Drifting Along: Weight Loss & Going with the Flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Saboteur: Weight Loss & Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Playing to Lose: Weight Loss & The Blame Game

We’ve all played this particular game! Whether it involves weight loss or not, we’ve all blamed our failures on someone else at some point in our lives.  Usually we’re angry at being embarrassed or called to answer for our failing, or we just don’t want to take responsibility for not reaching our goals. There’s always a reason that prevented us from doing what we were supposed to do!

Sometimes, there really is a reason, such as I was supposed to get these documents done, but I needed material from someone who failed to provide it therefore, the documents aren’t completed.  When my boss asks why, my answer is simple: “I can’t present information I don’t have.”  The problem comes when confuse ‘reasons’ and ‘excuses.’

When it comes to eating, we are used to looking for excuses.  I know I am! One of the typical excuses is “I forgot my lunch so I had to order out and there weren’t any healthy options available!” That’s an excuse to eat junk food. A reason to eat junk food? Hmmm….. [sound of crickets here]…..I honestly can’t think of a reason for eating junk food. Unless your blood sugar is dangerously low, you can probably wait to eat until there’s a healthier option.  Incidentally, it takes about a teaspoon of sugar to even out your blood glucose, which is why many diabetics have a piece of hard candy around in case their sugar does drop that low.  One piece of hard candy, as in a little Jolly Rancher! Certainly not a burger, fries, and a Coke! The point is that we want to eat what we want to eat, whether it’s healthy or not, and lacking a legitimate reason to scarf down cookies, we come up with an excuse and use that instead.

Sometimes getting it wrong is a reason for not reaching weight loss goals.  We thought we were doing the right thing, but it turns out we were wrong! This happens a lot with things like salad dressing.  We bought the Lite dressing because it has “50% fewer calories than our original!” We just miss the part that says the original has 300 calories per two tablespoons! So that Lite dressing still has 150 calories in an ounce (since one tablespoon is a half-ounce!) Then there’s the whole sense of portion size! We pour on some dressing, eyeball it and yeah, that’s about a couple ounces, thinking one tablespoon is one ounce! So instead of getting it right with the Lite salad dressing, we’re actually getting it all wrong: we’re getting 300 calories in the dressing alone on that salad! As many practiced dieters know, that’s where the calories are in salad and vegetables- it’s usually what we put on them to make them ‘delicious’!

When we fail at reaching our goals or we go off track, it’s embarrassing to admit that you wanted the cupcakes or the chips more than you wanted to lose weight.  It’s admitting that you can’t control your cravings or that your desire for whatever food you ate is more important to you than being healthy.  It feels like you’re choosing to be sick or fat or unhappy rather than be thinner, fitter and more confident.  No one wants to think, let alone admit, that we chose to be fat rather than saying no to Oreos.  Surely we couldn’t have made that choice, so there must be some reason that we had to eat the Oreos, the Ruffles or the cheeseburger! Someone or something else must be to blame!

While blaming someone or something else might soothe your conscience for a little while, it has some toxic side effects.  It robs you of responsibility and your free will.  If there is always someone or something else keeping you from making good choices, then you have no free will at all: you are constantly at the mercy of others or fate or whoever you are blaming for your poor choices! How can you improve if the deck is always stacked against you? The fact is, unless someone held you down and force-fed you Krispy Kremes and Whoppers, you chose to eat those foods. Your failing to take responsibility for those choices by blaming circumstance is not helping you. It’s keeping you helpless and keeping you from making progress. When we are constantly blaming others, we start seeing excuses everywhere and we become locked into that thought pattern, and once locked in, it’s hard to get out. We get in the habit of choosing the excuse instead of choosing to be responsible.

Recently I wrote about healthy eating on the road which is a common excuse for eating junk food.  You and your family stop at a fast food restaurant while on a long car trip and everyone is ordering burgers, fries, and soda. You see there is a salad on the menu but you really want the burger meal everyone else is ordering. Excuse: “It’s too hard to eat a salad sitting in a car since I have to hold the bowl or balance it on my lap, so I have to have the burger.”  You wanted a “reason” to have to eat the burger and you found one, but you really have a choice.  You can choose the salad and while it might be more difficult, you can still eat it or you can ask your family to eat in the restaurant rather than eat on the road.  How long does it take to eat a salad- fifteen or twenty minutes?

Another example: your family wants pizza on movie night so you go to a pizza place and everyone is eating the pizza. They have a salad bar but rather than “making everyone uncomfortable by choosing to eat healthy,” you choose the pizza.  Or maybe you say you want the salad bar but everyone cajoles you into “living it up” and eating the pizza instead.  You chose to eat the pizza and everyone else’s feelings or opinions are the “reason you couldn’t have salad.”  This may sound a little harsh, but everyone else’s feelings and opinions are not your responsibility.  You are responsible for your feelings, your choices and your behavior.  You are also responsible for your health and while it may sound childish to think that you chose the pizza over your health, when you blame everyone else’s feelings for your “having to eat the pizza,” you are saying their feelings are more important than your health.  How foolish is that? Rather than bruise their feelings, you chose to eat a few thousand calories of pizza instead of a few hundred calories of salad bar!

