Weight Loss & Your Priorities: What’s Your ROI?

I know a lot of money gurus will tell you that if you want to know a person’s priorities, take a look at their bank accounts and credit card statements. In some ways, that’s true but I think looking a how a person spends their time, perhaps in addition to their money, will give you a better idea of what is important to them.

When someone makes time in their daily lives to spend it with friends or to spend it in front of a tv, you know what is important to them.  It doesn’t mean the tv watcher is a bad person or that the friend-oriented person is better: it simply means they have different values and priorities.  In short, you put your time, effort and money towards what you value most.

I have a lot of friends who are fans of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.  They spend a lot of time watching those and follow several shows.  They usually roll their eyes at me when I remind them “I have cable.” I get more eye rolls when I tell them I don’t have a smart tv or a DVR either.  I like tv and it’s usually on in the evenings and weekends, but I seriously only follow about a half dozen shows during the year, which averages out to about 4 nights a week that I’m really paying attention to what’s on tv.  Even worse, if I miss one of those episodes, oh, well! If it’s not available OnDemand, I just have to wait for a rerun! Obviously, tv is not one of my priorities.

However, if you want to talk about my dogs and cat, then you’ll see that both of them have treats and toys on monthly subscription with Amazon. They have standing appointments at their groomer (the dogs anyway) and the house is deluged in toys.  Also, my schedule tends to get worked around them: mornings and evenings are devoted to spending time with them, play dates are regularly scheduled and they made a special trip to Santa this year.  In short, my pets take up a lot of my time and money.  That’s because they are a priority with me! Sometimes, taking care of them is a really big headache but even if I do grumble about it, there is no way I’m giving them up.  They are too important to me!

When it comes to our health and weight loss goals, the time, effort and money we put into them are the real indicators of how important they are to us.  They don’t have to be THE most important things in our lives, but when they end up at the bottom of our list of Things to Do on a regular basis, they are obviously NOT important to us.  So, if they keep ending up being the last things we spend time on, why are we surprised to find out we aren’t losing weight and our health isn’t improving?

We all know someone (maybe it’s us) who keeps complaining that they aren’t losing weight when they’re “working so hard!” Before we begin looking for explanations or excuses, we need to take a good look at how much time we are investing in our weight loss. While exercise and activity are important to our health, weight loss is primarily driven by our diet, so let’s start with the obvious: how often are we eating? What are we eating and how much of it? Grazing or snacking all day is a big indicator that we are spending time on our diet, but it’s the wrong kind of time with the wrong kind of activity!

How much time do we spend on meal planning, preparation and buying food? If the answer is “not a lot,” then there’s another clue. Preparing a meal doesn’t have to take hours in order to be healthy but it shouldn’t consist of throwing a frozen meal in the microwave or ordering takeout.  Most of my meals at home take about a half hour or less but grocery shopping just for me normally takes an hour or so, maybe longer if something I want is at another store.  The staples are generally salad greens and fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meat and chicken, milk, eggs, coffee, water, stevia, cheese and uncured bacon.  Preparing them doesn’t take long, since most of the veggies are steamed and the salad greens just come out of the box and onto a plate.  The time I invest in healthy food comes mainly from getting it at the store and planning out what I’m going to have that week.  My Sunday afternoons are always set aside for grocery shopping: it’s just become part of my routine.

Another priority in my life is going to the gym.  I do water aerobics normally three times a week, so there is time invested in packing the gym bag, rinsing out my swim suit and rearranging my schedule to make sure I can make it to the gym at the appointed time.  Two of the workouts have regular classes, so my day is scheduled around what time do I have to be there, when do I need to leave and do I need to move an errand to another day that doesn’t conflict with my workout? The third workout day floats, so again, I need to clear my schedule to make sure the gym bag is packed and I get there on time.  In fact, my friends tease me because if it’s Monday or Wednesday, “she’s on her way to the gym!” Incidentally, my dogs also know my schedule because if the class is cancelled due to a holiday and I come home early, I catch them napping instead of waiting at the door!

Financial gurus talk a lot about ROI: Return On Investment.  We forget that our Return depends on what we invest.  If weight loss and better health are what we are after and we aren’t getting the Return we want, then we need to look at how much we are actually investing and that doesn’t mean money. Most of us are familiar with buying the fresh veggies and letting them moulder in the fridge.  We may have spent the money on them, but they aren’t actually “invested” unless we eat them! The same is true of that gym membership that costs you $25 a month: unless you are using it, you aren’t really investing in your health. For money experts, ROI is measured in dollars but when we’re investing in ourselves, the ROI is pounds lost, strength gained and other intangibles.  When we are talking about the ROI for our health and weight loss, it’s not about the money: it’s about the time and the effort we invest in ourselves. If we aren’t at the top of our list of priorities, that might explain that low Return we’re getting!

 

No Offense, But Serenity Sucks! Weight Loss & Not Giving In to the “Inevitable”

We’ve all heard of the Serenity Prayer, and while I try hard not to roll my eyes whenever anyone mentions it, I admit that in some instances, you really do have to accept the things you cannot change and hope you can recognize what those things are.

However, how many times have we looked at a situation and just decided “I guess that’s just something I can’t change so I’m just have to accept it.” Is this really something we can’t change or are we just giving up? That’s what I mean when I say serenity sucks! How many times do we lump a situation in with other “I can’t change these” situations just because they are really hard? I”m not going to give you the old Edison ‘50,000 ways not to make a light bulb’ story but I am going to toss out of his best quotes: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Yes, change is hard. Yes, you may fail many times before you finally succeed. Does that mean you should just give up because it’s hard? No! It means we need to keep trying. I know we’ve all heard horror stories about someone who “just kept trying” and ended up spending their entire life struggling with something they could never achieve.  [The 19th Century Computer Genius] Sometimes we end up doing the best we can and still not hit the goal, but, at the risk of becoming existential, is the ‘goal’ really the point, or is it really the journey itself?

