Turn Off the Food Faucet!: Weight Loss & Five Simple Steps

We hear expressions like this one almost daily: “Stuck in a hole? Then stop digging!” You would think it’s common sense, but sometimes we get so caught up in what’s going on in front of our faces that we miss what’s really behind the problem. Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has an analogy I really like: you’re in a boat with a hole in the bottom so you start bailing out water as fast as you can, but bailing doesn’t fix the problem. You have to fix that hole to fix your problem!

Of course a hole in the bottom of your rowboat is pretty noticeable but when it comes to weight loss, figuring out why you are not losing weight, or gaining- even worse- can be more of a problem! There are millions of books, infomercials, websites, podcasts, pdfs and blogs about how to lose weight because finding the problem is so damned hard. Solving the weight loss problem a billion dollar industry and everyone wants a piece of that pie! (yeah, it’s a pun!)

It took me nearly 45 years to figure out a few simple truths that started my weight loss and have kept me from gaining it back. Whether they are the legitimate Answer to the Weight Loss Problem or not, they work and they aren’t rocket science (good thing ’cause I suck at math & physics!)  You don’t need to follow them in any order but when you do all five, in my experience, you lose weight and you don’t gain it back!

First Step: Eat whole foods.

This is pretty basic: whole foods tend to have more fiber and nutrients than processed foods, which are usually carb-rich and nutrient-poor. In short, whole foods, like eggs, raw fruits and veggies, cheeses and meats, fill you up faster and keep you filled up longer than processed foods. This is because they take longer to digest than processed foods. Also, foods like eggs and meat are mostly healthy fats and proteins. Your body has receptors which signal when you’ve eaten enough of these, so you get the “I’m full” feeling. With carbs, there are no receptors so we eat and eat and eat until stomach discomforts signals we’re full! That’s how we get full on a small steak but can binge a whole bag of potato chips!

 

Second Step: Only eat when you are hungry.

This should also be pretty basic, except we’ve been trained to eat according to a schedule! How many times have you seen kids who aren’t hungry out at a restaurant being told they “have to eat”? We also encourage our kids to eat everything on their plate too! Then the kids grow up and turn into us: eating according to a clock and eating everything (usually) on the plate! For some of us, we can’t really tell if we are actually hungry or if our stomach is expecting to be fed at a certain time each day! Believe it or not, if you think you are hungry and you wait about twenty minutes or so, you might be surprised to find that you really aren’t hungry anymore! Skipping a couple of meals or at least holding off on them will give you a pretty good sense of what real hunger feels like instead of ‘meal memory’!

The second part of this is to stop eating when before you feel full! By that time, you have likely eaten too much, so eat slowly and when you realize you are no longer hungry, stop eating.  Again, this is connected to the “clean your plate” mentality we learned as kids!

Third Step: No snacking.

Snacking is something most of us grew up with.  When I was a kid, we were always told that snacks ruin our dinner or if we had a snack, we wouldn’t be hungry at meal time. Then sometime in the 1970’s, some food manufacturer came up with the idea of “snack foods,” which has turned into an entire industry! We can buy “snack-sized” foods and “snack packs” at the store so we don’t have worry about fainting from hunger in the middle of the day.  In my opinion, snacking is why so many of us are overweight. We’ve been told that snacks are good for our metabolism and we should eat every two hours.  Both Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life, TLC) and Dr. Jason Fung (The Obesity Code; The Diabetes Code) emphatically state that there is no such thing as a healthy snack! Why? Hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin) is why we gain weight: it’s a storage hormone. It’s what takes glucose out of the blood into the cells where it gets turned into FAT! All foods, not just carbs, trigger insulin, so that healthy snack of cheese or an apple or carrot sticks still triggers insulin. We burn fat when there is no insulin in our blood but if we are eating every two hours, when does that happen? Ummm… never? Bingo! Listen to grandma: no snacking!

Fourth Step: Pause before eating.

This step and the next seem like they don’t have much to do with weight loss, but these two steps really do help.  Remember the last time you had a craving or when you got really anxious about something going on and felt that urge to grab anything to eat? This is when that pause gets between you and the bag of Oreos! It is kind of an offshoot of Step Two: checking to see if you are really hungry.  Odds are that you aren’t really hungry: you either saw/ smelled/ or heard of something you really wanted or you are trying to distract yourself from your problem by eating something. I know whenever I get anxious, it’s my first reaction! Pausing before you reach for the chocolate or starting prowling through the fridge lets you redirect that urge. It gives you time to realize that you really don’t want the chips, you just want to feel better or that the only reason you want to eat is that you can smell the garlic bread someone had for lunch! It gives you time to take control away from the craving and the emotional eating. Take a walk; meditate; turn on some music: they can all help and they don’t involve eating!

Fifth Step: Rest and relaxation.

We’ve all been told that stress and lack of sleep don’t help with weight loss, and a lot of us just roll our eyes and flip the page.  Going back to the flooding rowboat analogy, imagine that hole in your boat is stuck somewhere you can’t see it. You know that water is coming in but you don’t know where it’s coming from so you can’t fix it. Stress and lack of sleep take their toll on your body. Your body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) which triggers your body to release glucose for quick energy, which means- you guessed it! Insulin! Because most of our stress (including the sleep deprivation) is chronic and not associated with physical activity anymore (like running away from a bear), that means our body is always triggering cortisol, glucose and insulin! Your stress is that hidden hole in your boat that keeps letting water flood in! Learning to relax such as meditating, taking a walk, listening to music, playing with kids or pets, reading or hey, here’s an idea- taking a NAP: all of these can help with stress and getting your body to calm down some. You will be surprised at how much better you’ll feel physically and mentally! Even better, you’ll lose some weight!

 

 

Whole Foods are Habit Forming!: Weight Loss & Giving Up the Junk

We’ve all heard that junk food- and especially sugar- are addictive. To some extent that is true, but it’s true because we made it true! We’ve gotten accustomed to eating sugary junk food so that’s what our palates and subconscious have come to expect.  We are all familiar with Pavlov’s dog, only in our case we are the dog and sugar is the bell!

Anyone who has tried to make a New Year’s Resolution or build a new habit knows that it all comes down to repetition. You do it over and over and over again until it becomes lodged in our brains and we can do it without effort or even thinking about it.  It happened to me yesterday: I was leaving the office and as I got in my car, I reminded myself I had to pick up my dry cleaning and it had to be picked up that day. I put the claim ticket on my console, pulled out of the parking lot and got in the wrong lane out of habit! The dry cleaning was on the north and home was on the south so of course, like I do 95% of the time, I got in the south bound lane, after telling myself not to do it! What can I say? Habit won!

This same kind of repetition is how we end up craving sugar and junk food: we eat it over and over again! We aren’t born addicted to Hostess cupcakes and Lays potato chips, but because they end up in our mouths so often, we start to expect and then crave them. We don’t even taste them anymore: it’s just the sugar and carbs we are expecting!  Compared to sugar-rich snacks, foods like broccoli and spinach seem to come up short, but the same principles apply: if you eat them enough, eventually your palate and your subconscious will start to expect them!

