Mindset: A Healthy Body Starts in Your Head

Mindset has become one of the new buzzwords in social media, and while I’m usually not a fan of following a trend, in this case they are right.  Mindset is an incredibly important part of achieving any goal and it’s usually the part that is discounted or overlooked, mainly because we are in a hurry to get to our goal.

I admit I am someone who rushes.  I’m one of those “don’t give me that ‘positive reinforcement’ crap! Just tell me how to do it!” people.  Over the years, this philosophy had NOT served me well. (Big shock, I know!)  I’ve learned the hard way that rushing to my goal without watching where I am going or how to get there is a recipe for disaster.  Remember the last time you went to make cookies (or lasagna or whatever)?  You pull out the recipe and check to make sure you have all the ingredients and tools you need before you start; otherwise it’s mix the flour, the salt, the baking soda and then cream the butter, brown sugar, white sugar and the vanilla.  Ooops!! No vanilla! And the brown sugar is hard as a rock too!!  Let’s go to the store.  Now once we’ve mixed the wet and the dry ingredients, we need to add the chocolate chips.  Ooops!! Forgot we used those last week!! Back to the store!! Now we add the nuts…?? Do we have nuts??

Frankly, no one over twelve years old makes cookies that way, and usually we only have to go through that once before we learn to read the recipe first.  It’s common sense, but when it comes to getting to our goals, we have a tendency to throw common sense out the window.  After all, our goals aren’t Nestle Toll House Cookies!  We don’t need baking soda, flour and butter to get there!

But what we do need is equally important.  Just like we need flour as a basis for those cookies, we need the proper mindset to reach our goals.  Everything else depends on that mindset, just like making those cookies with everything BUT the flour would be a complete mess! No flour – no cookies; no mindset – no goals!

Mindset is what everything else is built on and what holds it all together as we progress to our goals.  How we think about ourselves is the biggest part of reaching our goals, and this is what I mean when I say mindset is overlooked.  On the simplest, most basic level, it is our confidence in ourselves: if I believe I can do this, I will do this!

I recently saw a Mysteries at the Museum episode that included Niagara Falls and Nik Wallenda.  As a member of the iconic Flying Wallendas family, already known for death-defying stunts, in 2012 he decided he was going to be the first person to walk a high wire across the widest part of Niagara Falls (the Horseshoe Falls).  At night, no less! Let’s think about this: I’m going to walk 1800 feet on a slippery two inch diameter cable across Niagara Falls (windy, wet and misty) in the dark where one missed step is Certain Death.  As he stepped out onto that wire with only a thin cable attached to a ‘safety harness,’ do you think he was telling himself, “I got a good chance at getting this right”? That’s a pretty stupid question, but how many times have we tried to reach our goals telling ourselves that very same phrase? (FYI: you can see his walk on Youtube!)

We undermine our confidence in little ways and by giving ourselves little escape hatches.  These are thoughts like ‘it’s okay to eat dessert when I’m out with friends,’ or ‘I always eat too much on the weekends.’ These are self-fulfilling prophecies: you thought it was going to happen, so you made it happen, whether you consciously thought about it or not! Giving yourself to permission to overeat  (even if it’s ‘healthy foods’) or eat when you’re not hungry is one way that we set ourselves up to fall short of our goals.  We don’t have to be super-strict or hyper-vigilant or drag ourselves to the gym even though we’ve got a hacking cough, but we need to keep our goals in focus by keeping our thoughts focused on reaching them.

Remember the last time you went for a job interview and you paid attention to the little details, like making sure your hair wasn’t shaggy and out of control; you didn’t have tuna-breath or spinach in your teeth; your suit was pressed; your shoes were shined; your briefcase/ purse didn’t look like it was going to explode, etc? It’s that kind of thinking: because you never know what an interviewer is going to notice and what might be a deal-breaker, you try to control for all possibilities.

For weight loss or fitness, it’s changing around your thinking from “I can eat dessert when I’m out with friends” to “I’ll only eat half my dessert” or even “I choose not to eat dessert.” It’s telling yourself “I’m going to stick to my eating plan this weekend” or “I’m being more mindful of my eating choices” or “I’m only eating when I am truly hungry.” It’s noticing the details that we normally gloss over when it comes to food and eating and making our workouts. When we look at ourselves in the mirror before we leave for the job interview, the details are what we are looking for.  When we go out the door to hit the mall or the grocery store, do we even look in the mirror beyond yeah, I’m dressed?

When something or someone is important to us, it shows in our lives. We do little things for our family or spouse/ partner because they really matter to us.  We put in our best efforts at our job because we take pride in our work. When we make the decision to think about our goals with the same kind of positive mindfulness that we take to something else like our jobs, our families or our finances, the investment shows in our progress.  We work for what we value, and when we tell ourselves that eating the whole sleeve of Oreos isn’t a big deal, we aren’t only not valuing our goal, we aren’t valuing ourselves! We wake up feeling cruddy because we ate badly the day before and we didn’t get enough sleep, even though eating better and getting more sleep are two of our goals. We put them on the back burner because the drive-thru was convenient and the cheesecake was available and then we stayed up past midnight because we were scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, and shopping online.  It’s spend now, pay later mentality.  I’m eating what I want and doing what I want now and I’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow, but soon enough tomorrow is today and we wake up feeling bloated, tired and achy: “I’ve gotta do something about this! I’m going to do better today!” but then the drive-thru is convenient and there’s donuts in the break room and Starz is showing Alien: Convenant at 11:00 p.m. ‘Doing something’ and ‘Being better’ starts with being mindful about tomorrow today: “if I eat these donuts and stay up to 2:30 a.m., how am I going to feel when the alarm goes off at 6?” An even better question is “what can I do today to make me feel awesome tomorrow?”

When we keep those thoughts in our head, they eventually become second nature: they become habit.  It can be a bit awkward at first but it gets easier with practice just like everything else. Earlier this year, California passed a shopping bag law: all grocery stores now charge for disposable bags and many stores posted signs on their front entrances reminding customers about their reusable bags. The first few weeks it was normal to hear someone get to the register: “I forgot my bags!” Now, months later, although the reminders are still on the doors, you see everyone crossing the parking lot with bags in hand.  It became a habit: got my keys, got my purse, got my bags!

When it comes to food choices and fitness, it’s as simple as thinking before eating or before skipping the workout: “am I skipping this for a legitimate reason (working late; really sick; unexpected occurrence) or am I blowing it off?”; “Am I eating this because I’m honestly hungry, or because I’m bored or I ‘really want it’?”; “Am I up late because I need to finish this project for tomorrow or because I just want to stay up?” (Really, that last one is one of my hardest. I like being up late and I hate getting up in early!)

It really is like an investment: when we value our goals by being more mindful, we start seeing the progress in our health and weight loss. Our actions follow our thoughts: when we are confident in ourselves, we are confident in our actions and when we know our actions deliver, our confidence continues to grow.  That’s where success starts: not in our actions but in our thoughts.

 

 

 

Perspective: Seeing the Elephant in the Room

One of the best things about being an eminently employable English major is that I come across a lot of different literature from many different cultures.  One of my favorites is “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”  It’s an Indian parable about perspectives found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, so all we really know about its origins is that it is ancient.  The story goes that six blind men learn that an elephant was brought to their village and having not experienced one before, they go to “see” the animal with their hands.  Each man touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with a different viewpoint than the others.  One feels the tusk and determines that an elephant is like a spear; another feels its tail and concludes it looks like a rope; another feels the ear and thinks it looks like a fan; another feels its leg and says it looks like a tree trunk; one feels its side and believes an elephant is like a wall; and the last touches its trunk and believes the elephant is like a snake.  From there, the story varies with the text but the point is that each is seeing only one part and one perspective of the elephant. In order to really determine what an elephant looks like, they need to see the whole creature or at least compare their findings, because each of them is correct about the part that they touched, but none of them is correct in what an elephant truly looks like.