I have struggled with my weight since I was in 5th grade. Throughout my teenage and adult life, I’ve lived with the “Fat” label attached to everything I’ve done. In college, one of my managers told me I’d never rise any farther in the company because I was fat, and later as an adult, I had another boss send me to a bariatric surgeon. I’ve come home to find the latest diet books on my doorstep courtesy of my mother, who’s also offered all kinds of bribes from new wardrobes to European vacations as incentives to lose weight.  “Weight Loss” has always been the shining sparkly magical goal always out of reach during my life.  I’ve been told that everything in my life will be better “once you lose weight!”

I’m not going to lie: after losing 130-plus pounds, there are a whole lot of things in my life that really are better! Walking, moving, sleeping, being active: all of these are much better having lost that much weight. Physically, I feel better overall.  Emotionally? I still feel like the Fat Woman, mainly because I still need to lose probably another 100 lbs.  Does that mean I still haven’t hit my Weight Loss Goal? Does that mean I will never hit my Goal? Should I just accept that I can’t change this and accept that I will always be fat? I’ve been trying to do this since I was 11 years old and I’ve still only achieved partial success.

Struggling with my weight, trying not to gain, trying to lose pounds and failing over and over has taught me a lot over my lifetime, because at one time, I did just give up. In my forties, I just accepted  “I will always be fat and I should just learn to live with it.” What happened? I wasn’t any happier having “accepted being fat.” Telling myself that I didn’t have to try to lose weight or look at new diets or say no to chips because “hey, I can’t change being fat!” did not stop my wanting to be thinner and healthier or hating the fact that everything hurt and was harder for me at my weight.

Having achieved a measure of success, I have learned that it really isn’t the Goal that matters: it’s the Getting-There that is the point. The struggle to lose weight has truly been overwhelming at some points but having struggled, having failed, having given up and having returned to the fight, I have learned that it is the struggle that gives you strength.  I don’t have to hit a certain magical Weight Loss Goal to be happy.  I don’t have to look the way everyone else thinks I should look.  I can be smart, attractive, and professional at any weight. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself.  Even if there are things about myself that I want to change but never can, am I going to feel proud of myself for giving up and accepting that I can’t change this, or am I going to feel proud of myself for continuing to try?

I am sure there are people who think I should just accept that I will always be obese, especially at this point in my life.  I am also sure there are people who think I am trying to lose weight “the wrong way.” There are always people who are happy to tell you what you should do and how you should do it and what you are doing wrong.  A lifetime of fighting my weight has definitely taught me that! But giving up? Never again!

Gaming the System? Weight Loss & Eating Like an Adult

When most people think of “gaming the system,” weight loss and dieting are usually not the first things that spring to mind– unless of course you are one of those ‘perennial dieters.’  Unfortunately, most of us (me included!) fall into this category: we are always trying to lose weight! And since we are always in a hurry to lose as much weight as we can as fast as possible, we’ve gotten pretty good at “gaming the weight loss system.”

Gaming the system means that we jump at the quick fix option instead of trying to make lasting changes.  Obviously we tend to see quick results with the quick fix, but we forget that ‘quick’ usually isn’t lasting, and let’s face it, while we want quick, lasting is what we are really after! No one likes losing those stubborn twenty pounds only to gain it back (and usually a couple more) and have to lose it all over again.

The problem is that ‘lasting’ takes too long and we get tired of waiting and frankly, tired of doing the work without seeing real results.  It doesn’t make us irresponsible or lazy or mean that we have no will power– it simply means that we’re human. Enter the quick fix with those quick results! But those quick fixes are usually something more drastic than the lasting change option, which is why we see those results so fast.

One of my mom’s famous quick fixes was meal replacement bars and shakes.  Instead of having breakfast and lunch, you have the shake/ bar and then a ‘healthy dinner.’  (Sound familiar, anyone?) We end up cutting out a lot of calories, so we lose weight fast, which makes us really happy for a while. Have you ever lasted on that program for more than a few weeks? I know I can barely manage one week because the shakes and bars taste so awful to me! We all know what happens as soon as you stop with the bars and shakes: Hello, weight gain!

The same thing happens with ‘diet food’ programs: once we stop eating the packaged low-cal meals, we begin to gain back whatever we lost while eating them. If all you want is to lose a few pounds so you look fabulous at the wedding or special event, that’s fine.  There’s an end date to the quick fix and if you gain it back, you are okay with that.  Seriously, though, there aren’t very many of us who are eating the bars, shakes and diet food just because we want a temporary weight loss! We’d rather lose weight permanently so we can look and feel great all the time.

When we opt for the long term lasting change method, the weight comes off slowly and steadily because we are learning as we go. We learn what healthy foods we enjoy and help us lose weight.  We learn how to eat when we’re hungry and how to stop when we’re no longer hungry. That may sound pretty simplistic, but think about it: ‘feeling full’ is not the same as ‘not being hungry!’ Most of us eat until we feel full, which usually means we’ve over-eaten, and many of us also sit down to eat without asking ourselves “am I even hungry?”

Making lasting changes means a lot of us have to change how we think about food and hunger, and that can feel pretty embarrassing to some of us.  Do we really need to learn how to monitor our hunger?  Do we really need to be told to stop eating when we’re not hungry anymore? For a lot of people, yes! Growing up, many of us were made to eat whatever our parents served us and if we didn’t eat “enough,” we were punished for it! I saw plenty of my cousins who had to force down food they didn’t want, either because they didn’t like it or weren’t hungry, just to make their parents happy.  This is what many of us were taught to do as children and many of us (like my cousins’ parents) grew up to force our own children to eat as well.  It was “meal time,” so we “have to eat!” The whole idea of not being hungry isn’t part of that equation, so is it any surprise that many of us sit down to eat at the appointed times and that we eat all or most of what is served to us?  This is what we were taught to do!