It seems silly but it’s true.  A couple of years ago, I was out with friends celebrating a birthday and the guest of honor had chosen a pizza place.  There were lots of appetizers on the table like fried cheese and beer battered shrimp.  I had chosen an antipasto salad for my entree and after politely declining all the appetizers, when my entree arrived, I actually said “yay, salad!” out loud and I meant it when I said it. It still surprises me, because while I don’t hate veggies or salad, I didn’t realize until I saw it how much I was looking forward to the salad! I’d taught myself that salad was delicious.

Something similar happened just last week at the grocery store: I wanted Brussels sprouts for dinner.  I had salad greens in the fridge but on the way home, I started wanting (dare I say “craving”?) Brussels sprouts and I was so disappointed that the store was out of the fresh ones that I like! When I was a kid, you’d have to pay me to eat them, and now I was craving the dang things!

It’s all about repetition: we want the foods we are used to eating.  Our brains and our palates expect them on a regular basis. Dinner for me is usually salad, veggies or both along with some kind of meat: chicken, beef, lamb or pork.  When I get hungry, this is what my palate and my brain start looking for! Without thinking about it, I end up in the produce section of the stores looking at the lettuces: “baby spinach mix? butter lettuce?” Some times I mix it up with other produce like tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., but dinner for me usually begins with a big pile of green leaves!

Compared to what I used to eat regularly, salad can seem pretty blah. This is one of the biggest complaints when it comes to eating whole natural foods: “they don’t taste great.” Actually, it’s not that baby spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts don’t taste good: it’s that you aren’t used to eating them! Once you get used to eating whole foods, you develop a taste for them the way you developed a taste for those boxes of cupcakes and bags of potato chips.

Example: remember the first time you tasted beer? I am pretty sure you made a face! That first sip of beer is universally awful but as an adult, you certainly don’t think it tastes horrible.  You probably have your favorite brands and brews, but that first time? Ugh! So how did you get used to the taste of beer? By drinking it over and over, of course! (In high school, one of my sister’s friends got busted by her dad when he let her taste his beer and the fact that she didn’t make that face told him this wasn’t her first beer!)

The same thing happens in reverse: when you stop eating the junk food and sugar, it stops tasting good. You lose your taste for them. I used to eat a lot of fast food on a regular basis. I was seriously on a first name basis with the Jack in the Box drive-thru guy (his name was Dennis.) Once I stopped eating it for a few months, I decided to ‘treat’ myself to the same dinner I’d had several times a week for months. Same meal; same drive-thru, but what a difference! It certainly didn’t taste delicious and in truth it just tasted really weird to me! It wasn’t the food that changed: it was me!

It wasn’t just my palate that changed either. Not only did the fast food not taste good to me: it made me feel bad. It’s cliche to say ‘you are what you eat,’ but we all know how true that is. Changing what I ate not only changed my taste buds: it changed how I felt and how I looked. Not only did I lose 40 lbs by just giving up junk food, my skin looked better and I felt a whole lot better, emotionally and physically. It was a combination of not eating junk and eating more nutritious whole foods instead. Why eat the weird fast food that makes me feel like a blob when I can eat the fresh vegetables that make me feel good?

It is a lot like Pavlov’s dog: a learned response to stimulus. The sound of the bell is the sound of a treat! If we rang the bell and gave the dog something that tastes bad each time, he’s not going care how often you ring that bell! What you’ve got, he doesn’t want! Does all that junk food really taste good? Or are we just used to eating it?

It’s Not Just Food We Need to Let Go: Weight Loss & Forgiveness

When we think of emotions, eating and weight loss, the first thought that comes to mind is “emotional eating.” It’s become a cliche excuse: why am I overweight? “Because I’m an emotional eater of course!” However, our emotions can get in the way of our weight loss in other ways.

Anger isn’t something we think about when we think of weight loss. Again, some of us have been known to eat out of anger, but it gets in our way especially when we choose to hang on to that anger rather than let it go. One example that comes to mind is eating out of spite or resentment. This was especially true for me when I was a kid. As an overweight child, I was constantly hounded by my parents about my size and whatever I happened to eat.  (FYI: if you have an overweight child, this is NOT the way to handle it!)  Potato chips, sandwiches, mac & cheese, even fruit: “Don’t eat too much!”; “Haven’t you had enough?” I hated the negative attention, hated being watched all the time and I was angry that ‘everyone else can eat what they want,’ so when I was alone, I ate whatever I wanted! It became reflex: there are cupcakes and no one to tell me no, so I ate them! I was out at a store and I had the money to buy junk food, so I bought it and ate it! While I knew this behavior wasn’t good for me, it was my way of demonstrating my anger at the way I was ‘persecuted’ by others.  Did I want to lose weight? Yes and no.  I wanted to be thinner but I also knew that my weight upset and embarrassed my parents, who in turn embarrassed me by constantly badgering me about my weight, so it was my way of getting back at them. Talk about dysfunctional!

Of course, I was a kid at the time and I was still very angry, hurt and humiliated by how I was treated. I remember being out at a restaurant with my family and every time I took a bite of food, my mom would chant “chew! chew! chew!” The fact that I recall this episode more than forty years later says a little bit about how much it hurt me, so yes, I think my anger was justified. Was it helpful? Oh hell no!

There are instances where anger can be motivating, but this anger was really spiteful and I held onto that anger way too long.  I used it to get back at my mom mainly and there was some pride in there which also got in my way.  I called it righteous indignation and told myself I was happy being overweight. It really didn’t bother me…. except I hated buying clothes because I had to go to the ‘fat girl’ stores. And I hated getting my hair cut because I had trouble fitting in the stylists’ chairs. And walking anywhere hurt. And standing hurt. And my shoes had to be special-ordered because my feet were so wide.

You get the picture: being angry and indignant was more important to me than doing anything about my health and my weight or the quality of my life! Aside from being an emotional eater, I was stubbornly refusing to try to lose weight because of how ‘persecuted’ I had always been. My pride was part of it too. We all know how hard it is to lose weight. What if I tried and I failed? How stupid would I look then? So in order not to look stupid, I refused to try at all! (Yeah….let’s look at being ‘stupid’ again….)

Sometimes we bury our emotional hurt so deep inside us that we don’t realize how much damage it’s actually doing to us.  It’s like an infection spreading inside that we can’t see although we slap a band-aid on the cut on our hand. We think that band-aid took care of the wound and it’ll heal soon enough, but when it’s an emotional wound, the hurt festers inside us and doesn’t go away.  We might acknowledge that “yeah, I eat my emotions,” but until you lance that emotional infection, it’s going to keep festering. You might learn to distract yourself with something other than food, but that hurt won’t go away until you let it out.

As I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life, TLC) routinely sends his patients to therapy to deal with the emotions which drove them to compulsive eating.  Some patients are resistant to going because they don’t see the connection between their compulsive eating and whatever happened to them in the past. In several instances, the therapist will encourage them to forgive those who’ve hurt them in the past.  One patient flat out stated she wasn’t ready or able to forgive those who hurt her since she didn’t think they deserved it.  The therapist, Lola Clay, pointed out what most of us know already: forgiving those who’ve hurt us is for our benefit, not the one who did the hurting. When we forgive, we let go of our anger and pain, so they lose their power over us. I remember being told that the flip side of Love isn’t Hate; it’s Apathy. Whether you love someone or hate them, they are the focus of your emotion. When you don’t care about someone (apathy), they obviously aren’t your focus! When you give up that emotional focus, whatever they do- or don’t do- to you is no big deal.