Perspective is massively important when it comes to weight loss, health and fitness, and it’s where so many of us get in trouble.  It’s easy to lose weight if you don’t care about being healthy, and the same is true about fitness. Most of us think in terms of “losing weight” or “getting fit,” but neither of those are important if we don’t think in terms of Being Healthy (the whole elephant.)  When I was in college, I had a roommate who was also overweight.  We really commiserated over it because we both liked a lot of the same foods and we both tried being vegetarian and both of us ended up gaining weight.  I ran into her a few years after she moved out (both of us were in the pharmacy line, FYI) and I didn’t recognize her because she had lost so much weight.  Unfortunately, it was due to Type I diabetes.  Her pancreas had stopped functioning and now she was insulin dependent. She had to check her blood sugar several times a day and inject insulin before every meal to control her blood sugar. I remember her telling me she had always dreamed of losing weight, but this was not how she thought it would happen.  She was over a hundred pounds thinner than she had been when she lived with me but she certainly was not healthy.  Even worse, she was pregnant with her second child which put both her life and her baby’s at risk!

When we approach weight loss or fitness, we can’t just focus on the one aspect that we want to prioritize, otherwise we lose sight of the whole elephant. “Being thin” or “being muscular” is of no importance if you aren’t healthy also.  Some of you know that I lost an aunt in 2003 due to complications from anorexia.  She’d had a gastric bypass, which in my opinion she did not need as she barely weighed 200 lbs, but the end result was that she stopped eating, which is not an uncommon side effect of the bypass.  Ultimately, she ended up collapsing, catching an infection and dying. She was the same age as I am now, and while I’m not exactly young anymore, I have a lot to look forward to and so did she. But she had also always dreamed of being thin, and for months prior to her death, family members had been begging her to see a doctor, because it was so painfully obvious that she was not healthy or happy.  Unfortunately, no one could help her.

Some of us do the same thing with exercise: we lose sight of our overall health, which is what really matters.  We’ve all heard the stories of people who over-exercise, or eat and then work out super hard to burn off all the calories they ate.  Some of us try to “out exercise” a bad diet, but most nutritionists and doctors will tell you that 90% of weight loss comes through your food choices and the remaining 10% is your activity. Basically, you can exercise until your arms fall off but if you’re eating donuts and drinking Pepsi every morning for breakfast, you’re not going to be accomplishing much!

Most of us are in a hurry to reach our goals- I know I am! But over-training and starving ourselves isn’t the way to “get cut” and/ or “get thin.”  Drastically cutting calories and working out really really hard are stressors on the body, so our body goes into conservation mode if we stick with these practices for a long time.  We will probably lose some weight and maybe build some muscle at first, but the longer we stick with it, the more the body begins to conserve its fat stores.  This looks like it might be a famine or some kind of catastrophe: basically a lot of hard work and not a lot of calories coming in.  The body’s first priority is survival: nothing else matters if it (i.e. YOU) don’t survive another day, so it takes steps to make sure you last as long as possible.  This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up gaining weight eating 1000 calories a day: their bodies have slowed their metabolisms so much after a prolonged period of starvation and hard exercise (i.e. the tv show), that now any calories coming in over the subsistence level gets stored! The body is trying to protect itself against another catastrophe where it (the ‘winner’) drastically lost weight.

Obviously, that is not a healthy situation to be in.  I really want to lose a lot of weight and I’d really like to have more muscles, especially as I’m getting older.  I don’t want to be the helpless old lady (with the zillion cats!) but I also know that it’s going to take some time to lose weight and gain muscle in a healthy way.  That means growing long term healthy habits like eating for nutrition without starving myself and being more active without over-training or injuring myself.  Both of those mean that it’s going to take some time, since my body and metabolism are going to make slow healthy adaptations to my new lifestyle.  I need to keep my eye on the ultimate goal of Being Healthy rather than my chosen perspective of Being Thin.  As I’ve learned the hard way, being thin doesn’t count for much if you’re too sick to enjoy it.

Try It! You’ll Like It!

In my last post (“Getting Out of Our Own Way”), I made the comment that we will never succeed at anything if we don’t try.  Most of you who read my blog know that I am a hard-core TLC addict, mainly My 600 lb Life.  A lot of my family and friends don’t understand my addiction to the show and I usually quip that it’s my version of a 12 step meeting.  They think I’m joking but I’m not.  I came way too close for qualifying as a patient on that show, but more importantly, I keep learning things from it and it reinforces the positive changes that I’ve made in my life.

Sometimes, though, the patients are as irritating as all hell and one of the things that irritates me the most is when they whine and cry about how they “can’t,” as in they can’t walk, they can’t stand up, they can’t exercise, they can’t ‘insert basic human function here.’ (Yes. They cry.) They can manage to get to the kitchen for the ice cream, even though they are too big to fit in the front seat of an SUV.  They can’t eat healthy but they can sit on the sofa and make the meatloaf and mashed potatoes for someone else to finish on the stove.  They can’t bathe themselves but they can have someone set up the deep-fryer next to their bed so they can fry up some crab cakes for their po’boy.  I think it’s a matter of motivation and determination: if you want it bad enough, you will put in the effort! As Dr. Nowzaradan says in the intro to the show: “if you were serious, you’d make changes.”

There will always be a reason not to try something: fear of failure; fear of looking stupid; fear of not doing it right.  I mentioned some of these in my most recent post.  They are all legitimate fears.  As my mom rightly pointed out, no one likes to be laughed at or made fun of.  (I personally subscribe to the Dr. Seuss philosophy: “be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter won’t mind.” Not everyone is as thick-skinned and b*tchy as I am, however!) At the same time, if you let your fear dictate your boundaries in life, what are you left with?  Usually, not a lot!

For a long time after I started losing weight, I didn’t want to exercise.  I was afraid it would hurt; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it; I was afraid I would injure myself.  Eventually, I realized that I didn’t know if any of those were true because I didn’t try.  So I went down to the gym and used the treadmill, which did hurt my knees (thank you, arthritis!), and my doctor told me to use a pool instead.  So I switched gyms, and one day when I went to the pool, I discovered there was a water aerobics class going on and the instructor invited me to join in! And it didn’t hurt and it was fun and I’ve been going twice a week since.  In fact, taking the water aerobics class gave me the confidence to try a regular aerobics class.  (Building confidence is another benefit of trying new things.) I signed up for an aerobics class at the local junior college. FYI: both instructors are in their early 70’s, so no excuses about being old!