It’s a difficult transition to make: moving from blaming circumstances to taking responsibility.  I’ve recently been responsible for choosing sweet potato chips over my regular salad, as well as way too much whipped cream on my strawberries.  And there’s been a few bags of pork rinds in there that I chose also! Why? Because they taste good and I wanted them.  I am not happy with myself for choosing them but no one held me hostage and forced me to eat them.  While this is where most people beat themselves up for these poor choices (as in “why did I do that? why do I sabotage myself?”), choosing to take responsibility instead of blaming some flaw in myself means I can make better choices! Choosing to be responsible doesn’t mean that I am choosing to live a life of abstinence. It simply means that I am responsible for my choices, good or bad. I am not at the mercy of circumstances or someone else or even my own failings: I made one choice- I can make another! I can choose to eat healthier foods and I can choose not to buy chips, whipped cream, or other junk foods I know will tempt me. I can choose not to put them in the grocery cart! This is part of being responsible and it’s the first step in making progress. I am choosing to take responsibility for my choices and I’m choosing not to play the Blame Game.

 

Opportunities v Problems: Your Attitude Makes a Difference!

We’ve probably all heard the optimistic aphorism “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet!” and while that sounds way too cheerful for me, there is a lot of truth to it.  The first time you met your best friend or your spouse/ significant other, they were a stranger to you.  Imagine how different your life would be if you didn’t meet them! This is the point of that perky little saying: you never know who that stranger will be in your life until you get to meet them, so keep an open mind.

When it comes to problems, we also need to keep an open mind.  What looks like a problem can actually be an opportunity if we keep an open mind. It may not be what you want or what you think it should be, but if you leave yourself open to the possibilities, who knows what can happen?

One of the tv shows I like to watch is Mysteries at the Museum (I’m a history geek!) and if there’s a common theme that runs throughout the show, it’s that a problem may be an opportunity you weren’t looking for. Some of the things that we use (and pretty much take for granted every day) were initially someone’s problem or failure.  These are things like super glue, kevlar and post-it notes.  Speaking for myself as an office worker, life is so much better with post-it notes! The point is that all of these things were initially seen as failures or problems by their inventors.  Kevlar started out to be a lightweight material for tires and although it eventually ended up in tires, how much more has it done for law enforcement and the military?  Super glue started out to be shatterproof sites for rifles but ended up fixing something for just about everyone! Post-it note glue was supposed to be another super sticky glue but in the end, its lack-of-stickiness turned out to be its saving grace!

While some failures and problems never amount to more than failures and problems, the point is that we will never know until we try seeing the situation from another angle.  If our attitude is simply: “this sucks!,” then yes, it most definitely sucks and that’s the end of that opportunity! When it comes to our eating habits, what looks like it might be a problem can actually be an opportunity to make healthy changes.  I know there are a lot of people who complain about not being able to stay on their diet while traveling. It’s a common theme on My 600 lb Life: “there’s no such thing as healthy fast food and there’s not a lot of healthy choices besides fast food!”  We all know it’s an excuse to eat the junk food they really want to eat, as anyone who has been to a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Arby’s or even a KFC knows there are healthy choices available.  Almost every fast food restaurant at least offers a salad. How yummy it is may be debatable, but in my experience Wendy’s and Arby’s offers the best salad options, and KFC offers real grilled chicken instead of breaded and fried.  When you stop for gas, you don’t have buy donuts, candy and soda: you can usually get jerky, nuts, fruit and water.  There are also a lot of restaurants attached to gas stations and travel stops so you have more options there too! Staying overnight at a hotel has the best options since there are usually restaurants in walking distance and delivery (either via the restaurant or an app) is also a possibility.  We can either lock ourselves into Problem Mode (“X is my only choice!”) or you can keep an open mind and look at what else is possible. “Healthier fast food” doesn’t have to a ‘travel only’ option either; the next time your family wants burgers and fries, you can always say “okay” and order yourself the salad or bunless burger!

Even if something is a real genuine problem, keeping an open mind leaves yourself open to the positive.  Recently, my cable box died. It’s totally dead, won’t even come on and needs to be disconnected and replaced. This means I can’t do it until the weekend and since it died on a Monday night, yay…. a whole week without the tv…. While I don’t have a lot of programs I regularly watch (generally 3-4 nights a week), I am pretty loyal to those I do, so it’s a major inconvenience,viewing-wise. Getting a replacement is going to be a huge hassle I am not looking forward to and will probably take up a good part of my already crowded weekend! So I can grouse and moan and complain (of which I have already done plenty!) and leave it at that… OR I can look at what opportunities might be hidden in this obstacle.