In my case, forgiving my parents, especially my mom, meant doing a whole lot of growing up! Once I started to let go of my anger and resentment, I realized that they were trying to help me, even if they didn’t exactly know how to do it. (Who does?) Yes, they made mistakes and God knows, I made some real whoppers too! More importantly, I was able to admit that I really needed the help! I didn’t know how to help myself but I let my anger, pride and resentment get in the way of asking for it and accepting it when it was offered.

If we truly want to heal and start making progress with weight loss, it means letting go of these old hurts and the negative behaviors that go along with them, such as refusing to keep an open mind because “I already know that!” or refusing help when someone offers out of wounded pride or doing things our way because “I know what works for me!” Do you really? Because if you knew what worked for you, it would have worked already, wouldn’t it? (That last one is a perennial pitfall for me!) We might think that we have no hurts or emotional wounds to let go of, but think about it. How about when a friend makes an offhand comment not intended to hurt, but still stings (“Are you on another diet?”) or when your spouse buys you a belt or a dress that’s way too big (“he thinks I’m a size 26?!) The embarrassment and the hurt can fester into resentment, which can come out as that emotional eating binge or get pushed down to mix with other hurts to become self-destructive hopelessness.  In this instance, we really need to be the bigger person by forgiving others, whether they meant it or not.  Even if they don’t deserve to be forgiven, we have to do. We’ve got enough to carry around without adding any more!

Do You Want It? Then Get It!: Weight Loss & Finding Your Strength

One of my favorite books is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. I remember the night I read the book.  My sister had come for a weekend visit from college and brought the book with her. She had borrowed it from someone in the dorms and was nearly done with it. After she told me about it, I was dying to read it but she finished it Saturday evening and gave it to me so I could at least start it before she left on Sunday.  I sat up all night so I could finish it before she took it back with her.

What I loved about this book is that it is about strength, specifically the strength to be the person you want to be. Ironically, one of the main characters is Evelyn Couch, a lost overweight housewife and Ninny Threadgoode, a friend she makes while visiting her mother-in-law at an assisted living facility. Ninny tells Evelyn about her family and friends she knew in Depression-era Alabama, Ruth, Idgie, their son, Sipsey, George and their family.  What quickly becomes clear is that in order to live the lives they want to live, these people had to be strong and they in turn inspire Evelyn to be strong. (FYI: The book is much much better than the movie, as usual!)

Without going too deeply into ‘English teacher mode,’ Evelyn and Idgie (Imogene) are foils of each other. Evelyn lets everyone tell her what to do; she gets flustered easily; she kind of knows what she wants but isn’t sure and is less sure about how to get it. By contrast, Idgie never lets anyone tell her what to do, knows what she wants and knows how to get it.  In an era where blacks and whites can’t eat or sit in the same restaurants, Idgie and Ruth do it anyway. At a time when women are supposed to be demure and delicate, Idgie is headstrong and independent. This story is all about finding your strength.

Believe it or not, strength really has a lot to do with weight loss. I don’t mean finding the strength to say no to the plate of brownies or the box of ice cream bars; I mean finding the strength to pursue your goals. Getting to your goal requires strength and determination.  You have to be able to work hard without getting discouraged or let others get in your way. Sometimes that means standing up for yourself when everyone else is telling you you are wrong and sometimes it really is telling yourself no when someone offers you cookies. Yes, it’s hard and yes, it’s work!

In the most recent episode of My 600 lb Life, Destinee is 27 years old and 668 lbs.  She has already been through a lot: growing up in foster care, her mother in prison for part of that time, meeting and losing her dad, coming out as gay and transgender and losing her brother at a young age. Deciding to live as woman in a rural area, it’s not hard to understand that Destinee feels overwhelmed. Other than a very supportive family, food is the other part of her support system. Already, Destinee appears to be the personification of strength: she is living the life she has chosen. But when Dr. Nowzaradan asks her about trying to lose weight before, her answer is “no, I haven’t really tried.”

Really? Why not? She’s admitted that she’s afraid of falling in the shower and being unable to get up, among other things.  She describes how much it hurts to sit, to stand and just to move, but she’s not tried to lose weight before deciding on surgery? While we all have stumbling blocks when it comes to losing weight or changing any kind of behavior, one of Destinee’s issues is simply hard work. It’s hard to make changes to something as basic as our eating habits and she doesn’t want to do the work. Throughout her journey, she makes excuses, gives in to cravings, and keeps falling back into old habits. This is a familiar situation for all of us: I know I have done it more times than I can count! She’s already proven she has the strength to make some pretty hard choices to get to her goals, but in this instance, she is looking for the quick fix. She wants to lose the weight without having to work for it.

I’m not blaming her or criticizing her: if I could lose the weight without putting out any effort, I would so be there already! That’s not reality, though. In real life, it takes strength to get up and work for it every day. When it’s something we really want, then we put out the effort to get it. She’s already decided that she wants to live as a woman and has taken some damn hard steps to make the transition, so you would think losing weight would be easier! It’s the same for all of us: we have to ask ourselves how much we really want it! Do we want the cookies more than we want to lose weight? Would we rather lose weight or have another serving of mashed potatoes? Do we want that bagel more or less than we want to put on our jeans without lying down to zip them up? What do we want more and what are we willing to do to get it?

In Destinee’s case, after a few false starts, Destinee finds her motivation. As with most things in life, it comes down to the simple truth: if you want it, you have to work for it. Most of don’t know how strong we are until it looks like what we desire the most is about to get away from us.  That’s when we learn what we are truly capable of doing. Don’t wait that long! Find your strength now and you’ll be surprised how fast you get to your goals!

 

 

 

Breaking the Code: Weight Loss & The Secret Formula

On the surface, this looks like another No Brainer: how do you lose weight? Eat less, move more! Duhhhh….. except anyone who’s tried that knows it doesn’t work for long. Besides not working, it’s hard and it’s miserable!

If you were to ask ten random people of random weight on the street “why do people gain weight?”, you would likely get a variety of answers such as eating too much, eating too much sugar, eating too much junk food, eating too much fat, eating too many carbs,  not enough cardio, not enough weight lifting, not enough vegetables, etc.  There are as many answers as there are people on the street to ask! Are all of them wrong? Some of them have to be right, …right?

Well, yes and no.  I’m not being a smart-ass here. Because there isn’t just one reason we gain weight! Think back to some of the excuses we’ve given about why we’ve put on “a few extra pounds,” such as too many Girl Scout cookies; it was the holidays; missed a few workouts; been out more with friends than normal; a lot of stress; bad sleeping/ late nights, etc.  While most of us know they are excuses, we usually feel there’s a germ of truth to them and we are right: those are all possible reasons why we’ve gained a few pounds, but they are all just as likely not to be the sole reason we’ve gained weight!

In reality, it tends to be a formula: we mix a few sleepless nights, with some extra work related stress, throw in some missed workouts, a few (boxes of) Girl Scout cookies and other sugary carbs and then mix in some extra snacks and ta-daa! We’ve gained some weight! Congratulations on winning the Chubby Award! Now: how do we get rid of it?