This class is little more challenging than the water aerobics and there are some days I come home from the class sore and exhausted.  There are a lot of exercises that I’m not good at and are frankly just too hard for me.  Correction: they are too hard for me right now, but I keep trying.  I keep showing up and I keep working at it and I am getting better. There are exercises that I couldn’t do when I started the class that are easy now by comparison, and at the last class, I did something I haven’t been able to do since I started the class nearly a year ago: I could balance on one leg.  That may not sound like much, until you try and fail. I try every time and until last night, I was never able to do it. Frankly, it is a little scary thinking you might fall and hurt yourself.  That’s how I shattered my wrist fifteen years ago (I had to get hardware installed- ugh!) There are some students in the class who move off the wrestling mats to balance, but I stay on the mats because if I should fall, I’d like some padding! The instructors are really good about telling us not do something if it causes pain and if we need to take a break or modify the exercise to do so; do what we can to the best of our abilities, and I think they are right to do so, but I also think they are right in encouraging us to keep trying.  I could have told myself that I can’t balance on one leg and I shouldn’t try because what if I fall and break another bone? I could have just said: can’t do it-don’t try! But I keep trying it every class.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back and say: “whoo hoo! look at me!” Because really, balancing on one leg is something most three year olds can do, and pretty much anyone else who’s not as out of shape as I am.  We do push-ups every class and I’ll probably never manage those on my toes- or my knees for that matter, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.  Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll surprise myself and manage to do those too!

The point is that so many of Dr. Now’s patients keep claiming they “can’t!” It hurts to walk; it hurts to stand up; it hurts to exercise- blah blah blah! Stop complaining about what you can’t do and do what you can! (Oops!… did I really just type that??) There are a lot of people who just learn to live with limitations because they have actual incurable physical handicaps, such as spinal cord injuries, MS or other conditions that limit what they can do.  When I listen to patients on the show talk about being ‘trapped in a bed or a room’ because of their weight, I get impatient with them. When they show up at Dr. Nowzaradan’s office, he usually asks them “what is your highest weight?” and they usually say “this is my highest weight.” It took me a while to figure out why he asks that question: he wants to know what improvements they have tried, and a lot of them haven’t tried anything.  It’s not that I am unsympathetic, but no one forces you to eat 10,000 calories a day.  To gain weight at 500 lbs, you have to eat about that much.  In actual food, that’s three sourdough jack burgers, three large fries, six regular Jack in the Box tacos, three McDonald’s hot cakes and sausage breakfasts, and three servings of Olive Garden lasagna.  Every day.  That’s approximately 10,065 calories, and if you weigh about 500 lbs, eating anything less than that means you lose weight. I also understand that for many people, the biological urge to eat is usually triggered by a psychological stressor.  I know that one all too well! Eating is a comforting distraction and the more stress you feel, the more you want to eat, and there is also the physical addiction to the fast starchy carbs aka bread and sugar.  I have struggled with all of those!

I also know if you don’t try, you won’t make progress! Weight loss is like any other new skill: it takes time and practice to learn it and get better at it.  That means you have to keep trying even when you screw it up. There aren’t “Calorie Gremlins” that appear while you’re sleeping and stuff cookies, burgers and milkshakes down your throat.  They don’t tie you to the bed or the chair and force you to stay immobile. The pain that comes with being super morbidly obese is mental, physical and spiritual, but even though this is where you are, the only thing keeping you there is you. I’m not accusing people of quitting or being lazy or even being afraid of failure. I’ve done all those things and I’ve been the one saying “it’s too hard” or “it hurts too much.” Those were the choices I made and I had to live with the consequences for most of my life.

I remember how much it hurt to walk when I weighed 438 lbs.  It hurt to walk, it hurt to stand, it hurt to sit for long periods. Laying flat on my back was a little scary: am I going to stop breathing if I fall asleep? I remember how embarrassing it was buying clothes and being afraid of ripping out the seams in the clothes I still had.  I hated how the hems of blouses and t-shirts would roll up my hips and butt because they didn’t stretch that far. I listen to these patients and I know their pain and embarrassment. I’ve also been the subject of snickers and rude comments from strangers and co-workers.

Changing is really really hard, even after you’ve had some practice at it.  It gets so frustrating, you want to give up and cry. But if you give up, if you don’t even try, you’ll never know what success you can achieve.  As sad as it is to fail, it’s sadder still to never try.

Weight Loss From the 438 lbs POV: Overwhelmed & Paralyzed

I vividly remember being here.  I’m miserable.  Everything hurts. I know I need to do something, but I don’t know what to do.  It’s an overwhelming and utterly hopeless feeling.  It’s that Deer in the Headlights paralysis: I know I need to move but I just can’t.

It’s easy to look back at this situation and think “just do something! anything!” But at the time, I was so busy being focused on the problem that I wasn’t looking at ways around the problem. This is where most of us start and after having been on this wild ride for a while, I think it’s the hardest part! It’s like looking at a pile of shattered glass and being told you need to reassemble the Baccarat vase it used to be! We’re looking at the mess we made of our own bodies and, while we know we need to fix it, we don’t know where or how to begin.

Newton’s First Law of Physics: A body at rest stays at rest and a body in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted on by an external force.  I lucked out: an external force acted upon me and literally pushed me down the road to weight loss.  I would love to say that I found my way out of the headlights and figured out how to get started on my own, but truthfully, I got a helpful push, even though it didn’t really feel ‘helpful’ at the time.  This push (quitting the Job From Hell) required that I make essentially one change to my eating habits: I stopped eating out as much (unemployed- so no money!)  I was still eating out, still eating processed junk food, but it was less.  That one change alone is how I lost the first 40 lbs.  After that, I was a body in motion and all I had to do was stay in motion.

It’s getting in motion that is the hard part! We are fighting not only the inertia and the bad habits that have become deeply ingrained in our daily routines but also the feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed.  I can give you a whole bunch of descriptive metaphors, but most of us have been in that spot and are already too familiar with how it feels.  We’re trying to forget that feeling!

My advice: do something! anything! even if it’s the WRONG thing, it gets you in motion, and once there, you are literally on a roll.  Once you are headed somewhere, it’s easier to change direction than it is to start up again from a stopped position.  Of course, bouncing from one strategy to another isn’t helpful either but once you find something that works for you, it’s still easier to stick with that one strategy than to start from scratch again.

However, before you deal with that possibility, you first have to get moving, and that’s way easier said than done!  It’s NOT impossible and I don’t want to scare the living daylights out of you by telling you how hard it is, but I think recognizing that it’s not easy either gives you a better perspective and a better starting position.  I was listening to a podcast the other day where the host and his guest were giggling over how sometimes people overlook the simple fixes in favor of the more complex ‘fashionable’ trend of the day: “you want to lose weight? Track your calories! Fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight!” While it’s hard to argue with his logic, there was a part of me that was really offended by his attitude.  Yes, I agree with tracking; it helps with a lot of things besides calorie counting.  I also agree that trying the simple fix first is a better position than going for ‘fashionably complex and trendy.’  What offended me was his attitude that being stuck means you’re being stupid about it.  Personally, I was also offended by his attitude that low carb dieting is one of those fashionably complex temporary fixes.

I tried for more years than I want to admit to lose weight counting calories and eating those healthy whole grains, and it got me nowhere.  I tried the ‘simple fix’ and it didn’t work, so now what?  Being stuck and being overwhelmed does not make you stupid or hopeless, though the world is pretty good at making sure you think you are (like these two gigglers!) It means that your problem- your weight and your body- are not like the run-of-the-mill dieters out there.

Looking back from the vantage point of being un-stuck, I can see where I made my biggest blunder, and it was focusing on the problem!  Realizing that is one of those Homer Simpson moments for me (D’oh!! **smack**) because problem-solving is actually one of my better skills, but not with weight loss apparently.  I was looking at my weight- the number on the scale- and I was so focused on “OMG, I am so huge I will never be a normal weight or healthy again!”  What I should have been focused on was “what is one change I can make to improve my nutrition?” Wrong focus: “I’ve tried Nutrisystem; I’ve tried counting calories and nothing works for me!” Better focus: “Those don’t work so what haven’t I tried?”