On the first and most obvious level, it means I have a lot more free time than before! I confess: I went for the tv-substitute and streamed a lot of my Amazon Watchlist to my tablet! These were shows I’d been meaning to catch up on but didn’t have the time, so now that my regular tv is unavailable- Hello Detective Bosch! Seasons Three and Four are now on my To-Do list! It also means that since mindless eating and tv seem to go hand-in-hand, although this is the tv-subsitute, I don’t typically “watch” my tablet in the living room where the tv is.  I watch it in the bedroom, where eating options are a bit more problematic.  As in, it’s too easy for a furry housemate to stick his or her nose in my dinner plate! So dinner this week has been eaten without being glued to the ‘television’ and there’s less opportunities for snacking, wandering back and forth between the living room and fridge/ pantry.  As for the furballs, they love being in the bedroom since we’re all pretty much on the same level: more fetch and more playtime.  Overall it means there’s just been less tv , more pet-time and more sleep! Geez! Less eating, less temptation, more play and more sleep! Yikes! What an horrendous ordeal this has been!

Of course, it’s still going to be a headache getting the cable box exchanged and everything set up so I’ll be up and running.  The point is that I can look at this as a little adventure, camping out with the tablet or I can simply view it as a problem.  I’m also viewing it as an opportunity to clean out the cabinet where the cable box goes! Since we’ve already got to ‘dismantle’ all those cords and wires, why not make some improvements to that mess? While I certainly don’t want to come off as some perky little Pollyanna when it comes to obstacles and problems, how we react to them is entirely up to us. After moaning and grousing about my ‘new problem,’ I looked at my options and came up with something that works for me in the interim.  Of course, Set-Up Saturday with the new cable box might be an entirely different obstacle…….

 

Watch Where You’re Going! Weight Loss & “Constant Vigilance”

We’ve all heard the phrase “keep your chin up!” It’s supposed to keep you feeling like a success and encourage you to stay strong.  It also really helps if you want to know where you are going. Realistically, if you don’t watch where you are walking, you will probably trip over something, but it also works for weight loss since if you don’t watch where your weight loss is going, you probably won’t get there.

While I’m not necessarily talking about tracking (people react so negatively to that term!), I am suggesting that not paying attention is a proven method for failure.  Not paying attention makes it easy to give in to excuses, to make exceptions and to ‘plan for later,’ until one day you get on the scale and realize that you’ve not lost any more weight or — horrors!you’ve gained! How the heck did that happen?!

Not to be a nag, but if you were paying attention, you’d know how that happened! And if you are honest with yourself, looking back, it’s fairly obvious how that number got on the scale. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, you might remember Professor Mad-Eye Moody’s refrain of “Constant vigilance!” and while you don’t have to be super strict with yourself, being aware and paying attention are the most important parts of weight loss.  That simply means if you’re out with friends on a Friday night, it’s okay to choose the jalapeno poppers and beer as long as you are aware that they’re not going to be ‘fat loss friendly’ and that making a weekly habit of them is going to slow (or stop) your weight loss unless you make some adjustments to your eating plan to take out some things that you enjoy less.  While this seems like a no-brainer, the problem comes with making exception after exception or ‘adjustment after adjustment’ until we have ‘adjusted’ our way from weight loss to weight gain.

There are a lot of dieters who simply refuse to track because “I know what I eat!”  Unfortunately, these are often the same people who get up one day and wonder why their pants feel a little snug and then when they get on the scale or take out the tape measure, are shocked to discover that they’ve put on a few pounds. It’s like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky! “How could I have gained weight?!”  Well, if they had tracked what they ate, they’d have a pretty good idea of where those pounds came from: the month of Fridays out with friends; the bagels they had a couple times or more a week for the last three weeks; that pizza party for the kid’s birthday along with the cake and ice cream… and hot dogs, chips, wings and pretzels at the baseball game, and then there was dinner out with friends (pasta, garlic bread and tiramisu with wine).  Those ‘exceptions’ to our healthy eating plan somehow stopped being actual ‘exceptions’ and pretty much became the rule.  They probably felt like true exceptions at the time, since they were most likely spread out over a month or more, but when taken together, it seems pretty obvious that they really aren’t aberrations to how you eat any more. That’s what makes tracking so valuable.  We really do forget what we ate and how much we ate, even if we really are paying attention. We look at the big plate of pasta and garlic bread and think “yeah, I’ll remember eating this!”  Maybe for a day or so, but after a week, when our friends suggest the nachos and beer out at the pub, we may not remember that Tuesday night pasta on Saturday night.  Or those bagel bites we had on the Wednesday morning meeting. Or that we had small slice of cake on Monday because it was Cheryl-at-the-office’s birthday.  All these things add up and on Sunday when we stand on the scale or whip out the tape measure, we might be a bit perplexed that there’s no loss.  Instead of being confused and wondering why you hit a plateau, if you had a record of what you’ve eaten for the past week, you could see why that ‘plateau’ is really just poor eating choices.

Tracking your food doesn’t mean that you have to weigh everything you eat and count each nut and seed that goes in your mouth.  It’s really as simple as watching where you are going and noting where you have been.  If it’s a handful of macadamias, you don’t need to weigh them.  If it’s a small slice of cake, you don’t have to ‘estimate the ounces’ or what’s in the frosting– you just need to make a note of what you ate.  Writing it down as you eat it or at the end of the day is the least you need to do.  Although I have an app on my phone, I like using a paper food journal since it’s easier for me to flip through.  I like putting it in the app right after or before I eat it so I don’t have the time to ‘adjust’ the portion sizes.  (It’s amazing that a half a bagel at noon can seem more like a a third of a bagel by the evening- it wasn’t that big, was it?)