We get rid of it pretty much the same way we got it: we have to undo that formula! The problem is that we didn’t take notes when we were gaining weight because we weren’t really paying attention. (If we’d been paying more attention, we probably wouldn’t have gained the weight we did!) Essentially, we need to follow a basic formula for weight loss and tweak it to fit our individual metabolism, and that formula is most definitely NOT “Eat Less, Move More!”

Remember those excuses listed above: cookies, holidays, stress, sleepless nights, snacking? Those are all part of the reason we gained weight. We all know that sugar and refined carbs such as bread, pasta and cereals are all broken down into sugar by our digestive tract. As quick carbs, they boost our blood sugar and insulin and then they get stored as fat in the body.  We also know that stress boosts our cortisol levels which means there is more glucose in our blood stream and glucose means insulin again, so again being chronically stressed translates to “stored as fat” by our bodies. The busy holidays and sleepless or late nights translate to “stress” so again: “stored as fat!” Constant snacking? “Stored as fat!” In order to convince our bodies that it is okay to burn fat and lose weight, we need to do a few things consistently! 

The simple formula to lose weight? 1) Reduce stress; 2) Avoid processed foods; 3) Stop snacking; 4) Fast more often.  A couple bonus tips: 1) Add a little vinegar to your diet; and 2) Add more fiber. Before you start rolling your eyes about fasting, this is not my weight loss formula. This is from The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. Dr. Fung makes a few simple suggestions such as adding in more natural fats, more fiber, moderate protein consumption, managing stress and above all, avoid processed foods and constant snacking.

Geez, that almost sounds too simplistic! And a little nutty too! But before you cross off Dr. Fung as another kooky diet doctor, he’s arrived at this simple formula after years of working with diabetes patients.  Dr. Fung is a nephrologist, which means he’s a kidney doctor, and as anyone with diabetes can tell you, one of the biggest problems diabetics have is kidney failure. What’s the best way to stop kidney damage? Don’t get diabetes! What’s one way of not getting diabetes? Don’t get obese! After treating thousands of obese diabetics, he’s learned a few things about what makes people fat. His simple answer is insulin resistance (insulinemia). In short, chronically high insulin leads to insulin resistance which leads to weight gain. If you want to lose weight, you need to reduce your insulin resistance. Most of us jump right to cutting out refined carbs and sugars (which is a great idea) but we usually don’t think of the other two major culprits with insulin. It’s not just about keeping your blood sugar low: it’s about keeping your insulin levels low too.  We mistakenly believe that if our blood sugar is low, our insulin is too, and it’s not the case.

We all know the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.  Most of us have been taught to avoid fat at all costs, and many of us also avoid carbs too, so that means we go whole hog on the protein! What we don’t realize is that too much protein gets converted to glucose. Our bodies can store fat and carbs but they can’t store protein, so it gets converted to glucose and then it’s converted to fat! (Yes! That healthy protein ends up on our butt!) Protein also raises our insulin levels, though not as much as carbs, and fat has nearly no effect on our insulin at all.

Most of us also know that whole food carbs such as fruit and veggies have less of blood sugar spike than processed carbs like bread and sugar. Whole foods have a lot of fiber so they are absorbed more slowly and there is less of a spike. Also, all that fiber makes us full faster and we stay full longer. Ever know anyone to eat a whole pound of Brussels sprouts at one meal? Compare that with someone eating a whole box of cookies or an entire pint of ice cream. Fiber = full!

So we moderate the protein, cut back on the processed foods, add in some healthy fats (avocados have healthy fat plus plenty of fiber too!), manage our stress and we still don’t lose weight? That’s because most of us are still doing the number one behaviors that keeps our insulin levels high: we snack. How many of us have been told that ‘constant grazing’ will keep us thin? As Dr. Fung states, “if we were meant to graze, we’d be cows!” To be blunt: any food raises our insulin, and when we keep snacking all day long, our insulin never gets the chance to drop! Because it never goes down, our bodies become resistant to it, and the vicious cycle continues.

Here’s a simple example of what happens with insulin resistance. I live between two churches which both have schools, behind a hospital with a helipad and within two blocks of a fire station.  When I am home, I hear school bells, church bells, helicopters and sirens all day long. I have heard them so often that I don’t pay attention to them anymore. In fact, a few years ago, I took a trip with some friends and our motel room was literally across the street from a fire station (we could see it from the room’s door).  The morning after our first night, everyone was complaining about the constant sirens during the night- except me! Because I heard them all the time, my brain stopped noticing them! When our insulin is high all the time, it becomes the sirens which we eventually stop hearing, so we have to make them louder to get noticed. That means we secrete more and more insulin to be effective. The only way to get insulin low and keep it there (so we notice it) is to stop eating! It means no snacking! It also means skipping a few meals now and then.

It doesn’t mean we have to starve ourselves in order to lose weight, but it does mean we need to be sensible about how often we eat. Most of us have been told that we need to eat three meals and three snacks during the day. In fact, my favorite food journal comes with Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner headings, along with Mid-Morning Snack, Mid-Day Snack and Evening Snack! Even if they are ‘healthy whole foods,’ I am sure Dr. Fung would agree with Dr. Nowzaradan’s emphatic proclamation “there is no such thing as a healthy snack!” (My 600 lb Life, TLC) Even a healthy snack keeps our insulin levels elevated, and the only way to lose weight is to lower our insulin and keep it low! Three meals a day are more than enough. It also won’t kill us to skip a meal or two, especially if we aren’t hungry! Dr. Fung makes a clear distinction between ‘starving’ our bodies with chronically reduced calorie intake vs. intermittent fasting, which is periods of low to no calories in-between periods of regular calorie intake.

This idea of not eating every two hours or so might seem kind of weird since a lot of us grew up being constantly fed. Skipping a couple meals or more probably seems crazier, but the simple truth is the more often we eat, the bigger we get. To drop those “few extra pounds,” we have to drop our insulin levels, and that means making some changes to what and when we eat. In his book, Dr. Fung offers some level-headed advice: “Listen to your grandma! ‘No snacking!'”

For a quick summary of Dr. Fung’s book, see Fast Life Hacks: The Obesity Code

 

 

 

 

Food Is Only Half the Battle: Weight Loss & Why We Overeat

This is another one of those No Brainers that tends to get overlooked: when we try to lose weight, we focus on changing our behavior but not the reasons behind our behavior.  In other words, we are trying to fix the outcome without fixing the cause!

Simple example: every day you come home and find your dog left an ‘accident’ on your rug, so every day you punish your dog for making a mess in the house. It seems simple enough but why did the dog have the accident in the house? Does he have a dog door? Is there someone to let him out during the day? Does he have a potty pad where he should go instead? If the answer to all those questions is “no,” then punishing your dog isn’t going to change anything! Every day you will come home to find the same mess because you aren’t changing the cause of the behavior, i.e. the dog has nowhere else to go!

