The Road To Weight Loss: Who Makes It Rough?

Some of you might know that I commute for my job and on a good day, it’s only about an hour and a half each way.  Most of the time, it’s two and on some really bad days, it’s been three or four.  Usually when I tell people I drive over an hour to work, they groan, make a face or generally comment about how awful that is.  Well….. it can be, but how awful my commute is or isn’t generally depends on me!

Like any journey, there are things which are out of our control. I can’t do anything about the jack-knifed semi and four miles of backed up traffic ahead of me except react to it, but my reaction is completely within my control. I can moan and stress and pull my hair out, or I can call my boss via Bluetooth, tell him I’m stuck behind an accident in Stockton (it’s always Stockton!) and then go back to listening to my book, podcast or playlist.

Occasionally, I run into people who can’t believe I have been commuting like this since 2008 and that I am so laid-back about it.  Believe me, it hasn’t always been this way! For a few years, my commute was the most stressful part of my day, particularly my drive into the office! But over time, I have learned a few things about commuting and– weirdly enough– learning how to handle my commute has taught me a whole lot about weight loss!

The most obvious fact is the hardest one to accept: it’s going to take as long as it takes. Driving 75 miles is going to take some time and traffic can make it worse.  It’s the same when you have to lose weight: you didn’t put it on overnight and it’s going to take some time coming back off.  Yes, it’d be great if it only took a few days or a couple of weeks, and while we’re wishing, I’d like to get to the office in 15 minutes, but we all know that isn’t going to happen! Like I said accepting that your weight loss is going to take as long as it takes is hard to accept, especially if you have some kind of deadline like a wedding or a vacation.  The first thing I learned about commuting and weight loss is that trying to “hurry it along” only makes it harder! We’ve all tried ‘miracle fasts’ and ‘crash diets’ and ‘weight loss pills.’ Did they work? Of course not! But they did make us hope a lot and when they fell through, we were discouraged and sometimes a little sick from trying them. They usually make it harder because we have to skip our regular meals and take the pills/ supplements/ shakes/ etc instead.  Now we’re hungry and discouraged: it feels like we’ve been jumping through all the right hoops but nothing is happening!

That could be because we’ve been stressing ourselves out over trying to rush this weight loss. It could be because we’ve been trying to starve ourselves into losing weight, and yes, there is a difference between Fasting and a Starvation Diet! (see Jason Fung for that info!) Whatever the reason is, trying to rush your weight loss usually doesn’t work any better than my trying to rush my commute! It just increases my stress and my chances of getting into an accident; trying to rush your weight loss also increases your stress and chances of failure.

Another hard to accept fact is that there are situations that are out of our control. Remember that jack-knifed semi and four miles of backed up traffic? That was a real accident, and it added another hour to my commute.  (Thankfully, my boss is pretty flexible about my time.) I learned the hard way that I can stress and fret and get angry about a delay that I can’t control but it doesn’t move the traffic any faster.  However, it does get my blood pressure and stress level up! I can get pretty bent out of shape but all it gets me is bent out of shape!

It isn’t much different when it comes to weight loss.  We’ve all arrived at the conference or buffet where all the food available is food that isn’t on our eating plan! Everything is full of carbs, fats or sugar and here we are getting angry or stressed or panicking because “there’s nothing here I can eat!” Instead of getting angry and frustrated, we just have to make the best of the situation we are in.  I can practically hear everyone rolling their eyes, but other than hopping on your phone and having Grubhub bring you a salad, what else can you do? Well, I suppose you can sulk and complain to everyone about how unhealthy all the food is, but it’s still not going to get you anything to eat! This is one of those times where you have to make the best of a bad situation. Take a look at what is offered: can you choose a sandwich and leave the bread on your plate? If there are vegetables with the pasta entree, maybe you can just have vegetables? Can you discreetly ask a server for extra veggies or veggies that haven’t been mixed into the pasta? How about eating the quiche without the crust? Or if you can, maybe just skip the food, settle for coffee and get something on your own later? If commuting has taught me anything at all it’s that throwing a tantrum is a complete and utterly fruitless waste of energy!