This is part of the same thing that happens after a month or so of ‘exceptions.’  “I’ve been really good/ really trying, so why did I gain weight?” The stark black and white reality of what actually passed through your lips explains those extra pounds on your hips! When you- or since we’re being honest here- I flip back over the past weeks, and there’s page after page with entries like “bread,” “cookies,” “frozen yogurt,” “chocolate,” “chocolate,” “dark chocolate” (just to change things up!), it’s pretty obvious why my bathing suit is a little tighter than it used to be.  I can blame ‘poor sleep’ and ‘lots of stress’ all I want but until I pay more attention to all those ‘exceptions,’ I’m not going to be losing any more weight!

However you choose to pay attention, watching where you are going as well as where you have been are good strategies for making sure you end up where you want to be! Even if it’s just in the Notes app on your phone, if you decide to eat something not fat loss friendly, it wouldn’t hurt to write it down in the Notes, so when your friends ask you if you want nachos and beer this weekend, you can open your app, remember that pasta and garlic bread on Tuesday and opt for either just the beer, just the nachos or neither.  You don’t have to be Constantly Vigilant, but keeping an eye out for trouble can keep you from unwanted surprises.

Information Isn’t Action: Weight Loss Requires Activity!

When it comes to weight loss, too many people think the activity I’m referring to means working out, going to the gym or walking or some kind of exercise.  While exercise has its place in weight loss, what I mean is that you must take action to lose weight.  Reading a nutrition or diet book is not action: it’s research.  I can read every diet book that comes out this year and still not lose a pound unless I actually do something such as implementing the strategies in those diet books.

This distinction confuses a lot of people and it’s completely understandable.  We take the time to read the diet/ nutrition books; we buy the yoga CDs (I’ve got dozens of those- still in the wrappers!) and we think we are ‘making progress!’  As in, “I’m planning to lose weight and exercise more and I’ve got my strategy all mapped out!”  But until you put that strategy into action, you ain’t gonna be losing weight!  Take my yoga CDs: I really really want to start yoga, as evidenced by the CDs and books stacked on my bookcase.  How good am I at yoga? Not started it! I’ve got the mat and strap and bolster literally buried in my closet but I’ve not used them. So how good am I at yoga? I’m guessing I pretty much suck since I’ve not tried in the last 15 years or so.  But I really really want to! Little clue here: you have to do it in order to make progress!

So why haven’t I done anything with my yoga practice? Oh, the usual excuses: “I don’t have time”; “I don’t know if I’m doing it right”; “I’m afraid I might hurt myself”; “I can’t afford the classes”; blah blah blah. The point is that while I have all the resources and tools to practice yoga, they are gathering dust and I am making no progress at all really fast! However, I don’t expect that I’ll be magically good at yoga just because I have all the tools and information at my fingertips, but when it comes to weight loss, there are a lot of people who get lost in the research and strategizing.

I’ve got another confession here: I really love research! I love reading a new book or magazine about health or listening to a new podcast about being healthier. The problem is that reading about health and weight loss and listening to other people talk about getting fitter does not improve my health and fitness unless and until I actually put these ideas into action. I can’t tell you how much I’ve heard and read about the ketogenic diet and Intermittent Fasting, but I can also tell you that I am most definitely not in ketosis! Why? Because I haven’t made the changes in my diet necessary to get into ketosis. [I did try keto and decided I didn’t like it very much, ergo not eating keto!]

It seems simple: if you want to make progress, you have to take action. Research, although it feels like you are doing something, really isn’t action. It is accumulating information.  What you do with that information determines how much progress you make. Too many of us get lost in the informational weeds because we want to lose weight ‘the right way,’ or we just plain don’t know what to do or where to begin.  Those are all good starting points but we have to remember they are only starting points! Once we have a plan or a beginning, we have to begin doing something with that information we’ve so carefully accumulated.

Which brings us back to my yoga non-practice.  The honest real reason I haven’t tried yoga? It intimidates the bloody hell out of me! Despite reading all the books and watching the CDs, I truly don’t know if I can get into some of those poses and if I get there, how the hell do I get out of them? What if I get stuck or hurt myself? What if I just look stupid? Hello! That’s why we practice! No one can reasonably expect a beginner to do anything perfectly the first time or even the hundredth time! It’s a progression and until we actually begin doing it, we aren’t making progress!

This is one of the pitfalls of too much information gathering: we are afraid we won’t do it right or that we’ll be unable to do it.  Seriously, not-doing it is the biggest way to mess it up! Allowing yourself to be intimidated is a sure way to keep you from making any progress towards your goals or even from trying anything new.  Aside from not making any progress, it can keep you from doing something you turn out to enjoy.  And as for doing it ‘wrong,’ every professional started out as an amateur.  Mozart may have been a prodigy, but the first time he stepped up to a piano, he still had to figure out which key was what note! Even failure can teach you since now you know what not to do! Everything takes practice!