For the dog, it’s an easy fix: dog door, potty pad, dog sitter, etc., but when it comes to overeating or snacking or anything food related, it’s much murkier. We are dealing with psychology, emotions and inner conflicts. As we all know, these kinds of causes are just plain messier and way more painful than installing a doggie door! Messy, painful and confusing emotions are the real reason this important part of the weight loss gets overlooked.  Bariatric surgery is becoming more common as the obesity epidemic keeps growing, but for years, physicians and surgeons kept focusing on changing the behavior without looking for the root causes of obesity.  This is like telling an alcoholic “stop drinking!” and walking away.  We all know that doesn’t work!

This is where I remind everyone that I am not a health care professional and I am just offering my opinion here. For most of us, being overweight isn’t life-threatening: it’s more of an inconvenience and embarrassment. For those who are morbidly obese with the attendant health issues like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, it really can be a matter of life and death. Bariatric surgery such as the lap band, gastric bypass or gastric sleeve are only short-term fixes. The patient will lose weight but without fixing the cause of the overeating through counseling, eventually the weight comes back when the patient goes back to the same bad behaviors. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Nowzaradan of My 600 lb Life is seeing more patients who have regained the weight after prior surgeries because they did not get the counseling needed to resolve the issues causing them to overeat.

Even if we aren’t morbidly obese, we still need to fix the causes of our overeating. Many of us will admit that we are emotional eaters, but we use that phrase as a reason or rationalization for our overeating. It’s become an acceptable band-aid for many of us: I get stressed and I eat! End of story! Let’s substitute the eating with another behavior: I get stressed and I do drugs! End of story? Of course not, but for many drug addicts, this is how the addiction started and it’s still their response to stress. What is the difference between stress eating and stress drug usage? Other than possibly going to jail for illicit drugs, not very much! (There are many drug users who simply refill their Xanax or Vicodin prescriptions.) The responsive behavior (drugs, eating, smoking, drinking, gambling, etc) are triggered by something else and until we find out what that cause is and fix that, any kind of fix will be short term.

Obviously, we don’t have to go running off to the therapist because we want to lose weight, but there is some value in taking the time to pay attention to what triggers the impulse to eat. Likely, there will be multiple triggers, such as stress or boredom.  Sometimes it is fairly easy, as in the stress, but other times it will be more complex. For some of us, there was a scarcity of food growing up, so we learned to eat as much as we could whenever we got the chance.  Sometimes, it is a way of asserting control over our lives or an act of defiance, especially if you grew up criticized for your weight.  In other cases, our weight was a way of getting attention from others in the family, especially if there are rules like “no donuts in the house” or “don’t eat those in front of mom/ dad.” It makes you the center of attention.

Of course, dredging up these kinds of feelings usually creates unease and feelings of stress (cue the potato chips!) Our immediate response is normally an angry “I’m not like that at all!” But sometimes we are. We just don’t realize it because as soon as we start feeling those unpleasant feelings and thinking those unwelcome thoughts, we go right to our escape hatch! In my case, stress and anxiety were clear triggers for eating, as well as boredom. Later, I realized that eating was also my ‘cure’ for loneliness and feelings of rejection. It was also both an act of control and defiance: my weight was an issue growing up and my mom was always criticizing whatever I ate! When I was eating alone in my room, there was no one to tell me not to eat and I felt free to do whatever I wanted to do! And that was some of the reasons I was about 300 lbs when I graduated high school….

Fixing these causes first begins with acknowledging that they exist. Once we can admit to ourselves that we have feelings of inadequacy or rejection or loneliness, we can begin to move past them. It might seem like these things have nothing to do with weight loss, but they do, just like they are triggers for any other addictions out there.  We are all familiar with the classic alcoholic’s excuse of ‘drinking to forget.’ How different is it that we binge on Oreos to distract ourselves from a bad day or a fight with our spouse? We feel stressed over money, we eat to distract ourselves. We feel lonely, we eat to console ourselves. We were told we aren’t attractive, we eat to forget the hurt feelings. We are constantly told not to eat, so we eat to assert our independence. We feel ignored, so we make our eating an issue for everyone: now everyone has to pay attention to me! Eating is our way of not admitting or dealing with how we feel.

Once we admit that we have these feelings, the next important step is reminding yourself that these are not negative feelings and you are not a bad person for having them! This sense of “I want attention so I must be bad/ selfish/ needy/ whatever” is why we distract or medicate ourselves with food. It’s a normal human reaction, just as any emotion is! We all feel stressed, hurt, needy or lonely at times. Admitting that you feel that way, it’s a normal feeling and it is okay to feel it is when we begin to move past the need to medicate ourselves with food. Unfortunately, it takes a little practice to learn that it’s okay if we aren’t always happy, perky and well-adjusted.  Those so-called ‘negative emotions’ are normally discouraged by most families.

Think of your dog again: how many times has your dog approached you wanting to play, sit on your lap or just want your attention? He’s not a bad dog: he just wants to be held or play with you or be comforted if he’s scared. For most of us, we give him the attention he wants! Companionship is one reason we got a dog in the first place.  We don’t scold him for not being more independent or berate him for being needy. Why do we do those things to ourselves (or others in our lives)? Getting past the causes of our overeating is the only certain method of stopping that behavior. We don’t have to run off to therapy; it can be as simple as talking with a trusted friend, or even as simple as hugging your dog the next time you feel hurt or lonely. He may not be as sweet as the Oreos but I bet he will be a lot more satisfying than a sugar binge!

 

If You Ate It, OWN IT!: Weight Loss & Responsibility

Responsibility is a real issue when it comes to weight loss. We never like to admit that we were ‘bad’ and went off our diet or bailed on exercise just because we felt like it. We make ourselves feel better by dredging up an excuse or we rationalize why we ‘had to do’ what we did. In reality, whether we call it an excuse or a rationalization or a reason, the bottom line is our behavior is our responsibility.

Being responsible can be a real pain in the butt!  Remember when you were a kid and reached the “too old for a baby-sitter” age? It meant that you were old enough and trusted enough to stay home alone or old enough to watch your younger siblings. You were probably feeling a little proud but a little nervous too. It meant that you were responsible! It also meant that you were in charge, either of whomever you were watching or at the very least, in charge of your own behavior: YOU are in control!

As we can recall from being a kid, being in charge can be a little heady at times but to steal a phrase from the wise and immortal Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.” If you are in charge, you are responsible for what happens, whether it’s a great outcome or something not-so-great.  It was enough to make Peter Parker wish he wasn’t Spiderman and it’s enough to make us wish that we weren’t in charge of our own eating habits!

Unfortunately, what we eat really is our responsibility. Unless someone has a gun to our heads and it forcing us to eat those Krispy Kremes, we made the decision to eat them! Even if we are starving because we’ve missed breakfast and lunch and now we’ve showed up at some appointment and they’ve offered us those donuts, it is entirely within our abilities to say “no thank you!”  Yes, I know– harsh! But will we fall over dead if we’ve missed breakfast and lunch? Probably not! Barring a hypoglycemic fainting spell, we will probably be okay (if starving) until we can get something healthier for us, but this is when we start rationalizing why we had to eat something not on our diet.