Commuting has also taught me to take what many consider a hardship and turn it into an opportunity. Remember those books, podcasts and playlists I mentioned above? They actually make me look forward to getting in the car and driving for an hour! I can’t do much other than listen while I am driving, so they keep me informed and entertained while I am on my way to work. That long commute actually makes it easier to listen to them since I am not constantly interrupted by the pets or other people while I am running errands.  Most people think of being stuck in a car as a hardship but for me, being in the car has become a real opportunity to learn new information.

When we find ourselves stuck in the break room or at a party surrounded by temptation, this is our opportunity to practice saying no, or practice that self-control we keep complaining we don’t have! It’s easy to say no to brownies when there aren’t any around. Telling ourselves we aren’t going to eat ice cream is easy when we’d have to go out to the store to buy it first! But when the food that tempts us is right in front of us, this is our opportunity to learn how to say no and mean it! It can also teach us that what we used to think of as yummy really isn’t as yummy as we thought.  How many times have we given in to potato chips, chocolate or sugar and regretted it afterwards? (Raising my hand here!) We ‘indulged’ and learned that our indulgence was completely not worth the indulging. That obstacle just became a teaching tool and the next time we are faced with what used to be so tempting isn’t as tempting anymore!

Sooner or later, we all come up against situations we can’t control.  All we can do is choose how we are going to react to them. We can choose to get angry or stressed or we can choose to make the best of what we’ve been given. It’s not always easy to find the opportunity in what looks like a mountain of obstacles, but you know, I bet there’s an awesome view from the top of that mountain!

 

Lie Detectors: Weight Loss & Lying About Your Diet

One of the biggest mistakes we make when we try to lose weight is that we fight our own bodies.  We try to trick our metabolism or somehow think we are going to ‘get around’ our biology by taking XYZ supplements, and the truth is that it rarely works. Just because we are overweight does not mean that our genes have dictated that we will always be fat.  It does mean that we are fighting the rising tide and that odds are we won’t be successful when we try to trick our bodies!

Biology is biology and our bodies are going to follow the rules dictated in their genes; if that means hanging onto fat stores to ensure its survival, that’s what it’s going to do, even if we are starving ourselves to lose that thirty pounds stuck on our butts and thighs. In order to lose that extra weight, instead of fighting with our bodies, we need to convince them that we are on their side, because– really– there are no “sides!” It’s all just Us.  If our bodies give out and die, so do we, so instead of fighting with them, our best course of action is to learn how to work with our bodies.

Humans are great negotiators, especially when it comes to weight loss.  We are fond of telling ourselves that we’ll have this cupcake at work today and we will skip the latte on the way home; then it’s time for the latte and we’re really feeling tired, so we tell ourselves we’ll have the latte and skip the sweet potato fries for dinner; but now it’s dinner time and – you guessed it!– we’re really hungry so we’ll have those fries! “They aren’t that much!”

We try negotiating and blurring the edges by telling ourselves that “we’re working really hard” or “it was a very stressful day” or “I’ve been so good lately.” Whatever we are telling ourselves, unless we are actually eating healthier or being more active or doing what’s best for our health, none of what we tell ourselves matters!

I see this in every episode of My 600 lb Life: patients try bargaining with Dr. Nowzaradan like he is in control of their bodies and it’s his choice whether they are healthy enough for bariatric surgery or not. He tries impressing on them: #1) whatever they decide to put into their mouths is ultimately their own choice; #2) if they choose not to follow his diet and recommendations, it is only a matter of time until their bodies give out and they die.  Even patients who do follow the diet and lose weight are still at risk as one of his patients nearly died on the table.

Obviously, most of us aren’t that close to death because of our weight, but we still try bargaining our way out of doing what’s best for our health.  We are used to eating something sweet after dinner and we just couldn’t resist those cravings! So, here we are having a “small bowl” of ice cream.  We’ve been really good so we decided to treat ourselves to a slice of pizza, or we wanted to try that new sandwich at the deli or whatever excuse we had for eating what we did.  Bottom line: if it’s too much food, or too much sugar or too much whatever it was, our bodies aren’t going to give us a pass on gaining weight or not losing  just because we “really had a craving” or have been “doing really good.”