For me, this is a big part of what makes those quick fix meal and/ or meal replacement programs such a quagmire: we aren’t learning how to change our thinking about food, meals or hunger.  We are simply substituting one prescribed ‘meal’ for another! Instead of having a real food breakfast, we’re having a shake.  Instead of eating a real food lunch, we’re eating a bar.  Instead of eating a real food dinner, we’re microwaving a packaged meal.  No wonder many of us do so well on the meal replacement systems only to stumble when we try eating real food again: instead of learning what’s good for us and how much of it satisfies our hunger, we are eating what someone else decided was good for us, just like we did when we were kids! When we start eating real food again, we really are like little kids not knowing what to eat or how much of it. As parents, we know we don’t let the kids choose they want to eat all the time because we know it’ll be something like cereal three times a day or fast food for dinner each night.  We accept that children don’t know how to eat well-balanced meals but how many of those ‘kid meals’ sound like something we eat on a semi-regular basis? How many of us come home from work and rather than fix something nutritious, we settle for cereal eaten at the kitchen sink? Or we hit the drive thru for the third time because we’re late getting home again?

We know it’s not healthy for us and we tell ourselves that it’s not our “normal” way of eating, but at the same time, it’s our fall-back meal.  No time to heat something up? Cereal time! Or toaster pastries or granola bars etc.  The same thing happens when we come home late, or are too tired to cook or just don’t want what we’ve got at home: we get drive thru or take out or microwave a packaged meal. Is it any wonder that we have problems with our weight and our health when we eat like kids?

Changing how we think about eating isn’t fast and it takes a fair bit of practice but when we stop opting for the quick fix we end up making some real lasting progress with out health and our weight loss.  We only really win the game when we stop playing with our food!

Changing Directions: Weight Loss & Getting There

We’ve all heard the expression “dieting doesn’t work.” We know it’s a temporary solution to a permanent situation but that still doesn’t help much.  We know we shouldn’t eat the entire giant burrito at lunch, but we do anyway.  We know that eggnog latte we sucked down this morning was at least 500 calories so we really don’t need another this afternoon, but here we are ordering one! The solution to weight loss is simple: permanently change what we eat and how much.  But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy!

Professionals debate whether Food Addiction is a real addiction or not, and there are the inevitable comparisons to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Overeaters Anonymous takes the ‘Twelve Step’ approach to weight loss and while I am not a member of such a program, I do have family members who are. One of the first things they did when they started their recovery is to change their environment. Specifically, if all your friends drink or do drugs, you need some new friends! When it comes to drugs and alcohol, we expect that. We recognize that we can’t expect recovering alcoholics to hang out at the bar not drinking with their friends who are any more than we can expect drug addicts to hang out with their friends who are always getting high.  There’s simply too much temptation to fall back into the addiction they’re trying to break!

So what do we do about weight loss?  As Food Addiction believers like to point out: you can live without alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but sooner or later, we all need to eat! It’s not like we can hang out without people who don’t eat! It gets even harder when there is a holiday or celebration, since nearly all cultures celebrate with special foods! How are we supposed to deal with our addiction when we have to go back to it to survive?

Whatever you believe about Food Addiction, anyone who wants to lose weight without gaining it back has to accept making some permanent lifestyle changes, not unlike the recovering alcoholic or addict. You may not need to ditch those ‘food-eating friends,’ but you will probably need to change how you interact with them! It doesn’t even have to be major changes but we all know that if you are going to San Francisco, you don’t enter a San Diego address into your GPS! If you want to change your destination, you have to change your route.  Doing things the way you did before is only going to get you somewhere you don’t want to be!

Easier said than done! If only it were as easy as plugging in a new address into Google Maps! Unfortunately, a lot of weight loss gurus like to tell us that it really isn’t too difficult. I always wonder how many of them had weight problems, because they usually look really fit and thin! I know that does many a great disservice, but all of us who struggle with our weight know how hard and painful it can be.  Watching a spokesperson with a chiseled six-pack tell us that we can lose 15 lbs in 6 weeks by making ‘5 easy changes!’ makes me want to kick in my tv! Or scarf a whole pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk…. Either way, it’s not a good feeling.

Psychologists like to call this behavior modification and we have all used it and had it used on us before.  Remember when your parents grounded you for getting home late? Remember when you scolded your puppy for wetting on the floor? Those are some simple examples: you do X and Y happens to you, so if you don’t want X to happen to you again, then don’t do Y! With weight loss, the X we are trying to avoid is gaining weight but it’s more complicated than that.  We are not only trying to avoid weight gain, we want to go in the opposite direction!

We not only need to figure out what Y we need to avoid, we need to map an entirely new route for somewhere else. For a lot of us, this feels like trying to climb Everest with only a windbreaker and some walking shoes– totally impossible! The truth is that it’s not impossible if we know what we’re looking for and that skinny six-pack guy on the infomercial with his 5 easy changes is more interested in your money than helping you find the answers.

One of the easiest ways to find out what changes you need to make in order to make your weight loss permanent is to track what you eat.  I know everyone hates doing it, but we all need a starting point, especially if we want to measure how much progress we’ve made.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.  You can use any notebook or pocket diary and there are a lot of free popular apps on available. It’s up to you how detailed you want to be with your food descriptions but you do need to be consistent.  After a couple of weeks of writing down everything you eat and drink, you’ll have a realistic idea of how much and what foods are typical for you.  Then, you can start making changes!

Most of us eat more than we think we do and we have unrealistic ideas of portion size and calorie count.  You don’t need to weigh everything but if the hamburger for lunch was two patties bigger than the palm of your hand, you need to write that down.  Also, if there were three parts to the bun and two slices of cheese, those need to be written down!  So when we start to make changes, we shouldn’t plan sweeping global changes to our food. Telling yourself “I’m starting keto on Monday” or “I’m going Paleo tomorrow” is going to make you feel like you’re back on Everest in that windbreaker!