I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again: when we tell ourselves we are constantly at the mercy of others or circumstances, we cut off our own power to make positive changes! In plain simple language, if we have to eat what others make us eat, then how can we make positive changes to what we eat? Of course, others aren’t ‘making us eat anything,’ unless it’s those Krispy Kremes or that bag of Doritos or the family size box of Cheezits! Those we ‘had to eat’ because we really wanted them and came up with a justification for why they ‘made’ us eat them! In most cases, it’s what ‘they’ brought home for dinner or ‘they’ were eating them in front of us when ‘they’ knew we were trying to lose weight. For a lot of us, believing ‘they made us eat those’ absolves us of our responsibility for choosing to eat badly. But it also robs us of our power to make any positive changes too!

On a recent episode of My 600 Life, Dr. Nowzaradan’s patient Maja did something I had never seen before, and frankly, it shocked me. At 33, Maja weighed in at 689 lbs.  After her initial consultation, she went back to Oregon with her boyfriend Christian and over two months, she lost about 93 lbs, nearly the 100 the doctor wanted her to lose.  She was approved for bariatric surgery and proceeded to move to Houston as Dr. Nowzaradan had instructed.  The move to Texas unfortunately exacerbated the deteriorating relationship between Maja and her boyfriend. They fought all the way from Oregon to Houston and when Maja checked in with the doctor, he wanted her to come in to get weighed: she had lost only 9 lbs. The doctor cancelled her surgery with instructions to get back on track and lose another 50 lbs. Crying, Maja lashed out at Christian: “This is all your fault! You’re costing me my weight loss surgery! This is nobody’s fault but yours, Christian!” Really?

This melt-down in the doctor’s office wasn’t an anomaly: throughout her initial trip to Houston for the consultation, everything that was hard or didn’t go the way she wanted it to go was met with tears and blame. While packing for the trip, Christian wasn’t ‘taking it seriously’ and wasn’t being helpful enough for her.  Walking through the airport was ‘hard’ and she blamed the customer service woman she had talked to: she had ‘lied to [Maja] about how far it was.’ When she reached the car rental agency, they had reserved the wrong car for her and when Maja tried to squeeze in behind the wheel, her leg got stuck and she nearly fell out of the car. Christian had to help her out by laying her down on the ground so she could pull her leg out. Maja again started crying: she didn’t know how to get up and didn’t know what to do. Christian suggested she use the car to pull herself up and then she walked back to the car rental agency, cried again and demanded the car she had initially reserved.

Blame and tears appear to be Maja’s way of handling difficult situations. Because she is at the mercy of others (her parents, the car rental people, the ‘lying’ customer service woman, Christian, etc), she can’t control her reactions, so nothing is her responsibility.   What she eats, what she doesn’t eat: none of it is under her control. Really?

Maja is an extreme example of what most of us do every day: we blame our friends or family for ‘tempting us’ with unhealthy foods we like to eat. This past weekend, I was out with a friend for cheeseburgers and chocolate candy, and this is on top of the Girl Scout cookies I bought from another friend’s granddaughter! I don’t blame my friends for what I ate or didn’t eat on the weekend any more than I blame the Girl Scouts for making cookies.  I chose to eat what I ate (cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, jalapeno poppers, chocolate) and I own my choices. I chose to eat those foods just like I chose not to eat the cookies and other tempting junk food that was available.  Just because they are there or even offered to us does not mean that we have to eat them!

Owning our choices means we take responsibility, for the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff. Blaming others or circumstances has another deadly drawback: it teaches us to be helpless.  Not only do we have no responsibility, but having no power over our situation means we are helpless to help ourselves. That’s what it means to be at the mercy of others and circumstances.  The longer we rely on others for everything, the harder it is to learn how to do anything for ourselves, including helping ourselves and making our own decisions. 

Maja’s fall in the parking garage with the rental car struck a chord with me. In 2012, when I weighed about 440 lbs, I fell on my front lawn. My lawn is slightly slanted and while I was unloading my car, I stepped back into a hole near a sprinkler head. I knew the hole was there and normally managed to avoid it, but not this time.  It was dark; it was on the slant; I lost my balance and fell over on my butt and back onto the lawn.  As I was falling, my only thought was “miss the bricks! miss the bricks!” Luckily, I did miss my brick lamppost and because it had been raining a lot, my lawn was fairly soft and muddy.  Nevertheless, 440 lbs is a lot of weight to come down hard on my butt, my back and my head.  I went down like a proverbial tree in a forest! Once down, alone at night in the dark on my lawn, I lay there for a moment to see what hurt, and then, like Maja, I wondered how to get back up.  Like Maja, I rolled over onto my knees, crawled over to the brick lamppost and used it to help myself back up.  Then, I finished unloading my car, went inside and changed out of my muddy clothes.  Yes, I was a little a stiff the next day, but no hysterics, no tears, no blame.

The difference between my situation and Maja’s is learned behavior.  Maja went right off to the rental car agency and blamed them for her falling. I suppose I could have blamed my gardeners for making a big hole near the sprinkler head, but I knew the hole was there and unsuccessfully tried to avoid it. It’s a fact of life: things happen! Stress happens; unhappy relationships happen; emotional conflict happens! The more we learn to take back our power to make our own decisions, the stronger we are, whether it’s saying no to the box of Thin Mints or to dealing with a bad rental car experience. (Unfortunately, I also have experience with not fitting behind the wheel of rental cars!)

Being responsible starts with owning your choices and decisions.  It’s not always easy and it can be pretty embarrassing at times, but choosing to blame others not only takes away your responsibility: it takes away your power. The more you give away the blame, the more you give away your power. It’s time to take back what is rightfully yours: your power to choose what you eat and what you don’t eat! Whether you say yes to the donut or not, the choice is yours. Own it.

 

Do You Believe?: Weight Loss & Faith in Yourself

Because I commute, I listen to a lot of podcasts.  I heard one around Christmastime that brought a smile to my face, not only because of the legacy of the episode’s inspiration, but because of the whole-hearted belief necessary to bring it about.  The podcast is The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe, episode 120: “30 Minutes of Disappointing Television” (30 Minutes of Disappointing TV). Spoiler Alert: if you want to watch/ listen to the podcast, do it now because I’m going to talk all about it here!

There is probably no one out there reading this who hasn’t seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack has become a classic Christmas favorite (it’s also the ringtone on my phone), and the story Mike tells is about Charles Schulz’s determination to bring it to life.  In 1965, Peanuts was a powerhouse comic strip and CBS has signed with its creator Sparky (as his friends knew him) to make a serious of television specials, but he had retained creative control. Nothing was going on tv without his approval.  He’d cast children to do the voices, met with Guaraldi regarding the music and once it was ready, the executives at CBS sat down to screen the special prior to its airing.  The title of Mike’s episode clearly reflects their opinion of it, and if it had been up to them, it would have been thrown out.  But since the network had already made commitments and there wasn’t time to argue with good ol’ Sparky, they had to air the special as he created it.

The reason CBS still runs his special every year (along with the others) is that Sparky had faith in himself and his creation.  If it had been up to the CBS suits, no one would have ever seen it. There are some who would simply say that Schulz knew his audience well, believing that fans of the books and comic strip would tune it to watch it and those numbers alone would ensure its success.  That’s true enough but in order to get that far, he had to believe in himself and have the determination to see it through, despite everyone telling him that he’s wrong.