While most of us aren’t going to die if we don’t lose that thirty pounds of spare tire around our midsection, the health effects show up anyway.  Usually we have stiff joints or arthritis from carrying around that extra weight.  Our blood pressure can go up; our blood glucose goes up and we end up diabetic or pre-diabetic.  We have conditions like acid reflux, heart burn and get a bit breathless when we have to take the stairs or do some prolonged walking.  We tell ourselves “we’re trying” but how hard are we really working on weight loss? Does that A1c go down any? Or our blood pressure? Is taking the stairs any easier?

I know how hard it is to have cravings and how much we really want to indulge in the carbs or the sugar. But at the end of the day, even though we’ve lied to ourselves, we really haven’t lied to our bodies: they know what we ate and how much of it too! We can tell ourselves, our families and our doctors that we’ve been sticking to our healthy eating plan, working really hard and doing good but our bodies know the truth of those statements and they can’t lie.  The A1c shows how much sugar we’ve eaten; our triglycerides show how often you eat refined carbs and that spare tire around your middle is looking well-inflated!

What we don’t realize is that when we do eat healthier, get plenty of rest and activity, our bodies start letting go of the extra weight. We’re not only giving our metabolism plenty of fuel, we are giving it the “good stuff.” That means it doesn’t need to hang onto the spare tire so the extra pounds start to disappear. It means the A1c drops and the blood pressure and there is less acid reflux waking us up in the middle of the night.  It means the stiff achy joints are less stiff and achy. We haven’t beaten our bodies at their own game: the opposite is true. We’ve learned how to play their game by eating more whole foods, less processed foods and eating only when we are hungry instead of according to the clock.

Most of us don’t remember what it felt like when we actually felt ‘good’ instead of just ‘better than yesterday.’  We don’t remember how if felt to wake up feeling rested or to have all kinds of energy at the end of the day.  We hear all those platitudes like “nothing tastes as good as being thin feels!” but they don’t mean anything to us because we don’t remember how if felt being thin (some of us were never thin!) Feeling good, feeling rested, having energy: those are the benefits of not trying to lie to our bodies.  When we learn to listen to our bodies instead of trying to lie to them about what we are or aren’t eating, they reward us.  It’s not a “sweet treat” we get but a healthy feeling that lasts all day instead of just a minute or two. The best thing about listening to your body is that great feeling doesn’t go away: it just keeps going on and on until one day, we don’t remember how bad we felt before. That’s the real truth and all those foods we thought were ‘worth it’? That’s the real lie.

 

 

Little Things, Big Things: Weight Loss & What Matters

We’ve all said it: “this one little thing won’t matter!” In most cases, you are right: that extra bite of the bagel isn’t going to send your diet careening off the cliff, but how many of those “little things” do we eat during the day, or the week?

To put it in perspective, remember the last time you broke a twenty dollar bill to buy something that was only a couple dollars? That left you with $18 in your pocket, probably in ones, a five and a ten.  Later that week, you opened up your wallet to pay for your coffee and discovered there were only three dollars in there: what happened to the rest of my money? It all went to “little things!”  This is why most of hate breaking a large bill: it’s too easy to spend the small change without thinking about it!

We do this with time also: it’s not that we spend hours and hours on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, but we spend 15 minutes here; 20 minutes there and then a few more minutes at lunch and then while we are at the gym or waiting in line for coffee, and by the end of the week, your phone tells you that you spent 12 hours online that week– and that is just your phone! How much time are you spending on the tablet or the laptop?

It never feels like we spend 12 hours a week online or that we spend $50 on coffee a week, but when we look at the actual numbers, that’s what it comes out to.  My phone adds up how much time I spend online, my bank statement shows me how much I spent on coffee but each time, it feels like “these few minutes won’t matter” and “it’s just one grande latte– it won’t matter!”