It’s the difference between staying in motion and staying at rest. It’s easy to stay at rest, not moving, fretting over my weight and how “nothing works!”  You get so worked up but you aren’t actually moving- it just feels like you are.  Actually doing something is much harder.  It requires effort; it requires hope.  You have to hope that this next thing will work and then you actually have to try it!   Yes, the effort to get moving is a lot greater because you have been standing still, but you are worth that effort! It takes work to get moving.  It takes work to look for new strategies, and there’s a lot of energy invested not only in looking and hoping but also the doing. As I said, I vividly remember being in that position, so much so that I remember what street I was driving down when I was trying to talk myself into just giving up and being fat and unhealthy the rest of my miserable life.

There are some things in life that we all know are a real pain in the butt and are a major hassle: things like changing jobs, moving, repainting and remodeling your home.  We have jokes about them, like how all our friends are out of town the week you have to move into the new apartment.  We expect that it’s a hassle so we kind of mentally and sometimes physically prepare ourselves for it.  We toughen up and go into it with a “get it done!” attitude and if we are tired and sore from lugging boxes and packing up stuff, we expect it and deal with it.  It’s the cost of moving to a new place!  We don’t think of losing weight like that, and I think that’s why we are overwhelmed and confused.

“Why is this so hard?”  That’s what I remember thinking over and over again. I felt so powerless to do anything about my weight. Trying to find something new, even the thought of just trying again felt so hard, and everything in my head kept telling me that ‘weight loss shouldn’t be hard!’  It was like the giggling podcast guest was in my head back then: “just count calories!” Yeah… doesn’t work, jerk! Sometimes it takes a bit more than just ‘the simple fix!’

Getting started is both hard and easy: getting yourself in motion is hard because you are fighting the inertia, the feelings of hopelessness and powerless, the realization that it’s going to be a long hard fight, but you only need to make one change.  That’s the easy part. Make one healthy improvement to your nutrition.  It doesn’t have to be something major or something complex or awe-inspiring: it just has to be something better than what you are doing now.  With me, it was simply eating out less.  Not even ‘no eating out’- just ‘less than what I was doing before.’  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) made a similar change with fast food when she started.  That one change for me and for her started us moving and once in motion, we stayed in motion.

When we take the right approach to the task at hand, I think we are better prepared for the obstacles that come up along the way.  Thinking something is going to be easy and then finding out it’s much harder than we anticipated can knock us on our butts, and once down, we are tempted to stay there.  When we realize that the job is going to be  a tough one, we are better prepared and we expect that problems will arise: we start looking for ways to head them off.  Losing weight is not the no-brainer some of the supposed professionals tell us it is, but neither is it an impossibility.  It’s a hard job, but it’s one we can all do if we prepare for it and do the work.  We may get knocked down a few times (I know I’ve kissed the canvas quite a lot!) but once down, we need to get back up.  Remember: a moving target is harder to hit!

 

 

Oops! Thanks A Lot, WordPress!! Starting from Scratch- Recalculating……

This is NOT the post I had intended to put up, but apparently, WordPress lied to me when I posted my blog on its regular date (Tuesday 6/20/2017).  I would be less unhappy if the post had not just disappeared into the ether, so I could post it again, but it’s apparently VANISHED so, we start again from scratch!  Ironically, that was the subject of the post for tomorrow: starting your fitness/ weight loss/ health journey from scratch, so other than losing a couple of days of work on my other post, it’s not a total loss.

Most of us have started this journey over and over again.  We want to lose weight/ be healthier/ be more fit and so we embark on some plan, usually set up by someone else and get to work.  Depending on how ambitious our plan is, we either go some distance before we start having problems, or if we or the plan are too ambitious, we can stumble out of the gate.  Either way, once we encounter problems and/ or it gets really hard, we want to “start over.”

This is why we end up in a vicious cycle of starting-stumbling-starting.  #1: whatever plan we start on, it needs to be OUR plan.  WE need to be the author/ designer of whatever plan WE decide to follow.  Too many of the weight loss and fitness plans we buy online, off tv or get in a book are made for the “general population.” Never met General Population, but apparently, he’s really popular with these health coaches!  One of the trainers whose podcast I listen to regularly even commented that when he started his own fitness journey, he bought a popular exercise dvd and it was really painful.  The day after starting the program, he woke up really sore and in pain.  A little soreness is not a bad thing- it means you gave your body a workout, but pain is NOT a good thing- it means you hurt yourself! Granted, this trainer was not a trainer when he bought this workout dvd, but then you shouldn’t have to be a certified trainer in order to improve your own health and fitness.

Most of us tend to overestimate our physical abilities when we begin a health plan, or we go the other way and we underestimate what we are capable of doing.  This is a case where I think underestimating is the best of the two.  Overestimating, especially when you are doing a work out, can really hurt you as the trainer above found out.  In his case, it was just a strain, but you can really hurt yourself if you try something “you think you can do.”  If we underestimate our abilities, we can always add more or increase our range, and any workout we do, even if it doesn’t stretch our capabilities, it is still a work out and it keeps our muscles and joints in practice.  For example, if you don’t normally walk a lot or run on a regular basis, trying to run a mile once a week may not be a good idea.  You might be able to do it, but if you can’t, you don’t want to injure yourself trying.  Begin by walking a mile and see how you feel.  If it was easy, then next time try running for part of it.  It’s easier to build up to running a mile a week than trying to run, hurting yourself and then having to recover.  Besides hurting yourself, thinking you’ve “failed to run a mile” is discouraging.  On the other hand, each time you build up to a new level- walking- running- running regularly and increasing your length or duration- leads not only increased capabilities, but also feelings of success: “I’m getting stronger and doing” more rather than “I failed.”

The same holds when you start a new eating/ weight loss plan: build up to your full potential. A lot of us are really enthusiastic when we start a new weight loss plan and we go full steam ahead: “I’m going to give up sugar!” “I’m going to eat five servings of veggies a day!” and then, by the time we’ve read the label on our sixth product that has sugar or it’s time for veggie number 4, we start “feeling the burn!” What the heck did we sign up for??

When I started with Paleo, I gave it a long hard look, and at the time, I thought I was going super-conservative when I opted to give up one grain product at a time.  It turns out that I was way more into bread than even I knew!  Potatoes and pasta weren’t problems but bread (any kind of bread!) was and is still a temptation.  But I made one change at a time. Some of them, like the pasta and potatoes, were pretty easy but others like rice and oatmeal took a little longer.  Bread got easier but there are still days when I really have remind myself that it’s not good for me.

And it’s not just about giving up foods: it’s about eating more of the healthy stuff like the veggies.  So it’s two changes that you are making when it comes to eating healthier: eat less processed food and eat more whole foods.  It takes some time to make the changes especially if you are going to make the changes last.

This goes for any activities you are adding in as well.  We may think that these changes are not really “big changes”- it’s not like you’re moving or changing jobs!  You may think these are little things, but have you ever noticed that when you trip over something and fall, it’s the inch high bit of concrete that you trip on and not the two foot stack of bricks? That’s because you notice the two feet of bricks but your eye misses the inch bit of concrete! We screw up on the little changes because “we forgot,” “it’s not a big deal,” “I can do that later.” This is why they take time to become fully incorporated into your routine- the more we do them, the more they become normal and then we do them out of habit. We also tend to overload ourselves because they are just little changes, but again, most of us can carry a couple of bricks easily, but carrying four or five or more?? That gets heavy! So when we make these little changes, we need to make one or two at a time until we make them part of our habit.  Going small and steady results in long lasting permanent changes while going big and fast usually leads to starting over.