While we may learn the basic framework through information gathering aka ‘research,’ it only benefits us when we put that knowledge into action. This is why doctors spend years in residence: book knowledge is so very different than actually doing the procedures.  I can read all about Intermittent Fasting and learn all the tips and tricks for getting through a seven day water fast, but again actually fasting for seven days only drinking water is a whole ‘nother experience! And that’s the key word: experience.  Experience is true knowledge and it only comes through action.  The more experience you have with your weight loss process, the more you know about your body, what works for you and what doesn’t (i.e., me & keto). It’s great to read about different supplements, different fasting regimens and different recipes or eating plans, but unless and until you put that information into action, you are only wasting your time and not making progress! If you are serious about weight loss, you need to do something about it, and reading about it doesn’t count! [Now I need to get off my butt and dig that dang yoga mat out of the closet!]

 

Weight Loss & The Sympathy Junkie: Just Say NO!

I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about “sympathy junkies” in some of my posts. I have a lot of experience with people who have this disorder.  While I know one of the terms for it is Munchhausen Syndrome and others call it narcissism, I usually boil it down the “Look at Me!” mentality.  Whatever it is going on with them, these people want to be the center of attention.  They are firm believers in the motto “there’s no such thing as bad publicity!” Hah! I can think of a few celebrities and corporations that would disagree: it’s not always a good thing to have people focused on you.

There’s nothing wrong with positive attention.  If you’ve done something good, we all like the pat on the head and the “attaboy/ attagirl!”  But most of us are also familiar with the schoolyard bully who’d hit kids just to get the teacher’s attention because he wasn’t getting any at home. For this kid, any attention was positive attention because it was better than NO attention.

For some of us, this idea of attention has become connected to our weight loss and health improvement goals.  Most times, it’s a good thing: we lose weight, we become more fit, we eat healthier and we get a lot of positive attention from our family and friends.  They’re proud of our success and the positive attention encourages us to keep making positive changes and to continue to do well.  That’s how it’s supposed to work and most of the time, that’s what happens with us.

For some of us, mainly the sympathy junkies, they’re like the schoolyard bullies: they want any kind of attention, and if they can’t get it by doing something good, they’ll get it for being helpless or having some kind of problem.  We all know people who have problem after problem and their lives are one trainwreck after another. “Poor Mimi! Nothing good ever happens to her!”  The irony is that Mimi and others like her are only happy when they’re miserable, while the rest of us just silently groan and ask “what’s wrong with Mimi today?” There is no real sympathy left because she’s cried wolf every day since you met her.

I gave serious thought before writing about this topic and I had put it on the back burner for several weeks, because, really, does it relate to weight loss?  The very day I had reviewed it and decided I was going to table it indefinitely, something happened that reminded me that yes, this is a topic that can affect our weight loss.

For starters, we definitely do not want to be Mimi the Munchhausen Moaner whom no one wants to be around! There’s a reason no one likes her: she’s always complaining, always helpless and always wants all of your time and attention.  (For the record: it can be Mike the Munchhausen Moaner, too!)

For most of us, when we hit a snag with our workouts or a plateau in our weight loss, we bring up our problem because we are looking for a solution. We’re obviously not doing something right or we’ve injured ourselves or we need to make a change, so we’re asking for help.  Sympathy is nice, but it’s not going to help me recover from my injury or make progress with my weight loss. Solutions only, please!

The sympathy junkies don’t want solutions- they just want your sympathy and attention! When you start coming up with alternate workouts or changes to their eating plans, they usually start coming up with reasons why that doesn’t work for them. They can’t change their workout because of this ailment or other injury; they can’t change how their eating habits because of blah blah blah.  That’s a huge clue you are dealing with a sympathy junkie: they’ve got an infinite number of excuses or failing that, they’re great at failing! They tried and failed and now they’re just doomed. (Cue the melodramatic music!) It’s also a huge clue if you find excuses tripping glibly off your tongue: you are not looking for an actual solution to your problem!

Most of us don’t have this problem: we want a solution so we can move forward.  Mimi (or Mike) is our real problem: we have one or more of them in our lives! To be blunt, they are giant sinkholes. They waste our time and our energy and frankly, they wear on our nerves.  It would be different if they wanted to improve or a solution to their problem but they don’t.  They just want you either to do something for them or pay attention to them.

Believe it or not, they do affect our weight loss because they are sapping time that could be put to working out or meal planning or another activity.  They sap our energy so that by the time we are done dealing with their “Drama du jour,” we’re too mentally or physically exhausted to take care of ourselves, and they add to our stress since we are usually expected to drop everything to deal with that Drama du jour again in the middle of our day or week. So much for our workout/ walk/ grocery trip! Goodbye healthy lunch since now we’ve got to scarf it (or something else) on the way to deal with Mimi or Mike! Not to mention keeping us up nights either with resentment or just fretting over what they’re going to drop on us next!