Most of us give up on weight loss because we lose faith in ourselves.  We just don’t believe that we can change our bad habits.  We give up when it gets hard because we either tell ourselves “it’s too hard” or that “we can’t change.”  It’s not that we don’t want to lose weight: it’s that, deep down inside, we don’t believe we are strong enough to do it.  We don’t believe we have the resources, the stamina, the will to change.  However you want to characterize it, we just don’t believe in ourselves. Some of us may feel that’s a harsh statement, but think about it: when we have faith in something, we follow through with it to the end, even when everyone else is telling us we are wrong.

A lot of times, these doubts come from being unfamiliar with a situation or knowing that it is not your forte. Remember the last time you tried to do something you had never done before? Remember reading the instructions, looking at the diagrams, feeling confused? Am I doing this right? Why isn’t it working? I must be doing something wrong! I have a lot of experience with that feeling!

Several years ago, I had a very old television with a VCR (for you millenials who’ve no idea what that is, it’s what us old people used to record tv before DVRs!) I had just gotten a cable box because the tv was seriously ancient and in order to hook up the tv, VCR and cable box, I needed an adapter box.  It was basically a junction where all the cables came in and went back out to the various devices, and according to the instructions, it was easy to set up. Cable comes in from the wall, into the adapter, goes out to the VCR, back into the box, back out to the tv, etc.! No fuss, no muss….right? OH HELL NO! After setting it up according to the instructions, it didn’t work! tried hooking it up several different ways without success and I finally called my cable company who told me “try this, try that, try another way.” Finally, after three hours of constant reconfiguring, I realized something must be broken and it must be the adapter box, since everything had been working beforehand.  I returned the adapter box, came home with another one, and in under ten minutes, had it hooked up the way I had originally done it and everything worked just fine! In fact, I had done it right the first time, but because I didn’t trust that I had done it correctly, I spent most of the day and whole lot of frustrations.

Oddly enough, you would have thought I felt more confident afterwards since I figured it out (eventually) on my own and it hadn’t been my error that was the problem, but in fact, I was kind of embarrassed that it had taken me all day to figure it out! While there are a lot of things I am good at doing, electronics isn’t one of them, so when it comes to setting up or trouble-shooting hardware especially, I get that Deer in the Headlights feeling!

It’s easy to let doubts creep in.  For a lot of us, while we may be strong when it comes to our jobs or other endeavors in our lives, it’s not uncommon for us to let others influence us when it comes to our weight or our fitness. If we’ve been overweight all our lives (raising my hand here!), we’ve already got it in our heads that “I’m not good at controlling my eating” or “I’ve never been good at working out.” That often stems from the idea that “I’m not doing this right!,” whether that’s eating healthy, controlling emotional eating or working out. It’s not that we’re weak or easily influenced: it’s that we aren’t sure of ourselves!

Usually, situations that make us feel very stressed and a little panicky are when we begin to doubt our abilities. Weight loss is one of those situations that looks like it’s easy, and in some ways it is, but not if we don’t have faith in ourselves! It’s a lot like that Bible parable about building your house on sand vs. building it on a solid foundation. Obviously, if your self confidence is shaky, your ‘house’ isn’t going to last very long! I admit, I am not a big fan of positive affirmations, but reminding yourself “I can do this!” on a regular basis goes a long way to turning that sandy foundation into stone. This has a lot in common with that Strategic Pause I recently mentioned in a previous post: when we feel that Deer in the Headlights panicky feeling, take a deep calming breath and remind ourselves “I got this!” I know there are people who are going to roll their eyes or say “what happens when I screw it up?” Making a wrong choice isn’t the end of the world or your weight loss! (Another important reminder!) If we make a wrong choice, we will eventually figure it out but The Most Important Step is that we don’t give up on ourselves! It takes practice and it takes faith in our own abilities. The more we keep moving forward, the more we learn and the more faith we have in ourselves and our ability to succeed! There will always be that little voice that asks “what if I can’t do it?” and when it does, your answer needs to be “giving up guarantees that I can’t do this!” So enter our little reminder: Don’t give up! You can do this!

Hold On a Moment!: Weight Loss &The Strategic Pause

This pause is something I really wish I could have taught to my old boss.  Every time something happened that wasn’t planned, she would have a complete meltdown. She would panic and run around in chaos, shouting “I’m overwhelmed! I’m overwhelmed!” both her associate and I took a calmer approach: what happened and what are our options? But the truth of the matter was that she liked being panicky and ‘overwhelmed’ because she loved the drama.

When it comes to weight loss, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the drama also: we planned on having the healthy lunch we brought with us, but now it’s a coworker’s birthday and the boss surprised everyone with pizza and cake–now what do you do? You planned on having chicken and vegetables for dinner but you got stuck working late and now there’s no time to make the chicken– takeout? help! The omelet brunch you are going to with friends actually turns out to be bagels and cream cheese instead– OMG!!

Before you panic and dive head-first into the pizza and bagels, there is the opportunity for a pause.  I like to think of that Coca-Cola slogan: ‘the pause that refreshes,’ because in a lot of ways, that’s what happens when we take a moment before jumping right into a decision! You get a chance to take a deep breath and CALM DOWN!

First off, you very rarely have to make a decision about anything right then and there! Unless you are at a drive-thru speaker and they tell you they don’t have the chocolate chip cookies you want, you don’t have to choose anything right away. (FYI: if you are on a game show, I can’t help you!)  When you are faced with choices you didn’t think you had to make, or choices that mess with your carefully laid plans, our first impulse is OMG or something similar. Inside we start acting like my old boss running around panic-stricken.  This is where we need to remind ourselves to hold on a moment and take that deep breath: what are our options? It’s perfectly okay to take a moment and consider the choices in front of you. You can still have the healthy lunch you brought while celebrating your coworker’s birthday: it’s the thought that counts (cheesy but true!) and they aren’t going to be insulted by your not having cake and pizza with them and everyone else! You can eat your healthy lunch while they eat pizza! (Your eating habits aren’t their business.)

It’s a similar process with working late or with that bagels & cream cheese brunch! Take a deep breath and go over your options calmly. There’s always the option of hitting the grocery instead of takeout. Steamable veggies or bagged salad are good fallback options as well as a rotisserie chicken or another lean protein option you can quickly reheat if necessary.  There is always “breakfast for dinner,” too! Instead of having that chicken, you can always make an omelet full of veggies, meats or cheese for dinner.  It’s a nice change from regular dinner options! As for the bagel & cream cheese brunch, depending on how much notice you have of the change in menu or the items you were bringing to the brunch, you can always make a shift and have the cream cheese with veggies (I like red bell pepper with cream cheese) or you can bring something else that is healthier for you, such as tomatoes or beet chips (another favorite of mine).

It doesn’t really matter if it’s about food, your workout or anything else going on in your life: nine times of out ten, you don’t have to make an Instant Decision. Take a deep breath and think about the choices calmly.  I know there is the panicked impulse to retort: “I don’t have any choices!” but we all know that’s not true. Unless your choice is the Drama, like my old boss, there is always a minute or two for you to think about what you want to do rather than what you feel you are being forced into doing.  You can schedule your workout for another time when you don’t have to work late; you can stop by the store and pick up a healthy salad for lunch; you can skip breakfast instead of grabbing drive-thru and eat the healthy lunch you have packed. The options may not always be the best, but they are still options! Think about it this way: suppose your boss ordered Italian for your coworker’s birthday and you really don’t like it or pasta, would you eat it just to be polite? Suppose it was bagels and you can’t have gluten: would you eat them and suffer with the flare up to be polite? It’s okay to say “no thank you” and it’s okay to make choices that are more in line with your plans!

