we also need to take responsibility for the things we can control and the decisions we choose to make. Sometimes that means we have to ask for help and sometimes we have to do it ourselves since this is our life and our health and our responsibility.

Institutionalized: Weight Loss & Breaking Down the Walls of Fear

We all know that we get in our own way when it comes to our goals, especially with weight loss. We know we need to change bad old habits at the same time we’re developing new healthy habits, and we expect that it’s going to be hard. What we sometimes forget is that change is scary and it’s normal to be scared. It’s not foolish or silly or stupid: it’s normal.

We also tend to minimize the fact that we’ve spent a lifetime developing those unhealthy habits in that comfortably safe-though-unhealthy zone. We don’t realize we’ve become, in a sense, institutionalized. Most people recognize this term in connection with inmates. Convicts who’ve spent long years in prison get used to the structured routine and there are some who cannot function outside of prison when they’re released. Institutionalization is one of the reasons for re-offending: they want to get sent back to a place they feel safe, even if it is a prison.

We do the same thing with weight loss and changing our habits. We feel so safe in our bad old routine and when we try moving away from those safe unhealthy structures, it feels like we’re moving into uncharted new territory. That’s because we are moving into uncharted new territory! We’re working without a net, with minimal structure and sometimes shaky support, so yes, feeling scared and nervous is normal! We are leaving our comfort zone so we are UNCOMFORTABLE! Unfortunately, we’ve been taught by so many institutions that ‘uncomfortable is bad’ so we need to fix it as soon as possible!

What we forget is that moving out of that Safe Comfort Zone is how we grow and learn new things. Do you remember the first time you had to speak out loud in Spanish class-  in Spanish? Do you remember the first time you had to give a speech or a presentation? How about the first time you met your spouse/ partner? Nervous, much?  I know I can hear the quaver in my own voice when I get nervous, and although I don’t like it much, I accept that there are times it’s okay to be nervous and uncomfortable!

It’s like the old maps you see in history books: when the map-makers got to the edge of the known world, they’d fill in the empty places with warnings: Here be Dragons! or Here be Monsters! Basically, if you’re venturing out past the edge of civilization, you’re taking your life in your hands! Now there’s a huge incentive to turn back and head down a well-traveled old road instead of blazing a new trail!

Except…. imagine where we’d be if no one ever took that risk. In the United States, if Jefferson hadn’t sent Lewis and Clark out west, my country would be much much smaller.  If King Philip of Portugal hadn’t been Philip the Navigator, most of South America would be a different continent and if England hadn’t sent Francis Drake out across the seas, would America even exist?  Let’s forget about the New World and look at Europe: Rome spent most of the Pax Romana exploring new territories and paving the way for commerce but even before Rome, Alexander brought together the entire known world under one throne just as Ghengis Khan did in Asia. All of them took risks and with each risk, the whole world got a little bit bigger.

History aside, when you move outside your comfort zone, you are taking a big risk in an attempt to get something better than what you already have. Risk involves loss and failure, so it’s okay to feel nervous, scared, unsure and uncomfortable.  I really think this is one reason babies are born fearless: if they knew the risks of trying to walk on two legs, they’d never stand up!  They cheerfully crawl all over the floor, exploring, climbing on sofas, coffee tables, trying out their legs and wobbling all over the room: their whole world map is one big “Here be Dragons!” and they happily explore everywhere, oblivious to the dangers. (That’s what parents are for!) Truth be told, if your baby wasn’t doing that, you’d be rushing her to the doctor frantic that something is wrong with her, because this is normal for babies: it’s how they learn!

But the older we get, the more scrapes and scars we get, the more cautious we become.  We become institutionalized by those Dragons and Monsters: last time I worked out, I hurt my shoulder so that’s not a good idea; I tried calorie-counting and gained three pounds so giving that up; I tried the Whole 30 and it gave me ‘digestive issues’ so we’re not doing that again!  We think we are playing it safe but what we are really doing is limiting our opportunities for growth.  The more we shy away from Dragons and Monsters, the smaller our world gets but we don’t realize it because we’re focusing on staying safe and comfortable.  The more we stay safe, the more comfortable we become, the less inclined we are to venture out among the Monsters, because, “you know, they hurt us and scare us and make us feel really really nervous.”

There’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable because you’re doing something new and different and being uncomfortable because you feel threatened in some way.  Being uncomfortable waiting alone in a dark parking lot is obviously one of the situations you want to avoid but when you are out to eat with friends and you feel uncomfortable ordering your grilled shrimp over veggies instead of rice or saying no to the chips, brownies or beer? That’s one of the those situations where you’re really just nervous or embarrassed because you are doing something new or different.  No one is going to belittle you over your food choices, and in truth if they do, it says more about their own immaturity than it does your improvements in your diet. It might feel a little awkward the first time you do it but once you’ve done it a few times, you can erase the Dragons on that part of your map and fill in a newly explored section that’s now become a part of your Safe Comfortable Zone.

There’s also no rules saying you have to start all the new and uncomfortable habits at the same time.  Most weight loss professionals discourage this practice and I can tell you from experience that they’re right: too much change at once is a recipe for disaster! In my experience, I found it much easier to do one major change or maybe two smaller changes at a time until they feel comfortable.  Once they are part of the New Safe Comfortable Zone, then I add one more change and one more and so on until I have a new set of healthier comfortable habits in place of the old unhealthy ones. It certainly didn’t happen overnight but it also didn’t overwhelm me so much I turned back.

Sometimes this fear of leaving the Comfort Zone manifests as a feeling of “I can’t.”  You simply cross this new opportunity off your list as “something I can’t do,” as in “I can’t lift weights because I’ll hurt myself;” or “I can’t do Zumba because of my bad joints.”  Once you start telling yourself “I can’t,” you’ve really locked yourself in.  You’ve created your own prison and you are totally institutionalized; you just don’t know how locked in you are or that you are the one who’s done it. It’s easy to blame our weight, our schedule, our circumstances or our health: we really want to be able to workout/ eat better/ walk more/ insert healthy habit, but we just can’t!

There really is no cure for institutionalization except breaking out of our own prisons.  Yes, it’s scary; yes, we are unsure of ourselves: again, it’s normal to feel this way when we’re trying out new things! It would be great if we had a fabulous supportive community or a clear plan of how we are going to accomplish our goals, but sometimes we just need to be brave and forge ahead on our own.  If we wait until we find that supportive community or until we’ve figured out that clear plan, we are tricking ourselves into staying in that Safe Comfort Zone, going over the same routines that keep us locked in place.  When we feel the urge to return to those old routines, we need to remind ourselves that those are the habits that led to our being overweight and unhealthy and eating badly.  It may feel “safe” but how comforting is it when we get winded walking across the parking lot or when we have to sit down while we wait at Starbucks because standing hurts too much?  How comforting is it when our weight is putting a strain on our knees or our back or our heart and kidneys? That’s what those ‘safe & comfortable’ old routines have done for us.  It may feel more comfortable when we eat the whole burrito at lunch instead of ordering a burrito bowl and you might feel less self-conscious having the chips and beer along with everyone else on Friday nights, but when your pants feel a bit too snug and you find yourself breathing hard when you reach your car after leaving the restaurant, are you feeling safe and comfortable? Or is it more like a scary “OMG! I need to do something!”

Whatever new healthy habit you begin, it’s okay to feel a nervous and awkward. None of us like that feeling of not knowing what we’re doing or how to do it, but we have to remind ourselves that: 1) this is a temporary feeling; and 2) if it really isn’t for you, it’s okay to move on to something else! The more you get used to trying new things, the more of a trailblazer you become and the bigger your world is!

 

 

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.