#2: you don’t need to “start over” each time. That’s the other fallacy that traps us in the vicious cycle. This is a lifestyle change, not an afghan we are crocheting! If we screw the beginning of an afghan, yeah, undoing it so we can start over is a good idea, otherwise, every one is going to notice those few inches that look really goofed up.  But this is a lifestyle change and no one is going to see that you spent the first three weeks missing your scheduled workouts and eating more carbs or whatever than you planned on!  So you missed your workout- just schedule another one! So you forgot to order the burrito bowl and ate a burrito instead! Some people will use these screw ups as an out- an excuse to push off their healthy change until next week or tomorrow, as in “today is a bust, so I’ll start fresh tomorrow/ Monday/ next week.”  Why????  One of the things I really like about Dr. Nowzaradan (TLC My 600 lb Life) is that he’ll call the patients on it when they try to push off being active.  He comes in and asks them if they’ve walked today and when they say they’ll do it tomorrow or they’ll do it on Sunday, he always asks them “what’s going to change between now and then?” Most of the time, they don’t have an answer for him. We need to be our version of Dr. Now when we want to push off our planned changes: you ate the burrito at lunch- big deal! So make dinner a better choice! Even if today does end up being a bust and we’ve eaten more bad food than good or we missed our workout, salvage the rest of the day/ week! Even with the poor food and work out choices, keep moving forward to make the best you can out of the day or week!

It really is like you are on a journey, and when you take a wrong turn, you don’t drive all the way back home to start over! You pull over, pull out your phone and get new directions from where you are!  We’re all familiar with the Garmin joke: “recalculating…. recalculating…..” but it usually gets us where we need to go.  When we take a wrong turn on our fitness/ weight loss journey, we may need to do some recalculating.  It may be that our work out schedule needs some adjusting or that our eating plan isn’t the best for us and it needs to be recalculated, but we don’t have to start from scratch every time.  We just need to keep what works and dump the rest.  It’s a little harder figuring it out on your own. It takes more time to show progress but the truth is finding your own way usually means the progress is permanent and you eventually become your own expert on you.  This last time you start over will be the last time you start over!

 

Book Review: Wired To Eat by Robb Wolf

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was listening to Robb’s new book (thank you, Audible!)  Generally, I don’t like to ‘read’ books this way, but his book sounded a lot like an extended version of his podcast.  Even though it was not read by him, Robb’s personality definitely came through and I believe one of his best attributes is that he explains some really technical info in terms that everyone can understand.  Not only did I finish his audio book in record time, but while listening to it, my attention did not wander! (Minor miracle!)

I’m not going to go into chapter and verse here, but I will give you a quick overview. In 2011, Robb published his first book The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet and it was a resounding success.  Paleo was already being discussed by the weight loss/ fitness community and most people fell into one of two camps: either they thought it was another goofy fad diet or they were firm believers.  Most people today still fall into those two camps, but the Firm Believer camp is growing fairly steadily, mainly because more and more health professionals (including doctors and nutritionists) are finding that even if they don’t buy the complete ‘Paleo premise,’ the fact that the lifestyle emphasizes whole unprocessed foods, healthy movement and quality sleep is enough to merit a hearty endorsement.

In Wired to Eat: Turn Off Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite to Lose Weight and Discover the Foods That Work for You (really really long title, dude!), Robb is taking the Paleo diet and individualizing it for you.  He’s developing the idea of Personalized Nutrition by first laying a strong foundation of healthy eating, movement, sleep and community and then taking it one step further by helping you find what foods are better for you and which foods you should be avoiding.

One of the things I like best about Robb (and I think it’s a big factor in his success helping people eat healthier and be more active) is that he has no illusions about the weight loss/ fitness community and industry.  He tells you a few times in the first few chapters that this is basically a ‘diet book’ and the fact that we are reading it at all instead of “killing it with fire!” is a small miracle on its own.  Robb understands that most of his readers are going to be looking for a quick fix and that many won’t make lasting changes unless the program isn’t complicated and they see some positive results fairly quickly.

Robb begins with his 30 day Reset, which is essentially a Paleo diet plan.  He admits he chose Paleo because it’s a whole food diet, emphasizing what he calls the four pillars of good health: nutrition, sleep, movement and community.  By focusing on eating whole unprocessed foods, we give our bodies the best materials we can to repair and refuel itself.  By getting enough quality sleep (and those two adjectives are important!), we give our minds and bodies the time it needs to repair and refresh themselves.  By getting enough healthy movement, we keep our body in good working order, which is also good for the mind, and by maintaining positive healthy relationships, we also keep our bodies, minds and spirits healthy and vibrant.

Robb gives us a little background on our basic human wiring.  Humans evolved to move.  As a species we walked on an average more than five miles a day, pretty much consuming everything edible that crossed our path and we rose and slept with the sun in an extended family unit or tribe.  This paradigm served us pretty well until the last hundred years or so.  Even after the agricultural revolution, we were still doing okay until the invention of cheap electric light, industrial foods and antibiotics.  We began eating highly processed but nutritionally barren foods, using broad spectrum antibiotics which wiped out our healthy intestinal bacteria (which allowed us to eat the nutrient rich foods) and started sleeping less and less and becoming more and more cut off from society. As a result, over the last century, we’ve become steadily more unhealthy, increasingly obese and much less active, and- a much more frightening statistic- the rates of digestive and autoimmune diseases have skyrocketed.  Under the current functional medicine point of view, most of our rampant health issues stem from the lack of good nutrition, lack of activity, lack of sleep, and growing social isolation.

Most of Robb’s book focuses on getting us through the 30 Day Reset, in which we stop eating the Standard American Diet of processed foods and high glycemic load carbs.  We start moving more, getting more sleep and building or maintaining our social connections.  He essentially talks the reader through why these things are important to our success not only as a species but as an individual.  He also has some quick easy meal planning tips for those who are intimidated by the idea of cooking most of their own food as well as some tips for what happens when the reader goes out to eat.  A lot of them are pretty common sense to me, but I grew up in front of a stove, cooking for my family. When I got older, I elected not to cook (with amazingly disastrous results, BTW!) When I mention cooking to others, I am frankly shocked by how little most people know about cooking and how resistant they are to the idea.  Many of them think making dinner involves hours of meal prep and slaving away over the hot stove.  They also think meal planning takes hours of complex menu convolutions.  Robb gives a few ingredients and menu variations with those few basic ingredients that only take about 30 minutes to prepare.  Most of them sounded really good too!

He also goes through some healthy advice on movement, community and sleep. He outlines ideas on getting more quality sleep and its benefits.  Some of these sounded a little ‘out-there’ to me, but I’m pretty atypical in this arena.  What works best for me and some of my friends is a sleep/ relaxation app, a warm cozy blanket and my pets.  Robb emphasizes the benefits of sleep and how it not only restores our brains and bodies, but it also helps us recover from the stress of the day.  We are not a society that values relaxation and stress management any more than we value sleep and this shows in our lack of good health.  Even though we live in a high tech, food-rich society, we are generally more unhealthy than our grandparents because, although food is plentiful, it has fewer nutrients than the food our grandparents ate, and thanks to our modern lifestyle, we isolate ourselves in front of our devices for hours on end, without moving or sleeping.  None of this behavior is healthy.