The best approach is a little like Google Maps: you know how the app shows you both the whole route with the next turn highlighted at the top? That’s the way you need to do this! You know what your ultimate goal is but your focus needs to be on your next turn, not that freeway offramp by your destination! You’re not even on the freeway yet! Focus on getting to the onramp first!

Start with a small step.  Elizabeth Benton suggests starting with breakfast (a good idea!) but it can be something as simple as cutting out the sweets or giving up soda.  It can also be something like cutting your portion sizes in half.  Once you’ve gotten the first step under control, whatever you’ve chosen, then you can move on to the next step.  This can be working on a better lunch, cutting out more carbs, or replacing more processed foods with whole foods. However you choose to eat (keto, Paleo, Whole 30, etc), most of us are in a hurry to get there but rushing is another bad step.  To use the Google Maps analogy, when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, it’s easier to get lost because you aren’t focused on following the directions.  You want to take shortcuts that don’t always work. Our bodies don’t change overnight so any changes we make won’t show results overnight either!

Remember back to that Twelve Step program I mentioned earlier? Another important point is “one day at a time.” You can’t go from getting drunk on Friday to being sober four years on Monday! You have to earn those four years one day at a time! By being patient, dealing with situations as they come up and learning from mistakes, we eventually figure out what triggers our cravings, what our weaknesses are and how we need to avoid them.  It’s the same, whether we’re trying to stay sober or lose 50 lbs.

By being patient and learning what we are doing now that’s not healthy for us, we learn how to make positive changes to our eating and our behavior.  Our focus needs to be on making positive changes and taking positive steps. We can look at the distance we have to travel and wish it didn’t take so long, but wishing isn’t going to get us to our goal weight.  The only thing that will is making those changes and making them day after day after day.  It’s not a quick trip but the best part about it is that once you get there, it’s for good! Welcome to the neighborhood!

 

 

 

Insecurities: Weight Loss & Being Fearless

No one likes talking about their insecurities.  It’s been said that our own insecurities stem from our own judgment of ourselves.  The idea is that we are used to passing judgment on others and assume that they will pass judgment on us, so we are constantly insecure about how we look and how we act. I find it a little ironic that insecurity and passing judgment have become such hot topics right now. One of the more popular movies in theaters now is the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and if anyone ever embodied the word “fearless,” it is Freddie Mercury.  In fact, one of the film’s posters has the legend “Fearless lives Forever.” (Fearless) Obviously, we all have our own insecurities and self-doubt, and I am sure Freddie was no different.  What does make a difference is whether we choose to let these insecurities and self-doubt get in the way of living our lives.

Many of us use our doubt and insecurity to hide from what we want to do and how we want to live.  We are afraid of being judged by others and ourselves for what we do and what we want to do.  Weight loss and dieting are full of judgment and self-doubt! We are constantly being told what we are doing wrong. Just last night I saw a tv commercial telling us that counting calories and cutting carbs is the wrong way to achieve weight loss- it’s our hormones that are the problem! By signing up with this program, we can fix our hormones! What the ad didn’t say is that we can control our hormones by how much we eat and what we eat, including carbs.  While I’m sure this program has had some success, I don’t think the only way we to lose weight is by forking out money to this weight loss guru so he can let us in on his little secret.

But by implying that “we’re doing it wrong,” he and others are playing on our insecurities.  We start doubting ourselves.  We start wondering if everyone else is going to tell us how wrong we are for not following “the right diet.”  Let’s be honest: no one likes being told they’re wrong! No one likes being laughed at or being made to feel stupid either.

Fear of what other people think is one of the biggest reasons people hide the fact that they are trying to lose weight and why so many people don’t go to the gym or even exercise the way they want. Those are valid fears: there are a lot of judgmental people out there in addition to those who will just give you ‘free advice.’  The Judges will flat out tell you what you are doing wrong and how you will never achieve lasting weight loss following “that weight loss plan!”  The Free Advisors will give you all the details about this other weight loss plan they heard of that worked great for their cousin’s boyfriend’s sister.  Some of them may be trying to make you feel insecure about how you are eating or what you are choosing to eat (and not eat), and then there are those who really want to help but don’t realize they are undermining your self-confidence.  We shouldn’t feel like we need to hide how we eat to avoid unwanted criticism!

While some of us can get by at luncheons and restaurants by surreptitiously avoiding the carbs, high fat sauces or starches, it’s harder when it comes to working out.  While weight loss isn’t driven by exercise, being active is an important part of being healthy, and for most of us, once we begin losing weight, we feel the urge to be more active.  However, being insecure about our appearance is one of the primary reasons people avoid the gym.  Who wants to go to a gym full of fit athletic people when we look in the mirror and see a pudgy blob in a t-shirt and sweatpants? News flash: YOU are the one putting that label on YOURSELF! Why are you assuming that’s what other people are going to think about you? Frankly, there are probably a lot of people at the gym who aren’t even going to notice you because they are too busy worrying about what other people (i.e., you!) are thinking about them! Even if they did notice you and say something rude or judgmental, do you really care about a complete stranger’s opinion?

This is where we fight the self-doubt and insecurity by growing a thick skin and some self-confidence. It’s not easy getting used to negative comments or criticism.  My mother was my worst critic for most of my life and I learned at a young age I could either give in to her judgments and change how I lived to suit her, or I could ignore the negativity and live my life the way that suited me. (FYI: my mother hates the music I listen to, including Queen!) For most of us, ignoring a stranger’s obnoxious comment is one thing but ignoring family members and friends is much more difficult.  It takes some courage to say “I am doing this my way” when it’s someone you care about, and it can be harder still when the critic really thinks they are being helpful.  It takes time, practice and a little tact to build up the self-confidence.  Frankly, I was never good at tact: I just ignored the comments and did what I wanted to do!  If there is anything any of us learn when it comes to weight loss it is that what works for one person may not work for you.  Your sister’s boyfriend’s mom may have lost a boatload of weight on Nutrisystem but that’s no guarantee it will work for you, and there is no shame or rudeness in telling them this!  We don’t have to be afraid of trying things our way and doing the things we want to do just because we don’t want to be singled out as “different” or “wrong” or “foolish.”