Lack of sleep and chronic stress trigger our bodies to hang on to our energy stores, aka body fat.  We’re fighting the tide when we don’t get enough rest or are always stressed out. (Haven’t we all got enough of our own problems?) Not to mention the sabotage to our healthy meal planning, eating habits and workouts.  We might have something healthy at home ready to prepare but then we get stuck at Mike’s house because of another disaster he needs our help with so by the time we get home, it’s either eat nothing at all or what’s quick? (Too often, ‘quick’ ends up being the healthiest option at the drive-thru.) It interferes with meal planning or meal prep for the same reasons: we set aside time to do it and then Hurricane Mimi hits and all that goes out the window! So when we go to bed that night, we may not have accomplished all we needed to, so now we’re fretting about “what do I do for meals the rest of the week?” and “what’s next with Mimi?”

Obviously, if Mimi / Mike is not a relative, removing her/ him from your circle of friends is easier, but if they’re relatives, then it’s more problematic. Telling them you’re too busy may not be a viable option, but ultimately you need to understand that while he and she are not doing you any favors, you are not doing them any favors either by jumping every time they call.

One of the issues Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life) has to deal with on a regular basis is his patients’ enablers.  These are the people who make it easy for his patients to eat 10,000+ calories daily because they either buy it for them, bring it to them or both! Obviously, if it’s hard for you to walk or drive, you’re not going to be wandering around the grocery store filling your cart with brownies, chips or candy and if it’s hard for you to fit behind a steering wheel, you’re not going to be hitting Dunkin Donuts, Sonic or KFC multiple times a day.  His patients get to 500 lbs or more because there are people who do this for them, and they are obviously not doing these super morbidly obese patients any favors.  This is what an enabler does: make it easy for the bad behavior to continue.

Every time you come when Mimi or Mike has their daily disaster, you make it easy for them to continue this attention-seeking behavior. When their toilet gets stopped up or their cell phone dies or they have a flat tire, they can do what everyone else does and call a plumber, the auto club or take the phone to the wireless store. When they have a problem and call you, give them a solution and go on with your day.  When they keep calling with excuses or why they need your help, you do not have to answer! They’ll either take your advice or eventually stop calling you. FYI: be prepared for a tantrum and a lot of passive-aggressive retaliation about how you’re too busy to help them out.  The answer is “Yes, I am too busy! Sorry about that!” I know this sounds harsh, especially if Mike/ Mimi is a relative, but the more they lean on you, the more dependent they become.  Unless they are an actual invalid, this is not good for them because when the time comes for them to act on their own (and it always does), they won’t know what to do because you (or someone else) has always taken care of them!

The Mimi in my life sparks a lot of anger and resentment which not only keeps me up nights, but I’ve recently learned that I do not make the healthiest meal choices when I am angry at her. When dealing with her daily disaster, I am more prone to grab something that I know is not good for me because I am not paying attention to what I am doing: my focus is what she just dumped on me and how angry I am. While blaming Mimi for my bad choice is one excuse I can make, the truth is that it’s my fault for not dealing with Mimi. Allowing the Mimis and Mikes in our lives to run roughshod over our plans and goals is simply an excuse we make for our own failures and in the end we become mini versions of them by blaming them for our behavior: “I’d have reached by goal by now but Mike/ Mimi kept getting in my way.” Sound familiar? Sounds a bit scary to me!

 

 

Motivation & Weight Loss: Getting Through the Background Noise

I know a lot of people who always want to know the “why” behind your or my weight loss.  On one level, I think it’s a stupid question, especially when the person who’s losing weight is as big or bigger than I am.  I once saw a dietician ask one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients “why do you want to lose weight?” Ahem– the woman had been bedridden for at least a couple of years and weighed around 500 lbs! While I really think this patient did herself no favors by not following the doctor’s treatment plan, I also think this question was pretty stupid.  The obvious response– for me anyway– would have been “Because I don’t want to die!”

For those of you who don’t weight more than double your ideal weight, the Why behind the weight loss might seem a little vague and it’s probably a viable question even if it doesn’t feel like it to you, because it’s really about your motivation.  Keeping your Why foremost in your thoughts is one way to keep yourself motivated.

The problem is that once that Why gets buried in every day minutiae it gets harder for you to stay connected to it.  Some people post their Why in a prominent location so they can see it daily, like the wallpaper of their phone or on the mirror in their bedroom or on the dash in their car.  The idea is that if you are reminded of Why you want to lose weight, you will stay motivated!

It’s a good idea and for some of us, it probably works! For a lot of us,  though, it becomes background noise. It’s like that bus bench ad that we see on the way to work each morning when we stop at the light by the Starbucks.  We see it but we don’t really look at it anymore. This is the problem with motivation: unless we keep ourselves motivated, our motivation evaporates. It’s like trying to hang onto the smoke slipping through our fingers!

We naturally look outside ourselves to keep our motivational motor revving.  We’re used to finding inspiration outside ourselves, so why not motivation? Inspiration by definition comes from outside ourselves, but motivation is something different.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines Inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”  It defines Motivation as “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.”  It’s a subtle but important difference. When I go to PetSmart, they almost always have cats or dogs available for adoption and looking at those adorable little faces, I really want to bring one home with me.  So why don’t I?  Because I don’t have a reason to do it beyond ‘they’re so cute!’