As far as movement goes, his advice is pretty basic: choose an activity you enjoy and do it as much as possible.  If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.  As a coach and a gym owner, he gives some background on endurance and your mitochondria, but the bottom line is even if you choose the healthiest activity there is, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t matter.  I really like water aerobics and while it may not be the healthiest activity, it’s one that I do as often as I can because I like it and I like hanging with my friends in the class. That makes it a successful workout regimen for me.

Community is also something that is overlooked by our high tech high stress society.  In the past, we lived and worked in communities with strong social ties. Being isolated increases stress and depression, among other things, while shortening our lives.  Social isolation ranks with cigarette smoking when it comes to shortened life span. Humans are social creatures so maintaining and developing social ties are important to our stress relief, mental and physical health. Again, I am atypical in this regard, in that I am happily single and living with others actually increases my stress.  Let me clarify that: living with other humans increases my stress and irritation.  I have a strong social human network  with whom I interact nearly every day, but at the end of the day, I go home to my furry family.  Although I am the only human in my household, I certainly do not think of myself as ‘living alone.’

After laying a pretty solid foundation for healthy living in his 30 day Reset, Robb goes the extra step and tells us how to customize our eating plans through the 7 day Carb Test. By the time you’ve gone through the 30 day Reset, you’ll have noticed that most of the carbs in the menus are low carb, unprocessed and/ or fiber rich.  It is Paleo after all, so there’s not a lot of things like pasta, breads, rice, white potatoes, wheat, corn or other grains on there.  The 7 day Carb Test is where he explains how we can get some of those back in our diet.  The 30 day Reset is to help you establish a healthy baseline and healthy habits.  It gets you off the crazy carb roller coaster and other unhealthy habits and once you’ve done that (and probably lost a few pounds, are feeling more rested and focused), he shows you how to figure out what foods work better for you than others.  He suggests getting a glucose monitor to test your blood sugar.  What most people don’t realize about blood sugar is that cravings, hunger, headaches, low energy and weight gain, not to mention diabetes and other diseases are related to your blood sugar, which is pretty much dictated by what you eat.  If you want to ride the blood sugar roller coaster, start with bagels and juice for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, a grande mocha in the afternoon, pasta marinara for dinner and a scoop of ice cream for dessert.  Even if you add in some extra protein, that menu will have most of us going up and down with mood, energy and hunger all day, with the accompanying weight gain.  But not all carbs are bad for everyone, and that’s what Robb’s 7 day Carb Test helps you figure out.  He outlines a program to let you test yourself on some of the carbs you like and want to add back and then you can determine if you are too sensitive to them. Even if you aren’t really sensitive to them, some foods may just make you feel worse or better than others.

While the 7 day Carb Test isn’t complicated, there are a few caveats: if you have never tested your blood sugar, it means sticking your finger to draw a bit of blood.  Most glucose monitors will run you about $10-20 and you need to check to see if they include batteries and the lancing device and the actual lancets.  Some of them don’t and the lancing device and lancets will run about another $10 or so.  The device is reloadable: it’s the lancets that you need to change out each time and a box of those is fairly cheap.  Most lancing devices have a little dial at the tip: this controls how deeply the lancet sticks you to make you bleed.  Start with the most shallow number and do NOT lancet the tip/ pad of your finger! Too many nerve endings and it will hurt like an SOB! Stick the side of your finger tip and stick a different finger each time.  What is NOT cheap are the test strips.  Most reliable test strips will cost about a dollar a strip and they are usually sold in boxes of 50 or 100 (you may be able to get a box of 25 depending on the brand).  Should you opt to do the 7 day Carb Test, you MUST make sure that the test strips you get are compatible with your monitor.  Even if you get an off-brand that says it’s compatible with XYZ brand monitors, there is usually some discrepancy, like plus/ minus 10 points. Depending on how much you want to invest in your carb tolerance and your diet, the 7 day Carb Test may be worth it for you.  If you have pre-diabetes, D2, or another weight loss condition, your doctor might be able to give you a prescription for the monitor and the strips, etc but you will need to discuss it with him/ her and see if your insurance will cover it.  Personally, I’ve stuck my fingers too many times to be interested in doing it again.  I know what carbs I like and what works better for me, or at least is worth the ride on the roller coaster.

If you are interested in Robb’s book or anything else about Robb, his website is Robbwolf.com.  (The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble if you want to skip his site.)  At his website, you can find info on his other book (The Paleo Solution), his podcast and a host of other resources.  Robb’s a real pro and I’m not kidding when I say he is a fitness and nutrition guru. [Obligatory disclaimer: I have absolutely no affiliation with him.  I just think he’s a great resource for anyone interested in eating better and getting healthier.] I hope you enjoy his book as much as I do and feel free to let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Changing Directions: When Just Losing Weight isn’t Enough Anymore

If you ask almost anyone who is overweight what they want most in life, I can pretty much guarantee you that “being thin” would make their top ten wishes, if not their top five.  Having been overweight since I was about 12, I used to have dreams about being thin. I don’t have to tell you how unpleasant it is being ridiculed and criticized by strangers, doctors, family, fellow students (& a couple of teachers) for being overweight.  It’s a character flaw: I’m either lazy or a glutton.  You have no idea how much fun it is in Catholic School when the teacher is covering the 7 Deadly Sins, which include Gluttony and Sloth (Laziness).  It’s the equivalent of being told you are on the fast track to Hell, and the rest of the class (& this teacher in particular) makes sure you know it!

Needless to say, I’ve tried most of my life to lose weight and eventually, I pretty much gave up somewhere in my mid-thirties. It felt like I had tried literally everything and nothing was working, so I was just destined to be the fat one in the family.  I tried to console myself with stories about dieters actually eating less than most people but still gaining weight and that our metabolism is what determines our weight, not how much we eat. Those kinds of stories made me feel better for about 10 seconds before reality hit me in the face again: whether it was ‘my fault’ or not, it was still pretty miserable being fat.  I learned to live with it, but if you gave me three wishes, my first would be to be thin; my second would be good health for my family; and my third would be a toss-up between being super-rich or marrying the man of my dreams (hey, as long as I’m wishing…..!)

There’s a really old expression: “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  I really doubt most people know where it comes from or what it really means anymore, so I’m going to update it for the 21st century: “when someone gives you a free car, don’t look under the hood or check the mileage.”  This expression came to mind the other day as I was at the gym and I was thinking about what my goals are.  Two years ago, it was real simple: “I want to be thin.” Now, it’s more like: “I want to be fit.” Being thin is good, but being fit and strong is better.  Two years ago, losing nearly two hundred pounds was the same as winning the lottery:  “My number one wish came true! Whoo hoo!!” But now it’s feels like I want more than just being thin; I want to be strong and fit and athletic. It’s like I got that free car and now I’m lifting up the hood to check out the motor and the mileage.  It’s good, but it’s not good enough anymore.

While there’s the niggling feeling of looking a gift horse in the mouth, the fact is that this is a completely normal development.  Most of us change our goals the closer we get to accomplishing them. The horizon keeps advancing the closer we get to it, because if we didn’t keep pushing our goals, we would stagnate and stop growing as individuals and as a society.  The more we learn and grow, the more we want and the farther we want to go.  We see this most clearly in children: they start crawling around, then walking around and before you know it, they are running out the door.  They climb higher in trees, on the jungle gym, on anything they can find.  They keep pushing their limits and when we grow into adults, while we may change how we push our limits, most of us keep pushing.