I’ve mentioned it before, and I know it’s cheesy, but your friends will understand if you make changes to your menu and if your coworkers object, it really isn’t their business! If it makes you feel better, you can always say you are allergic or gluten/ lactose/ whatever intolerant! The next time you start to feel pushed into a situation that isn’t planned or isn’t the best for you, tell yourself and everyone else to hold on a moment and then after that deep calming breath, tell them what you have decided!

Weight Loss: Inside & Out

When we think of weight loss, we tend to focus on our outward appearance. How much thinner do we look? How has our shape changed? How many clothing sizes have we dropped? Our outside appearance is where our focus goes and we believe our emotions will follow along. We assume we will be happier, less stressed, less self-conscious and more confident as our appearance improves.

In some ways that is true: when we feel better physically, we tend to feel better emotionally and mentally.  But that isn’t always the case and this divergence usually causes confusion, anxiety and frustration when we realize that even though we seem to be losing weight or getting fitter, we aren’t any happier, calmer or confident.

For some of us, this unhappiness and lingering lack of confidence comes from our bodies still not living up to our ideal.  We lost thirty pounds but we still have those “thunder thighs,” or now our upper arms look worse because our weight loss has drawn attention to our flabby “bat wings.” We look in the mirror and instead of seeing success, we see more ‘body issues’ due to the weight loss! Instead of being glad about our success and more confident in ourselves, we feel more self-conscious and less self-confident!

For others, we are mystified that, even though we’ve lost weight and gotten to the dress or pant size we’ve dreamed about, we are still unhappy and still feeling anxious.  “Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted? So why am I still so unhappy?” We still feel like we used to feel when we were overweight and we don’t know what’s wrong with us. We conclude that we must be broken somehow since we’ve reached our goal and “nothing has changed inside. I’m still broken!”

In a lot of ways, this frustration and confusion is because our image of ourselves is inside out.  We think that our outside appearance reflects who we are inside.  We’ve probably seen hundreds of examples of this in society and the media, from Shakespeare’s evil twisted hunchback in Richard III to the more modern movie Shallow Hal with actor Jack Black.  How many times have we seen movies where the villain looks slimy or deformed and every viewer knows instantly “he’s the bad guy!” There is a correlation between who we are inside and how we appear, but most of us believe that a beautiful outside will create a beautiful inside.  Instead, it’s the beautiful inside that radiates outward.

A lot of who we are mentally and emotionally shows up in our physical appearance.  This doesn’t mean all overweight people are insecure because there is something wrong emotionally inside but it does mean that fixing the outside isn’t always going to fix the inside. If you were an unhappy person before you lost weight, you will likely still be unhappy when once you’ve lost weight.  This doesn’t mean you are ‘unfixable’ but it does mean you can’t fix the outside without fixing the inside. It can also mean that fixing the inside first makes it easier to fix the outside!

Happy people tend to take better care of themselves, and again, people who feel better tend to feel better emotionally. Elizabeth Benton (Chasing Cupcakes) spends most of her book pointing out this correlation. If you fix what is making you unhappy, anxious and insecure, it can  make it easier to lose weight and ‘fix’ the outside. This is one of the reasons psychotherapy is a major component of Dr. Nowzaradan’s weight loss program on My 600 lb Life.  While he starts his patients with the diet and bariatric surgery in order to get them as healthy as possible as fast as possible, the second and most important step is therapy.  As he points out in nearly every episode, unless the patient deals with the emotional issues leading them to overeat, they will eventually go back to overeating despite the surgery. In fact, some of the patients who come to him have already had bariatric surgery, not dealt with the emotional inside issues and have again reached 500+ pounds. They thought that by fixing the outside (their weight), they would fix the inside (their emotions): in other words, “I’ll be happy once I’ve lost weight!”

This frustration and confusion is common in most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients: “I thought having the surgery would take away my cravings!” We’ve gone through this ourselves when we’ve lost weight but still fight the urge to scarf down a box of donuts or bag of chips. It’s because for most of us the weight is the physical symptom of what’s really bothering us. Most of us would call ourselves emotional eaters but despite knowing our out-of-control emotions lead us to that bag of chips and box of donuts, we try to white-knuckle our way through life! While we may initially lose weight, eventually our emotions overwhelm us and we suddenly find ourselves halfway through the bag of Double-Stuf Oreos without realizing how that happened. The cycle of unhappiness and frustration begins again: “Why did I do this? Why can’t I control myself? What’s wrong with me?” followed by more emotional eating!

Not all of us need therapy in order to fix our inside self. For some of us, it’s as simple as getting away from a toxic person or situation. In my case, a lot of my emotional issues went away once I left a job I hated. While I knew it was a major source of stress in my life, it wasn’t until I got out of that job that I realized how utterly unhappy it had made me, how insecure my boss made me feel and how extremely stressed even when I wasn’t at work.  I would wake up with panic attacks in the middle of the night over that job and my boss would call me while I was driving to give me a list of ‘things to do’ once I got in the office.  It was expected that I would be at work on time (not unreasonable) and stay until my job was done, even if that meant staying until 8:00 p.m., despite her knowing it was a two hour commute for me to get home! When I did get home, no matter the time, I was usually emotionally drained and feeling like a failure. I was constantly asking myself ‘what’s wrong with me?’ about everything in my life! All I wanted to do was forget how unhappy I was and I used food to do that.

This is of course a simplified version of how I dealt with a major source of my emotional issues, but obviously not all of them.  I had been an overweight emotional eater before long before I went to work for The Boss From Hell, and I still feel the urge to distract myself with food when I get extremely stressed now that I work somewhere else. The biggest turning point was leaving the source of such unhappiness and anxiety (The Job From Hell) and the second biggest turning point was realizing that food was a distraction, not a solution. Now when I feel the urge to eat something because I am stressed or upset, I look for a solution instead. Sometimes, it’s as simple as finding a non-food distraction, since not every situation has a real solution, but knowing that eating isn’t going to help is still a step in the right direction.

Dealing with the source of my anxiety and emotional issues was a huge step in getting cravings and over-eating under control. Even if I had a craving or urge to eat, it was easier to find something else that was enjoyable to distract me or just make me feel better about myself overall.  The emotions were better controlled, the eating was better controlled, the weight loss was making progress and instead of that vicious cycle, I was in an ‘improvement cycle.’  The better I felt physically as the weight came off, the better I felt emotionally, which led to my taking better care of myself physically and the cycle continued!

Our stress and emotions will always be a part of our lives no matter and learning to deal with them is an ongoing struggle no matter how much we weigh. The key is learning to be happy in the skin that we are in now rather than pinning our hopes for happiness on some future goal or achievement. It’s not always easy to look in the mirror and love the person looking back despite the thunder thighs and flabby bat wings. None of us are broken or unfixable just as none of us are perfect. Just accepting that we are all works in progress can be enough of a starting point.