I had a reason a couple of years ago: my old cat Belle passed away and her buddy Yzma was not getting over the loss.  Then I took an impromptu trip with my dog so Yzma was left at home for the weekend by herself, which was a little scary for her (she’d never been alone in the house).  Once I got back, I started looking for a cat to adopt! My reason for bringing home Ursula was that Yzma needed another cat for companionship.  Although I always wanted to bring home a new kitty (the inspiration), there wasn’t any reason (motivation) until the situation with Yzma arose.

This is the problem so many of us run into when we want to lose weight.  We see something or someone who inspires us and so we really want to do it, but what’s our reason for doing it?  This is our motivation or, as others call it, our Why.  What makes us get up off the sofa and do something about being 20, 40 or 50 lbs overweight? It may be that our health is being affected by our weight or that we have an upcoming event or it may be something more personal, but odds are until we have an actual reason that smacks us in the face, we are just ‘inspired’ and once that inspiration evaporates, we’re back in our same old lifestyle.

Even with a legitimate reason, such as “my knees hurt so much I can hardly walk,” unless we pay attention we can lose motivation.  Think about it: the first time we realized our weight was hurting our knees, did we make positive changes to lose weight? Or did we take some Advil instead? When they kept hurting, did we make positive changes then? Or did we take more Advil? We probably figured we’d take the Advil until we lost the weight and our knees stopped hurting, but once the pain went away, so did our motivation. The Advil took care of the reason for losing weight, or at least the reason that got our attention (painful knees).

Before too long, even though we may have great reasons to lose weight, they get buried in that background noise of every day living.  We aren’t bad people! We’re just busy people! We’re going to look up some healthy recipes just as soon as we get off this phone call. We brought a healthy weight loss friendly lunch but our client is taking us out to eat today.  We have a healthy dinner planned but suddenly you’ve got to take the kids to basketball practice so there goes that! We want to make weight loss a priority, but somehow it keeps getting pushed farther down the list until it’s ultimately forgotten.  At least until something brings it back to the forefront again, like the Advil stops working on your knees or your jeans are getting too tight to zip or– horrors!– you see a picture of yourself from your friend’s birthday party last week: OMG!! That’s what I look like?!

Most of us know our failings pretty well and try to find work arounds.  When I go over to my friend’s house and she has things for me, she puts them on the table by the door so we don’t forget.  I put my stuff for her (or for the office or wherever) in a bag by the front door. I use a reminders app on my phone for other things (like a list of errands) because I know I’ll get home and– danggit! I still didn’t pick up the stupid dry cleaning!  Staying motivated is a constant battle to keep your reason from slipping into the background noise.  That might mean changing things up every couple of weeks or months so that your reason keeps getting your attention.  Once it becomes ‘every day,’ it’s background noise. It’s like driving home every day thinking about every thing you still need to do and–WHAM– pot hole! That brought your attention back to the road!

My latest work-around for motivation sits on the end table next to my recliner.  It’s a photo of me from my ill-fated Disney trip in 2012– the one where I weighed about 440 lbs! It avoids becoming ‘background noise’ because #1) I really hate photos of myself!; and #2) my face and body are so fat and puffy, it’s scary.  Seriously. Scary. Every time I look over at the table where I keep the remotes, my drink, my pens and all the other stuff I use just about every evening, I see that awful photo. It got shoved behind a stack of books for a couple days and tempted though I was to leave it there, I moved it back out where I can see the ugly thing. It’s not that I’m trying to beat myself up mentally or emotionally, but I don’t want to forget how miserable I was at that time, even though I’m smiling in the picture. It was a painful and embarrassing trip because my weight made it that way. This photo serves as the jarringly piercing smoke alarm that breaks through the background noise of my daily life. It reminds me of my reason for losing weight. (Oh, yeah, I was totally miserable the whole trip!) Nothing is as motivating as NOT looking and feeling like that ever again!

 

Monday Morning Disease: Weight Loss & Motivation

Yes, there really is a syndrome called Monday Morning Disease, although it mainly affects horses.  I came across it many many years ago reading James Herriot’s books.  For those of you who have never read him, he was a vet who practiced in the Yorkshire dales (northern England) beginning in the 1930’s. His own description of himself was “a shaggy cow doctor,” because most of his clients were farmers and his patients were livestock. If you ever want to know how to deliver a calf that’s a breech birth, he’s the go-to guy! Because my dad and I are such pet people, his books were part entertainment, part history and some super practical pet first aid.  I learned how to wrap a cat from him, how to lance an abscess and a few other practical bits that sadly included diagnosing canine distemper.

Monday Morning Disease (Equine exertional Rhabdomyolysis) was fairly common when a large portion of farmers still used horses to farm. They’d be pulling equipment Monday through Saturday and take Sunday off. On Monday morning the horse’s legs would be swollen due to the constant exertion followed by the sudden lack of movement. It’s a muscle disorder usually from poor circulation or problems with glycogen storage. While rhabdomyolysis happens to people too, this post is less about muscular disorders and more about motivational problems.

Most of us hate Mondays (at least those of us who aren’t perky or insane).  I am a devout Monday-hater and have been since I was a kid. Growing up I had a collection of Garfield comic strips taped on my bedroom door and most of them were in the I-hate-Mondays vein.  (My favorite was Garfield grousing that the world will probably end on a Monday because it’d be a real shame for God to end the world right before a weekend!)