Yes, they DO matter! Our time gets wasted in minutes; our money gets wasted dollar by dollar and our weight loss gets eroded bite by seemingly inconsequential bite! That’s the bad news; the good news isn’t that we have to turn into Diet Nazis and never eat anything that isn’t 100% in line with our weight loss goals. We just need to make sure our habit isn’t telling ourselves “this one thing won’t matter!”

It sounds simple but it’s that mindset that lures us into the “Doesn’t Matter” habit.  We try hard not to be that Diet Nazi but then we lean too far the other way.  It’s that same pattern that leads us to spending all our loose change and all those extra minutes online. We need to keep our focus: what are we spending our money on? where are we spending our time? what are we eating and drinking?

One simple way to keep track is to whip out that phone and take a picture. We do it for Instagram or Facebook so why not do it for ourselves? We don’t have to keep them forever, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty good reminder of how many of those ‘little things’ we actually ate. It can be surprising! There was one woman who started putting all those ‘little things’ she would normally eat at work into a gallon sized ziplock bag and at the end of the day, the bag was nearly full! She hadn’t eaten an entire cake or box of cookies: the just the calorie equivalent in little bites!

Instead of telling ourselves that “one little thing doesn’t matter,” we need to start asking ourselves “what else have I had today?” Even better, we can just tell ourselves “not today.” We don’t need to track everything we eat and drink, although that’s not a bad idea, but getting into the habit of pausing before we give ourselves permission is a great way to start! It works with money and time too! Instead of just reaching into your pocket or clicking on the app, pause for a moment. Take a look at the money in your wallet or put your phone in a drawer: it’s amazing how much money, time and calories you can save when we take stock. Besides, when you finally sit down to enjoy that online time, shopping or special treat, you can focus on how much you really enjoy it!

 

Recovery Time: Weight Loss & Rest

Many of us are used to hearing about “recovery time” or “rest day” when it comes to working out and exercise.  We’ve all heard that our muscles need time to recover from the exercise we put them through. The idea that our quads or our trapezius muscles need time to repair themselves after we spent a couple hours in the gym in Spin class or doing deadlifts makes total sense to us: we want healthy strong muscles, so we take care of them. All those lifts and hours on the bike aren’t going to do us any good if we don’t let our muscles recover! Bit of a No Brainer, right?

So why don’t we do the same thing with the rest of our body, including our brain? Somehow everything else connected to those muscles gets overlooked when it comes to rest and recovery time. It’s pretty basic: we give our muscles time to rest, but we don’t think of giving our brains or bodies time to rest.  Yes, I mean things like sleep and relaxation! This is where many of us roll our eyes and check out again, but sleep, rest and stress management are not only key pillars of our overall health, they are key pillars for our quality of life! Why are we working so hard to lose weight and build muscle if we spend our days stressed, exhausted and fuzzy headed? Trust me, when you feel like you’ve been run over, beaten up or are so stressed you shriek when your dog starts barking, how much protein you are getting on your keto meal plan doesn’t really matter. If you feel like crap, you are going to look like crap about 90% of the time and no one is going to compliment you on your weight loss. Instead, they will probably want to know if you’ve seen your doctor lately since you look like crap, sound like crap and obviously aren’t feeling your best! Not quite the response we were hoping for with all that nutrition and exercise!

We all want to look and feel our best. We want to be healthy so we can get the most out of our lives and spend it doing the things we enjoy with those we love the most.  That’s why we go to the gym, check out the supplements aisle and eat all that healthy organic food. Is it so odd to think that part of feeling and looking great means going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting the best quality sleep that we can? What advantage is there is not getting enough rest? We get in another hour of tv, social media, exercise or gaming?

We hear little expressions like ‘we have to suffer to look beautiful’ and the ever-popular ‘no pain, no gain,’ but like everything else, we’ve taken it to the extreme. There is a difference between the pinch involved with plucking your eye brows, delayed muscle soreness and being so exhausted you pour your morning coffee into your overnight oatmeal instead of your travel mug!