We can be afraid of going to the gym and being laughed at.  We can be afraid of being criticized for choosing the weight loss plan that we like.  We can be afraid of working out the way we want because others think it’s not good enough.  We can live our lives being afraid or we can learn to be fearless of criticism and judgment.  Being fearless doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes but it’s our right to make them and hopefully we’ll learn from them. If we really want to be the best versions of ourselves, we need to keep moving forward despite the judgment of others.  I really think that is why artists like Freddie Mercury appeal so much to me: I want to be fearless too. (Champions)

 

 

Knocking on the Door: Weight Loss & Trying Something New

One of the things I have in common with many of my friends is that we like to try new things.  That doesn’t mean we jump on any bandwagon that comes along or that we are always running out to buy the latest and greatest of something, but it does mean when an opportunity to try something new comes along, we are more willing to give it a shot than other people.  We try to keep an open mind about things.  One of my personal ‘rules’ is that I will usually try something new at least twice, just in the case the first time was a fluke, as in the new barista at the Starbucks made your coffee incorrectly or the obnoxious instructor at the gym was a sub the first time you showed up.

Another one of my personal rules is “if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be ‘no.'”  Shortly after I started working for my boss, we had a situation where we needed to get a trial date continued and he was reluctant to ask opposing counsel to agree to a continuance.  I commented, “it doesn’t hurt to ask because he may say yes and if he doesn’t, you’re right where you are now.” The look on his face told me he’d never thought of it that way and we ended up getting the continuance.  What I didn’t tell him is that I learned this little mantra after constantly going through “worst case scenarios” most of my life, which seems a little backward.  By constantly looking at the negative side of things, I learned to be optimistic, i.e. I am already in the ‘worst case situation’ so if they tell me no, I haven’t lost anything and I might gain something if the answer is yes!

This philosophy works pretty well with trying new things. I remember when I first started at my gym: I was afraid to try the Water Aerobics class.  I didn’t know what it was and the class description wasn’t very descriptive. I didn’t want to show up only to be told I couldn’t participate or that it was too much for me to do blah blah blah excuse excuse.  Eventually, I showed up at the pool in the middle of one of the classes by mistake and it looked like the members were having a lot of fun but I sat on the sidelines. Then the instructor asked me if I wanted to join them so I did. Now I realize that my only obstacles to joining the class were my own fear and doubt. The only thing holding me back was me!

Trying new things does require a little bravery and an open mind. You have to be willing to take a chance.  You also have to be willing to take a little criticism, both constructive and sometimes simply rude.  I got a lot of both when I started following Paleo, but I’ve not regretted it one bit. (Okay, so I do miss bread!) The truth is I tried it and it works for me and I like it a lot.  Whatever criticism I’ve gotten hasn’t been enough to change my mind, especially given all the benefits of Paleo for me.

However, we have to be a bit judicious about trying new things.  Jumping on every bandwagon that comes along isn’t a good idea.  Just because something is “new” doesn’t mean it’s great or even good, or that it will work for you.  Keto is one of the newest trends in weight loss.  I have tried it, but frankly, I like veggies too much to stay in ketosis.  A big part of my meals is usually a big salad or bowl of Brussels sprouts.  Another big trend is ‘fat bombs,’ especially for keto devotees. These are usually cream cheese or butter mixed with stevia and coco or another calorie free flavoring.  The idea is that you get a treat that won’t take you out of ketosis. They aren’t a bad idea, but they don’t work for me.  While they are keto-friendly, they are also full of calories (way more than Brussels sprouts!) and they don’t satisfy my hunger.  I can have two or three and still feel hungry but those two or three fat bombs have more calories than the big salad or bowl of coleslaw that will take me out of ketosis.

Kale is another one of these hot new ideas. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable which is being touted as a ‘superfood.’ Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and are typically nutrient dense, high in fiber and low in starch.  They are also some of my favorite veggies, so I decided to try kale! I’d had in soup a few times but I learned that’s pretty much my limit for kale! Kale salads, creamed kale, sauteed kale are all a huge NO for me! I knocked on that door and now I’ve pad-locked it closed!

Some new ideas I don’t need to try out because I already know the answer, such as bulletproof coffee.  I like butter and I like coffee but I don’t need to try buttered coffee to know it doesn’t work for me.  An even worse suggestion is substituting coconut oil for the butter: I don’t like coconut flavored coffees. That doesn’t mean that they won’t work for someone else, and it doesn’t mean I won’t try them out later. I may find out that this is another instance where I am getting in my own way!

When I was in college, I took a German Short Fiction class and we spent a lot of time on Kafka, who is notoriously difficult.  One of the stories we read is called “Before The Law.”  It’s about a man who waits all his life for entry into the Law and never enters. Shortly before he dies, he asks the gatekeeper why no one else ever came to this door and he is told that “this doorway was made only for you.” This concept has stayed with me ever since.  If you don’t ask, the answer is always no and if you don’t knock, the door is always closed.  Something great may be waiting for you, but if you don’t even try, you will never know!

A Moment of Truth: Weight Loss & Right Now

I’ve heard it said that our lives are lived in moments, not hours or days.  When I look at my pets, I see that very clearly.  I know they remember what happened yesterday or this morning, but their focus is on what’s going on right now. We are taught all our lives to look to the future and make plans for tomorrow, but when it comes to staying on track with your weight loss and healthy eating, we need to be looking at right now.