Pretty much every Monday morning, I moan and groan and hide under the blankets for as long as I can. Even though I love my job and sincerely don’t mind the long commute, I really really hate getting up early in the morning and I know each Monday that it’s going to be another five days before I can sleep in, stay up late and do what I want all day long.  What makes it so much worse– for me, at least– is the same concept as the Monday Morning Disease in horses: we’ve been going and going all week long and then we come to a sudden stop.  It’s like everything catches up with us so it’s as if Mondays are actually de-motivational! During the week, it’s Getup-Getready-Takecareofthepets-Packlunch-Grabbreakfast-GetGas-Drivetowork-Workallday-Drivehome-Runerrands-Hitthegym-Takecareofthepetsagain-Makedinner-Dohousework-Getreadyforbed-Gotosleep-Getupanddoitalloveragain.

It’s not a horrible schedule but it’s long for me because I live alone.  Pretty much anything that needs to get done, I have to do it and if it doesn’t get done during the week, it has to get done over the weekend or it just doesn’t get done.  The flip side for families or couples is while there are more people to handle things, there are just more things to do! There is no ‘easy option’ when it comes to working, managing a home and everything else that goes along with modern life.  Pretty much all of us are in this Go-Go-Go lifestyle and then we get a chance to catch our breath…..Whew! But once we’ve gotten our second wind, it’s hard to get back up to speed.  We’ve lost momentum and suddenly everything feels so much harder than when we were bouncing off the walls to get things done.  This is what I mean by Monday Morning Disease.

And it doesn’t have to happen only on Monday mornings.  Getting back up to speed and re-building that momentum is damned hard.  When you’re going along as fast as you can from one task to another, it doesn’t feel like it’s hard because you are so focused on “get this done- move on the next one!”  When you slow down or stop, you’re having to start again from that dead stop. It’s the difference from starting your car in the morning after it’s been sitting dormant all night versus starting it up after you’ve stopped just long enough to fill it with gas. The cold engine takes a long time to get warmed up: the air coming from the vents is cold; the windshield needs to defrost and the car doesn’t respond as quickly as it normally does when it’s been running for a while.  By contrast, a car that’s warmed up starts quickly and smoother than one that’s cold.

We can remember what it was like when we were kids and how awkward it felt going back to school after the summer long vacation.  Where’s my backpack? Where’s my lunch box? Where are my uniforms? Ugh…school…. It’s the same when it comes to weight loss, nutrition, and exercise: we stop or slow down long enough to lose momentum and get out of the habit and suddenly it feels like we’re pushing a boulder up the mountain.  Everything feels so hard and it seems to take such a long time so we start looking for any excuse to get out of it!

Pretty much every Monday morning, I start thinking of some reason why I ‘can’t’ go to work, just like every Monday and Wednesday evening, I start manufacturing reasons why I can’t go to the gym. I do the same thing on Sunday afternoons: “I’m too busy to go to the gym today!” I know what the real problem is and it has nothing to do with how busy I may or may not be or how tired I feel: it’s because I slowed down long enough to take a look at my schedule. I’ve got a lot going on (don’t we all??) and it can feel overwhelming at times, so I start justifying reasons why I ‘can’t do XYZ ‘when the real issue has nothing to do with what I can and cannot do: it’s what I want to do that’s my problem!

There’s a lot of examples of this mentality on My 600 lb Life. The patients sincerely want to lose weight and be healthier, but they sincerely don’t want to be inconvenienced with annoying things like eating healthier, giving up junk food, and -ugh!- exercising! We’ve all heard about things like ‘decision fatigue,’ and how willpower is a muscle, and I think that’s part of Monday Morning Disease.  Most of us have problems with healthy eating and keeping our exercise routine over the weekends simply because they are less structured and there’s more opportunities to socialize. Giving ourselves a break from choosing healthy options and making it to the gym is normal.  We’ve been busy all week so we reward ourselves with a little relaxation.  How lax we want to get is up to us, but come Monday morning our routine is staring us in the face. Again! Like those horses James Herriott wrote about, our decision and willpower muscles don’t want to work! We’ve been working them really hard all week and now that they’ve had a chance to rest, they’re rebelling!

It’d be great if we could do like those English farmers did: ring the doctor and have him take care of our problem! But our ‘muscles’ are really part of our motivational anatomy so no doctor can ‘fix’ them for us.  We need to find reasons to skip the croissants at Starbucks and opt for something healthier, and why it’s important that we keep our workout schedule. When we bargain with ourselves to give the ‘muscles’ a rest, we’re buying what we want now instead of investing for something better in the future. There’s a reason we chose to eat healthier, work out and lose weight and when we feel our willpower/ decision muscles starting to give up, we need to remind ourselves of what those reasons are.  It might be something as serious as improving a major health issue or something as benign as looking good at your brother’s wedding, but whatever the reason is, it was important enough to start you down this road in the first place, so I’m sure it’s way more important than the raspberry cheesecake cookie at Subway or the everything croissant at Starbucks!