Aside from the physical exhaustion, there is the mental exhaustion that goes with not getting enough rest and relaxation.  How can you feel your best when you can’t think straight? Being tired and fuzzy headed just doesn’t screw up your overnight oatmeal: it can lead to serious problems, such as falling asleep at the wheel.  (As a paralegal at a personal injury firm, I see the collision reports regarding drowsy drivers.) Getting enough rest alone can go along way to relieving stress and we all know stress kills your weight loss. Letting stress take over your life means you are fighting your own body when it comes to trying to lose weight. FYI: when you fight with your body, your body wins, even if it means hanging onto those twenty pounds you want to lose!

Getting enough sleep and relaxation can seem pretty basic and there are a lot of us who think we are getting enough, but ask yourself these few simple questions: do you need your alarm to wake you up in the morning? If you regularly wake up with the alarm blaring in your ear, you are likely not getting enough sleep.  When you do wake up, do you feel alert or do you feel groggy? Do you find yourself getting sleepy in the afternoon or when you sit down to read something? Do you fall asleep in front of the tv at home? Do you sleep all day on your days off? All cues that your body needs more rest!

Some of us have problems sleeping because of the stress involved with our lives. There are some simple relaxation techniques and apps that can help with that; it’s just a matter of finding those that appeal to you.  There are also many over the counter sleep aids that aren’t habit forming which can also help.  Some simple tricks are keeping devices out of the bedroom, putting down your devices about an hour before bedtime and keeping a regular bedtime each night.  Keeping a cool dark room helps and for me, a noise machine blocks out distracting sounds (FYI: the ‘noise machine’ is an oscillating fan.)

Sleep and rest tend to get overlooked because a lot of us take them for granted. Sleep is what happens each night and rest becomes anything that’s not work-related, but in reality, that’s not true. If sleep came easily to us, we wouldn’t have all the ads for special pillows, beds and those sleep aids I mentioned above. The same thing with rest: it usually means putting down your phone or device and doing something that lets you relax instead of fretting over not getting enough Likes! Stress isn’t always about work and just because it’s not “work stress” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause damage to us.

In reality, sleep and relaxation can require just as much practice and effort as weight loss and exercise. It can mean setting a reminder to go to bed on time or to turn off those devices and the tv.  It can mean scheduling time away from the things that stress you out like the phone or the computer. It means taking the time to develop new habits.  It took us some time to develop the gym habit and we’ve learned to enjoy going; in time, we might be surprised to find that we like our after dinner walk without the phone and don’t be shocked but we might even find yourself smiling while we do it!

 

The Insidious Snack: Weight Loss, What You Eat & WHEN You Eat

In his book The Obesity Code, Dr. Jason Fung refers to “the insidious snack” in chapter 11.  As a nephrologist (kidney doctor), most of Dr. Fung’s patients are diabetics and usually obese, which sparked his research and subsequent books on the subjects of obesity and diabetes.  After indepth research and years of treating his patients, Dr. Fung has come to a few conclusions: the major cause of obesity, diabetes and weight gain is insulin resistance and the two driving forces behind insulin resistance are diet and meal timing.

Insulin resistance is what happens when we always have insulin (a storage hormone) in our blood stream. We eat something; our digestive tract turns the food into glucose, amino acids and fatty acids which flood our blood stream and our body releases insulin to put the glucose into storage as fat.  When we are insulin resistant, our cells are resistant to letting in the insulin with its attached glucose for storage, so our body has to release more insulin to do the same job as before. The more insulin we have in our blood stream, the more we need to release to keep doing the same job and the longer it takes to clear the glucose and insulin from our blood. Say you are sweeping up a handful of sand from the floor.  If your broom has tight bristles, it only takes a few sweeps to get up the sand, but if your broom has gaps in the bristles or they are frayed and loose, it will take twice as many sweeps to get up that same handful of sand.  It takes longer and isn’t as effective, so you keep sweeping up what was missed.  This is what happens with glucose and insulin when we are insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance happens over time and it isn’t something that ‘happens’ to us like an illness or an accident: we make ourselves insulin resistant through our food choices and eating habits. In the last fifty-plus years, we’ve been encouraged to eat more ‘healthy whole grains’ and processed foods and we’ve been encouraged to eat more often.  These are the two chief causes of insulin resistance and its metabolic companions, obesity and diabetes. Refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereals and other grains, along with sugar, are the major offenders when it comes to blood sugar and insulin.  Eating a bagel for breakfast will cause a bigger spike in our blood glucose which means more insulin is released into our blood stream than if we had eaten scrambled eggs instead. That means it takes longer to clear the glucose and insulin and return to fasting (non-eating) levels.