Elizabeth Benton likes to refer to this as “staying in the moment” and that’s a good way of looking at it. It’s easier for me to remember as “right now.” (Too much MTV in my wasted youth!) What is the choice in front of me right now? Do I want to give up my goals for what I want right now? What is the best decision for me to make right now?  In so many ways, it flies in the face of what we have been taught since we were kids: we need to think of the future instead of right now!

It’s almost counter-intuitive: we plan for our future by acting right now.  If someone wants to split a dessert at lunch, do I want to delay reaching my goal for the cheesecake right now? Should I plan to work out tomorrow since I don’t want to work out right now? Right now, what is the best decision I can make for reaching my weight loss goals? While some of you are probably rolling your eyes, too often we get tricked into swapping out Right Now for the Future.  I want cheesecake right now so in the Future, I will work out an extra session / skip lunch, etc.  We get sucked into constructing big plans for the Future or digging up information on weight loss or fitness and instead of taking action Right Now, we are busy planning for the Future.

There is nothing wrong with planning for the Future.  It’s always a good thing to know where you are going and how you are going to get there, but when that planning gets in the way of taking action, it’s not helpful.  You can always do something real and concrete Right Now instead of waiting until sometime in the Future when you have all the information you think you need.  The problem is that there will always be new information coming out on health, fitness and weight loss so on any day, there will always be something we don’t know.  Information is not action and only action will get you to your goals!

When they say our lives are made up of moments, they are talking about all those “right nows.”  That’s what our future is built on: what happens to us in the future actually depends on what we do right now.  If we keep sacrificing our Right Now for some Future action, we will never take action and we will never reach our goals.  We build our Future out of those momentary Right Nows each of us face each day.  Right now, you can be walking during your lunch. Right now you can be shopping for healthy whole foods.  Right now you can be at your gym or joining one.  Right now you can be making a healthy meal.  Right now, you can be saying yes to Brussels sprouts and no to donuts.  This is where our Future comes from; it comes from what we do Right Now.  What are you doing Right Now?

Van Halen: Right Now

One Thing: Weight Loss, Patience & Progress

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my dad who has always been a fan of Westerns.  By the time I was in middle school, I was not only familiar with the Duke but also the large cast of cowboy regulars, including (among others) Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Richard Boone, and Jack Palance.

Jack Palance is probably best remembered in the Under-50 crowd for his last movie, City Slickers, for which he won a Best Supporting Oscar in 1992.  (It’s also the one where he did one-handed pushups on the stage!) For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, it’s about a burnt-out executive and his friends (Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern) who go on a modern day cattle drive as a vacation.  They are going to play Cowboys and Jack Palance’s Curly, the real deal, offers Crystal some advice about the meaning of life: to paraphrase, it’s one thing. You find your ‘one thing’ and stick to it.  Everything else doesn’t mean crap (Curly’s Law- One Thing).

While cowboys, cattle drives and crusty old actors might not seem relevant to weight loss, Curly’s Law has a lot to do with it! Most of us– me included– want to get to our goal weight RIGHT NOW! Yesterday is not soon enough for us! All of us have been guilty of trying to rush this but weight loss, health, fitness, whatever your goal is, cannot be rushed. Our bodies need time to burn fat, to build muscle or to repair the damage caused by a lifetime of poor eating and lack of activity. It doesn’t happen overnight or even over the course of a couple of weeks! So, in an effort to ‘speed things up,’ we try doing everything we can to lose as much weight as we can in the shortest amount of time. In short, we try to do everything at once!

Before we go loading up on all the supplements, protein shakes and filling our fridge with the latest superfoods, remember one thing, and that is One… Thing.  Find the one thing you want to start with and that’s what you focus on! Before you start making excuses about how if doing one thing is good, then more things must be better and faster, it’s also harder! If your plan is waking up a half hour earlier so you can spend that time on the treadmill before you jump in the shower and go to work and you opt to have a protein shake for breakfast and then walk during lunch time and then prepare a healthy dinner in the evening, meditate for twenty minutes and turn off the tv or tablet an hour before going to bed along with drinking 8 glasses of water all day and journaling before you fall asleep, that really sounds like a great routine! I know a lot of people who would approve a healthy plan like that, focused on good nutrition, lots of exercise followed by quality rest and relaxation!

If you also think it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is a whole lot of work! It also sounds really healthy so there are probably more than a few of us who are busy drawing up similar schedules to start on bright and early on Monday morning or even for January 1st.  The problem is that after a few short weeks, whenever you start, you’ll find yourself falling behind on your new Healthy Routine.  It’s not that you lack willpower or stamina or are lazy.  It’s that Real Life gets in the way! Because you are starting so many new routines at once (even if you call it ‘one’), you haven’t had the chance to build them up into regular habits.

What happens to your Healthy Routine when you get stuck running an errand during your ‘meditation time’? What happens when you have to work through your ‘lunchtime walking’ to finish a project that goes to the client by mid-afternoon? What do you do when you sleep through your alarm or have to work late into the evening or anything else that happens unexpectedly in our lives? When we get knocked off balance and start missing our new goals, it’s easier to forget to get back on track or worse, we get discouraged and give up on them.  No one likes to hear this either, but it takes time to develop a new habit, just like it takes time to lose weight and build muscle! Remember: One Thing.

One thing is easier to do than two or three or five.  One thing is easier to keep track of than two or four, and when you focus on one thing, you can do your best with it instead of giving it a few minutes of your attention every day.  When you are already in the habit of eating healthy, it’s easier to adjust when you are faced with non-healthy choices.  When you are in the habit of waking up a half hour earlier, it’s harder to oversleep and easier to get back into your routine.  When all of these new behaviors aren’t new anymore and are part of your normal routine, there is actually less to remember and much less work.