Am I happy I have lost weight? No brainer, that one!  Do I feel guilty for wanting to be more than ‘just thinner’? No, I don’t.  Occasionally, I hear experts and coaches talking about keeping a strong connection to your Why, as in “why do you want to lose weight?”  For a lot of people, it’s things like wanting to see their kids/ grandkids grow up; wanting to look good for a wedding/ special event; or wanting to live longer and stave off disease.  For me, it’s wacky things like wanting to be able to tie my shoes without holding my breath or sucking in my gut; wanting to walk fast/ far/ long distances. It’s things like wanting to be active or do things without first stopping to think: do I fit in that seat/ chair/ space?  Can I do that without getting stuck and/ or hurting myself?  So, for me, wanting to be fit and strong and- dare I even hope?- athletic is the natural next step for my Why.  To paraphrase Muhammed Ali, it’s not the mountains ahead that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe. That pebble for me has always been things like tying my shoes, putting on socks, walking for any distance or length of time, sitting in chairs with arms: anything that causes embarrassment, discomfort or even pain- things that keep me from doing what I want to do! Pretty much no one I know thinks about how long they are going to have to stand and walk when they need to pick up a few things from the store, but for a long time, it was the first thing that came to my mind when I needed to go to Target or the mall: how far out am I going to have to park? is what I need close to the entrance? are the lines going to be really long? can I carry that thing out to and in from my car? I was starting to think like a disabled old woman and I wasn’t even 50!

One of the most exciting things for me happened just about a year ago: I went to the Queen Mary last Memorial Day weekend with my sister and a friend of ours. While there are elevators, most of the ship has stairs and it’s a bit narrow in spaces (it was built in 1936ish) and while we were there, we covered the ship on our own from stem to stern and top to bottom and took two tours, all of which included visiting the engine room three times! (Google the map of the ship and you’ll see what I mean!) All told, we covered about 12 miles of walking that weekend, and that included spending about 8 hours round trip in the car.  About three years earlier, I had gone to Disneyland with a couple of friends, and while it entailed a lot of walking, it was nothing like the Queen Mary, which was pretty much nothing but walking and standing (no rides, no carts, no ‘transportation’ options). I nearly died at Disneyland that trip: it hurt to cross the parking lot, to cross the park, to do any shopping.  I didn’t want to ruin the trip for my friends, so there was a lot of my sitting around and ‘guarding our shopping bags’ while they went off to enjoy a ride, a show or more shopping.  The Queen Mary trip was such a contrast since the friend we went with had recently hurt her knee and brought her crutches along.  Instead of my sitting around and watching our shopping bags, it was our friend.  I got to run down to get her something to drink or carry her crutches as she hopped down a staircase.  She had an actual injury getting in her way, but in my case, I was just too unhealthy to do normal things.

Losing a lot of the weight alone made a significant improvement on my health.  My back and my knees felt so much better, which made it a lot easier to move around.  My overall health was much improved even without working out or being more active.  But, as so often happens, one thing leads to another: since it was a lot easier to move around, it made me want to do more.  Since I could walk without pain, why not walk more?  Since I could be more active without getting short of breath or feeling like I was going to die, why not do more activities?  Like a kid, I found the more I could do, the more I wanted to push my boundaries.  I guess this is why people do crazy things like run marathons: they’re asking themselves “how much farther can I go?”

I have no intention of running a marathon, though at some point, I might try walking one.  I’d really like to try a ‘mudder’ (kind of like an obstacle course with a lot of mud, obviously), but probably not anytime soon.  Right now, I’m just enjoying my continued weight loss and pushing my boundaries.  I think it’s a positive sign of continuing to grow and discover new capabilities on my part.  People often call this a “weight loss journey” and it really is: I am going somewhere I have not been since I was a kid.  It also reminds me of the slogan “Life is a journey- enjoy the ride!” Not only am I enjoying it, I’m enjoying all the little stops along the way!

Starting Simply and Simply Starting

I’m not trying to be clever here, but these two ideas really do go together.  I see some of my fitness friends lamenting how they’ve gotten off track and they don’t know how to get back into a healthy routine and I see a lot of other comments from people who want to start either eating better, working out or just being healthier and they don’t know where to start.  They’re stuck at the starting line.  I suppose I could pretend to be wise and throw out the famous Lao Tzu quote: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” (comes up all the time on motivational apps!) but really it’s not my style.  My advice is usually “Pick one! Just do SOMETHING!”

Indecision makes me nuts. (It was seriously the most irritating thing about reading Hamlet- yay, dithering about in iambic pentameter!) When it comes to starting out on a healthier lifestyle, really all you need to do is choose ONE thing and start doing it. Ideally, you should start with tracking your food/ drink and activities, but even if you just start by limiting your soda, your processed foods, adding in more vegetables- any one of those is a start and you begin to build momentum.  You have begun to build a platform!

The sad truth is that too many people rely on old incorrect advice, like the ol’ Calories In- Calories Out model (CICO).  That’s great if you only plan to do it for a couple weeks so you can lose enough to get into the tux or dress for the reunion/ whatever event.  If you plan to lose weight permanently (usually more than a few pounds) and want to be healthier overall, CICO can be really problematic.  Some people listen to their doctors who usually give them a “diet plan” that’s based on CICO.  What most people don’t know (including me who heard about it from multiple sources while researching nutrition): med students are only required to have about 24 hours of education in nutrition.  (I seriously think I have more hours in Shakespeare studies!) That’s the equivalent of one semester of information! If you want to get your nutrition and weight loss information from a healthcare professional, which is really a great idea, then ask for a referral to a nutritionist or registered dietician within  your health plan.  These are the people who have studied what nutrients a human body needs and how the metabolism works!  This is the information that most people (including me) think they are getting from their doctor.

Another sad truths is that most people think in order to lose weight they need to do tons of exercise.  They go full bore on their exercise and activity and still eat the same way they have for years.  I see this idea a lot on billboards for local gyms saying things like “I work out because: I love deep dish pizza!” That’s great: I love deep dish pizza too, but working out like crazy so you can eat pizza, cinnamon rolls and all the cheese curls you can grab is not going to stop you from gaining weight, never mind losing weight!  Most health professionals will tell you that weight loss, specifically fat loss, is 90% nutrition and 10 % exercise.  This is why many of them tell you to change your diet first and then work on getting more activity.

I know from experience, including my own, that it feels easier to start exercising more because changing your diet seems way too complicated: “I don’t have time or want to read a book about nutrition/ diet plans/ whatever else someone suggested, so I’ll just walk on the treadmill or use the elliptical.” Exercise is a good thing, and even better once you get into a habit, but seriously, changing your diet can be just as easy. Like the title of this post says, start simply and simply start! It’s not rocket science, no matter what Dr. Famous Guy says in his Best Selling Diet Book.  It’s ONE change: make it and you’ve started! You are on your way!

Ideally, you start by tracking your food and activity every day for at least a week or two.  I DON’T mean counting calories, weighing your food or eating ‘diet food.’ Just write down what you ate or drank and when.  Before you eat, it’s also helpful to write down if you are hungry, really hungry, not hungry and if you’re tired, energetic, ‘okay’ or ‘stressed.’  It wouldn’t hurt either if you also track how much you sleep and the sleep quality.  Yeah, I know that sounds like a lot of stuff, but bare bones, start with the food and activity- you can add in the others later. I mention them because all those factors (sleep, stress, hunger & energy) can effect your weight loss, but you don’t need to know all of this information to start.  Information Overload is another trap we fall into when we plan to lose weight.  We do not need to know everything about weight loss to track.  There is a reason for tracking.  I know a lot of people think of it as a waste of time, but if you don’t have a record of what you started with and what changes you made, you won’t know what is responsible for your outcome. In other words, if you had bagels for breakfast three days in a row and felt like crap by 11:00 and then you switched to cottage cheese for breakfast one day and felt great all morning, are you sure you’re going to remember? “I felt great on Thursday but what was different? Was that the day the canteen was out of bagels, so I had cottage cheese instead?” This is why we write things down: we don’t always make the connection between the 3:00 slump and the Chinese food for lunch or the morning-after blahs and the high carb dinner the night before.