Refined carbohydrates aren’t a new invention but snack foods are. In the past, snacking between meals was discouraged and there certainly wasn’t a class of food made just for snacking! In the late 1970’s, food companies started encouraging people (and kids especially) to eat between meals.  Snack cakes, snack crackers, snack packs of pudding and other snack foods fill up grocery store aisles and most gas station mini-marts are dedicated almost entirely to these snack items. Most of these foods are sugar-rich or made up of refined carbohydrates but what’s worse is that we are encouraged to eat them at any time of day!

Some health care professionals promote eating every two to three hours to “boost our metabolism.” In short, eating more often supposedly ‘revs up’ our metabolism so we lose more weight. So, ‘Eat More, Lose Weight’? Not likely! While eating briefly speeds up our metabolism to digest the food we ate, the increase is negligible compared to the extra calories and the insulin resistance which results from the continued snacking! All those times we told ourselves that this one little snack won’t hurt us? Wrong!

Remember when I said insulin is a storage hormone? That means you can’t burn fat (lose weight) while insulin is in the blood and every time we eat, we release insulin so the insulin never has a chance to clear because we are always eating! When we are insulin resistant, it takes even longer to clear, so if we eat every two to three hours, when are we able to burn fat? That would be never! So we keep on gaining weight and becoming more and more insulin resistant until we become diabetic and our metabolic problems continue to multiply.

Before the obesity epidemic arose in the early 1980’s, people ate refined carbs and cereals but other than lower sugar consumption, this idea of snacking is the biggest change in eating habits. People ate breakfast, lunch and dinner and nothing in between.  That meant that for several hours in between meals and during the night, insulin wasn’t circulating in their blood stream.  They ate meals, including refined carbs, and then they stopped eating for hours until the next meal.  That meant insulin was released, cleared the glucose and went away until the next meal. They didn’t become insulin resistant because they weren’t constantly exposed to insulin even when they did eat sugar or refined carbs.

In several of his books, including The Obesity Code and The Diabetes Code, Dr. Fung recommends fasting to counteract insulin resistance.  He also deals with some of the misconceptions that come with the idea of going without food for a prolonged period of time in his book The Complete Guide to Fasting. This doesn’t mean that you have to starve yourself for days or weeks to lose weight. It does mean that we should stop eating between meals and if you aren’t hungry at breakfast or lunchtime, then don’t eat. Skipping a few meals if we aren’t hungry or are too busy to eat isn’t going to hurt us and will improve our insulin resistance and for goodness’ sake, put down that insidious snack!

Stress vs Hormones: Weight Loss Killers?

Most of us roll our eyes when it comes to stress: *sigh* “it’s a part of everyday life!” Yes, it is, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do something about it! It’s one thing to accept that we will always be dealing with stress of some type or another but it’s another thing to do nothing about it.  How many times have we shown up at an office meeting or some luncheon only to find stacks of bagels, donuts or pizza being served? We don’t shrug and say “it’s what’s on the menu!” as we stuff it in our mouths, do we? We choose not to eat it or we choose to eat only a small amount of it. Just because it’s there, like stress, doesn’t mean we just accept it as part of our every day lives.