Think about it: you don’t make a list of things you need to do when you get up every morning, like shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, find your keys, find your phone, grab your purse/ briefcase, grab your coat, etc.  Likewise, you don’t use GPS to find your way home from work every day either.  In fact, these are the kinds of things most of us do on Auto Pilot because we have done them repeatedly. This is our goal with our Healthy Routine!

This is actually how I knew that my gym routine had become a habit: not only did I pack my gym bag in the morning on gym days without a reminder, I also drove to the gym without thinking about it! Yes, it took time to develop this habit, but once it became a part of my routine I had to remind myself not to bring my gym bag on holidays when the gym closed early! The gym is one less thing for me to focus on, which means I can focus my attention on something else I want to work on in my Healthy Routine, like going to bed on time!

There is a bonus once we remember to do One Thing and that is we keep making progress even if we aren’t doing everything we want on our Healthy Routine.  While we may be struggling with the work outs or the meditation, once we’ve got the lunch time walking and the healthy dinners down pat, those habits are still moving us towards our goals! We are still making progress and the more we build on a strong foundation, the faster we progress to our goals.  We just need to be patient and remember: One Thing.

 

 

“E” is for Effort (& Excellence): Weight Loss & Missed Opportunities

Last night I got an unusual text from my sister.  She was watching the same rerun of My 600 lb Life that I was, although it was new to her.  I’ve mentioned before that I watch the show, reruns and all, because they are my version of a 12 Step meeting.  They remind me of some of my old bad habits (ugh! so reminded last weekend!) and overall they keep me motivated.  This particular episode was James K.’s story.  In so many ways, James is both motivating and incredibly frustrating.

We’ve all heard the expression that ‘water sinks to its lowest level’ and the same is true of our efforts.  If we don’t put forth any effort, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get no return, but usually we are shocked when we don’t get amazing results.  We’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that we can phone in the effort and get what we want without a lot of work. James puts forth nearly no effort at all but expects to get awesome results and is repeatedly disappointed when he fails to make any progress at all.

To recap, James is approximately mid-forties, weighs about 800 lbs and has been bedbound for nearly three years when we meet him. He lives with his girlfriend Lisa and their teenage daughter Bayley, who are his caretakers.  Both Lisa and Bayley are afraid that his eating will kill him because he gains about 30-40 lbs every year, and James himself is afraid that he’s going to die in his bed soon. Besides his super morbid obesity, James also has severe cellulitis infections in his legs, but he still wishes that his days “would start with food and end with food.”  He admits that if he doesn’t get what he wants to eat as soon as he demands it, he gets angry. Giving him something healthy only starts a fight.

James sets up a phone consultation with Dr. Nowzaradan, who advises him how dangerous it is to be super morbidly obese and immobile (bedbound).  He sends him a 1200 calorie diet, tells him to begin losing weight now and come to Houston.  If he is under 600 lbs when he arrives and there are no major health issues, he will schedule him for bariatric surgery as soon as he can.

My issue with James isn’t that he’s gained about 800 lbs: my issue is that he does as little as possible to help himself or improve his situation. He was well over 500 lbs when he fell and injured his ankle, landing him in the bed three years ago.  Since then, he’s continued to gain weight and it isn’t hard to see why.  When you aren’t being active and continue to eat as much as you did before, it’s an obvious result.  However, James has made no effort to change his eating habits, nor has he made any effort to get out to the bed.  He tells everyone he wants out of that bed and he’s ready to get back to his old life, but to make change, you need to put out some effort!

He and Lisa had initially planned to load him in the back of her van and drive to Houston but because of his weight and longtime immobility, both Dr. Nowzaradan and the EMTs they later call advise against it.  The EMTs also tell him he is wider than the van is so driving that far would be extremely painful (why ultimately James vetoes the idea.) James tries to get a bariatric ambulance to transport him from Kentucky to Texas but when the plans fall through and his fund-raising efforts (an online campaign) also fail to generate enough money, he uses this to justify his continued calorie consumption. Basically, it’s a depressing situation and the insurance company has given him a ‘death sentence,’ and the only thing that brings him any happiness is eating everything he wants to eat, so that’s what he’s going to do!

In this case, James is not even putting forth minimal effort: Lisa and his daughter set up the online campaign and Dr. Nowzaradan is fighting with the insurance company over the ambulance.  The least James can do is work his hardest on losing weight.  This is what the doctor had instructed him to do and frankly, it’s the best thing he can do for himself, but he doesn’t do it. He makes no effort to help himself.

Later, when he finally arrives in Houston, he weighs in at 791 lbs and continues to gain weight, ultimately reaching 843 lbs.  At the end of the year, James has gained back any weight lost while hospitalized on a controlled diet and has been told that he has congestive heart failure and his body is barely functioning.  Throughout that year, he blames circumstance for his lack of progress and ultimately accuses Dr. Nowzaradan of not helping him.  The simple truth is that he refuses to make any effort to help himself.  This dismal lack of effort is what makes James so frustrating but also so motivating.  His story is full of missed opportunities to help himself: he announces again and again how he’s ‘fired up’ to lose weight, but when his daughter offers to bring him his dumb bells, he waves her off.  When Lisa protests that the Chinese rice he wants isn’t on his diet, he has a tantrum, demanding it anyway. “I’m tired of fish and chicken!”

Anyone who has changed their eating habits can commiserate with this tantrum.  My dad actually jokes that I’ve eaten so much chicken, he expects me to sprout feathers any day now! There’s been more than a few days that the thought of eating more salad, veggies, chicken or anything else healthy makes me want to gag. There’s also been many days I’ve wanted to blow off my exercise classes because I’m tired, I don’t feel like it or I just want to do something else! We have all been there! But watching James give in over to his whims is also what makes his case so motivating.

We all have opportunities to improve our health and weight loss.  None of it comes easily to any of us. Change and progress require effort and if we want to make the most of our opportunities, then we have to put forth our maximum effort! Blowing off the opportunities is always easier but then we have to live the results of our lack of effort.  We can choose to blame circumstance and everyone around us for our lack of progress, but ultimately the choice to work as hard as we can is our own.  We can do what we want, like James, or we can do what’s best for us as hard or as uncomfortable as it may be.  In the end, giving in to our whims and blowing off efforts to help ourselves only seems easier.  Living with the extra weight is not only hard on our self-esteem: it’s hard on our health. For some of us, it means we have to go back to our “fat pants” or loosen the belt another notch instead of tightening it up.  In James’ case, his lack of effort landed him in the ICU with sepsis, fatty liver disease and kidney failure.  [At last report, he recovered enough to be discharged.]

We all have been disappointed with our results at times.  It’d be nice if they were always amazing and fabulous.  The least we can do is make the best of the opportunities provided to us by giving it our best effort.  When we don’t even do the least that we can do, we have no one to blame but ourselves for our failures. Watching James throw away opportunity after opportunity reminds me not to do the same.  It is a sad and scary lesson that James presents to us and hopefully we’ve all learned from it.

Deja Vu All Over Again?: Weight Loss & Motivation

There are a lot of technical definitions and explanations for deja vu.  Essentially, you feel like this situation or scene is familiar to you when it shouldn’t be.  In weight loss, this usually shows up when we’ve gone off the rails and gone back to our old eating habits.  We all know– or should know– what happens then: we feel like we used to feel! Depending on how long it’s been since we’ve put ourselves in that situation, we may or may not feel a little deja vu.

When I weighed almost 440 lbs, I felt pretty terrible.  My knees hurt, my back hurt, and just standing was painful. These aches I knew were definitely weight-related but I was also up all night in the bathroom, I had terrible headaches when I woke up and a lot of times, I felt like I was getting hot flashes at night.  Since I am near the right age for hot flashes, I pretty much chalked those up to menopause.  It wasn’t until I changed what I ate that I realized my headaches, hot flashes and overall cruddy feeling were also tied to my weight and bad eating habits.

This past weekend, I experienced a major bout of deja vu and it was not a fun trip down Memory Lane! I spent a major portion of the long weekend hanging out with friends which meant I did a lot more indulging than I intended to do, mainly because I wasn’t paying attention half the time although the other half was intentional. Since I wasn’t paying attention, I did not realize until much later that I had had too much of pretty much everything! I know I can make excuses or blame my friends but the sad fact is I am responsible for my food choices.  It also doesn’t change what I chose to eat and drink, but the consequences were a literal wake up call to pay more attention to my choices!

Not too long ago I wrote about perspective and how we don’t know how good we can really feel because our idea of “feeling good” is a lot closer to “not feeling as bad as I normally do.”  The difference is that once we truly begin to feel great, we realize how awful we had been feeling before.  For me, some of the first positive effects were I no longer had terrible headaches in the morning and the ‘hot flashes’ went away as well as being up all night in the bathroom.  What I came to learn was that those were due to my over-consumption of quick carbohydrates, especially at night. The fewer of these quick carbs that I ate, the better I felt.  My joints began to feel better and I no longer felt like a stiff creaky old lady.  My energy leveled out instead of bouncing up and down and I stopped getting headaches and feeling mentally exhausted all the time. My legs, back and knees also stopped aching the more weight I lost, but I had expected those changes.  These other improvements were a complete surprise to me!

Like most of us, I had accepted the headaches, fake ‘hot flashes’ and being up all night as the “natural effects of aging,” even though I was still under 50 at the time.  The fact that these issues were driven by what I ate had never occurred to me.  It was obvious that my painful knees and back were due to carrying around 440 lbs, but just changing what I ate made a powerful improvement to my overall sense of well-being.  I was vividly reminded this past weekend of how powerful– and how delicate– this improvement really is!

To be blunt, I spent this past weekend on a carb binge! Things like popcorn, sugar, pastry and bread made their way into my diet and while there were some that I purposely chose to indulge in, there were a great many others that I dismissed since “they can’t really hurt me.” In short, I stopped paying attention to how many of these carb-heavy and sugar-rich foods I was eating.  That’s when I learned that yes, these foods can hurt me!

After a few short days of eating some of the things I used to eat on a regular basis, I went back to feeling the way I used to feel.  After not feeling like that for nearly four years, I had forgotten how truly awful it was. The morning-after headache was akin to a migraine and it lasted most of the night.  I was awake most of that night to feel it because I was running back and forth to the bathroom and when I wasn’t, I was lying awake with the covers thrown off because they were too hot. In fact, I had to turn down the thermostat because I felt too warm!  Even before I got that bad, I started feeling stiff and achy again: I was back to being the creaky old lady who was tired all the time. Being stiff, achy and tired again was bad enough without the additional effects! By the time I got up to go to work on Monday morning, I was truly and painfully regretting my choices over the weekend.

The result of this ‘deja vu all over again’ was that I was extremely motivated to go back to making healthy choices again! We all tell ourselves that eating low carb, nutrient dense whole foods is good for us, but sometimes we forget the consequences of not eating what’s best for us.  We tell ourselves that this is a permanent change to our lifestyle but it’s easy to recite the platitudes and slogans without making the real changes. Many of us lament the weight or water gain when we slip and I know I have done it, but it wasn’t until I revisited my old life that I discovered a new motivation.  I want to eat healthier not only to lose weight and feel good: I want to eat healthier so I never feel that horrible again!

We spend a lot of time looking for motivation and trying to keep the momentum going. Motivation tends to be short-lived.  Once it cools off, we start feeling cravings and begin making excuses for eating unhealthy foods.  I found new motivation the hard way:  if you really want to know why you started this weight loss journey, just take a short trip back to your old life.  Once you’ve lived a few days the way you did before, you’ll have all the motivation you need to get back on the road to living healthy!