For a lot of us, it’s easier to deal with the bagels and cream cheese at the staff meeting than it is to deal with the stress that goes with that meeting.  We learn to say no thank you to the carbs and candy but stress? “Doesn’t that mean I need to meditate for an hour every day or listen to some kind of mellow harp music?” Most of us handle it by eating something comforting as a distraction or we wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares (that would be me!) or we lie awake until 4:00 a.m. unable to shut off our brains, feeling our adrenaline and heart rates rising as we go over and over everything we are stressing about in our lives.

We are taught that stress isn’t a real “issue” when it comes to weight loss or even every day living.  It’s like traffic or hay fever or the dirty laundry that keeps piling up: “It happens! Deal with it!” Even when we’ve been told that our body doesn’t distinguish between an over-budget project at work and an axe-wielding maniac, we still go right on ‘dealing’ with the stress by eating too many muffins, sleeping all weekend or spending money like the proverbial drunken sailor. The real issue isn’t that we still don’t take stress seriously.

Stress will kill your weight loss.  Our weight, for good or not-so-good, is dictated by our hormones.  Our bodies release hormones to make us hungry, to tell us to stop eating, to tell us to burn fat and when to store it.  No matter what we try to do either by cutting calories or exercising until we want to throw up, it all depends on our hormones! Until we learn how to manage our hormones, we aren’t going to win the weight loss war. What we don’t always understand or remember is that stress affects our hormones!

That surge of adrenaline or cortisol we feel when someone reminds us the balloon payment on the mortgage is coming due is a hormone.  You know how your Fitbit tells you your heart rate just spiked when your boss left you an angry voicemail? That sudden spike is the result of the hormones stress triggered in your body. Stress triggers the release of glucose into our blood stream.  It’s that Fight or Flight Response we’ve heard about so often, giving us the energy boost to run away from that axe-wielding maniac or fight him to the death. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, if you are running away from a crazed killer or trying to catch the bus so your boss won’t jump all over you for being late again. If your response to the angry voicemail or the budget crisis is to sit down and go over your work schedule or your bank statement, then it’s not such a great response. Sitting there or not doing anything active means that extra glucose in your blood stream needs to get picked up by insulin and packed away as fat. (Remember? Insulin is a storage hormone.)

That’s how stress kills your weight loss: constantly keeping your glucose elevated means that you are constantly releasing insulin so not only are you not losing weight, you are becoming more and more insulin resistant.  That means it’s harder for you to lose weight overall because you constantly have insulin in your blood stream.  FYI: this is how you can eat less and less and still gain weight!

Most of us get stuck in this vicious cycle: our family and/ or doctor keeps harping on us to lose weight; we aren’t losing weight because of the stress and insulin resistance, so we stress on what we’re ‘doing wrong’ and usually dealing with others accusing us of cheating on our diet, but we know we aren’t so we must be doing something wrong because we aren’t losing weight so we continue to stress over why not, dammit?!

The weight loss stress gets added to our work stress, our family stress, the traffic stress and all the other stress that comes with just living our lives and whenever some health guru mentions ‘managing our stress,’ we roll our eyes again and mumble something about meditating to zither music. Ignoring the stress isn’t going to make it go away or help you to deal with it any more than wolfing down Oreos while we’re driving home will help us to deal with it.  Both responses have the same result: no weight loss.

You don’t have to listen to zither music or meditate or journal over your stress unless you choose to handle it that way. For some of us, being told to journal or meditate is almost as stressful as whatever situation we are trying to defuse.  What does matter is that we find a way to handle our stress without eating, without burying it or engaging in another behavior that’s going to cause more stress.  Some situations (like a sick family member) are simply out of our control so minimizing the stress from those reactions we can control becomes more important.  For some of us, our stress reliever is a funny movie or a favorite playlist or some quiet time.  Some of us like to exercise to relieve stress and for others, it’s prayer or controlled breathing.  For me, it’s a playlist, an audiobook or if I am at home, it’s my pets.  The only criteria is that your stress reliever has to work for you and most importantly, don’t stress over fighting the stress!

Getting Away With Nothing!: Weight Loss & Fooling Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going It Alone?: Weight Loss & The Support Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dropping the Hammer: Weight Loss, Choices and Consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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