Even if you opt not to track, healthy eating habits don’t have to be complicated.  I know a lot of people who say they hate to cook after I tell them I eat mostly whole foods.  They make a face: “I don’t like to cook/ I don’t have time to cook.” Seriously, I am the laziest person I know.  I spent most of my childhood cooking for my family and cooking is the last thing I want to do after driving two hours to get home.  I want to park in my recliner, play with my pup and do nothing for a while! Eating whole foods doesn’t have to be complicated: I eat a lot of fresh salads: I throw a bunch of veggies in a bowl and pour some olive oil & balsamic vinegar! I eat rotisserie chicken from the deli! I throw some grassfed meat in a frying pan to cook while I eat the veggies! Maybe it’s not gourmet, but it’s not complicated either, and it’s what I like.  I can also tell you that I feel a whole lot better after eating it than I do after eating fast food or something processed.  I also don’t cook every night.  There are a lot of nights when I cook enough for two or three meals and put the leftovers in the fridge.  Then I’m reheating it in the microwave while I’m eating my veggies.  There are a lot of healthy cookbooks that have 30 minute meals. After years of eating fast food, I can tell you stopping at the drive thru takes about the same amount of time as throwing something on the stove, and it’s got the bonus option of being at home doing other things instead of sitting in the car breathing all the carbon monoxide from all the cars lined up at the window. It’s a little cheaper too.  If you pay $7 for the rotisserie chicken (at least 4 meals) and $5 for the box of mixed salad greens (at least another 4 meals), that’s $12 for 4 meals or $3 a meal. Technically, it’s a bit more if you add things like salad dressing and maybe some tomatoes, but usually the bottles of olive oil & balsamic vinegar last a month or more and the box of tomatoes (also $5) lasts all week, so it comes out about $1 serving. It’s healthier than the fast food which usually costs more, takes about the same time and makes you feel like sludge afterwards.

But you don’t have to start with “eating whole foods” right off the bat either! One change: eat one meal at home once a week; eat at home on weekends; switch one processed food for one whole food; when you run out of pasta/ rice/ mashed potato mix, buy fresh or frozen veggies instead.  We’ve all seen the “extreme” shows where the fitness guru cleans out the trainee’s kitchen and chucks all the “bad food” in the trash and fills everything with whole grain, grass fed and blah blah healthy stuff.  It’s scary! AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT!! One of my fitness friends made the same lament to me, and I told her “when you run out of oatmeal, buy eggs instead!” She was trying to go low carb for breakfast, but the idea is still the same. It’s what I did: when I ran out of mac & cheese, I bought broccoli in its place.

By making one healthy change you start moving, and the more you move forward, the easier it is to build momentum and keep moving forward!  You don’t have to learn everything about nutrition before you start: I think of it as on the job training! I am already moving forward and I am learning as I go. If I had waited until I had a clear cut plan, I might not have ever started, because frankly, it’s intimidating! Once you start looking closely at nutrition, metabolism and fitness, you realize what you don’t know!  Let me rephrase: I realized what I didn’t know, and it was daunting! But because I was already moving forward and making progress, the momentum I had built up kept me moving forward! One change: I stopped eating fast food.  From there, I moved to replacing the mac & cheese with veggies, and then to having low carb breakfasts, and then to eating organic meat, and another change and another change.  The more I learned, the more I refined my way of eating but I was already making progress on my weight loss and overall health. I was already seeing the results and the changes were becoming part of my regular habits, so on top of eating healthier, I was losing weight, being healthier, being more active and I wasn’t miserable! I didn’t hate my diet and fitness, and I wasn’t counting the days until I could go back to eating the way I used to eat.  When I do eat something like fast food or processed food, it doesn’t taste as good as what I usually eat, so no temptation there!

Eating healthier, losing weight, being more fit: whatever your goal is doesn’t have to be complicated or a big hassle.  It starts simply with one change, and if you don’t know where to start, just pick one thing to change, and there you go! You’ve started!  Find one thing you can change easily and make the change.  Bonus info: if you don’t like that change, find another one to make! It’s not carved in stone or tattooed on your forehead! To paraphrase wise old Lao Tzu, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but you’ve got to take that single step!

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I Can Lose Weight, You Can Do It Too!

This post is about blatant motivation and encouragement.  I’m not going to sugarcoat anything, because for most of us, losing weight is probably about the hardest thing we’ve ever tried to do. But this post isn’t about how hard it is or how to suffer through the tough times. This post is about success and being healthy and making it easy, because, yes, losing weight can be easy if you choose to make it that way! I don’t mean to tell you that it’s your fault you haven’t lost weight before now, or that you’ve been doing it wrong all these years, but I will tell you that we have all been taught the wrong way to lose weight and that has been our problem! We have all been correctly following the instructions we’ve been given, but the instructions are wrong.  If someone gives us directions to Boise and we follow them to the letter, that’s great, but not if we are trying to get to Boston! This is pretty much what has happened to most of us: we were aiming for permanent weight loss and what we got was only temporary at best!

I seriously never believed I could lose weight for good.  I never believed I could lose a significant amount of weight and if you had told me even two years ago that I would have lost as much weight as I have without surgery, I would have flat out called you a lying insert really offensive expletive here.  But, I have lost weight; I have not put weight back on; I am not miserable; and I am still losing weight.  It’s not a magic trick; I’m not taking any kind of pills or special powders; and I have a lot more energy than I have had in a long time.  FYI: I am over the half century mark and approaching menopause (I’m not there yet, but I can see it from here!) I only mention this because a lot of older adults just don’t even try because they think it can’t be done! I know when I hit forty, I thought I was just destined to be super morbidly obese for the rest of my life! That really is the BMI classification for my condition: super morbid obesity. I had a Body Mass Index of 75 (438 lbs).  Anything over 50 is “super obese.” For reference, the ideal BMI is between 19-25; overweight is 25-30; obese is over 30; severely obese is over 35; and morbidly obese is over 40.  I am still morbidly obese at 44, but it’s way better than 75!

So what did I do to lose weight? I just made some simple permanent changes to my eating habits. I know: it’s kind of a let-down.  Duhhhh!!! Isn’t that what dieting is about?! You aren’t wrong, but the two important adjectives in that sentence are “simple” and “permanent.” I didn’t start doing a whole new routine and I didn’t start doing anything complicated.  I simply stopped eating fast food on a regular basis. Truly, that is how I started losing weight.  Because my work schedule changed dramatically (which had nothing to do with my wanting to lose weight, FYI), I stopped eating fast food and started eating at home more, and I lost about 40 lbs without really even realizing it. That’s how big I was- I knew I had lost weight but I didn’t realize it was that much!  Frankly, I was amazed that such a simple change had made such a huge difference, so I decided to make another healthy change, and then another and it just kept going from there.

Eventually, I did a little research.  Since I had the time, I started looking into some of the various nutritional plans and healthier eating habits.  I decided on Paleo mainly because it’s pretty simple and simple works for me.  I know people who think Paleo is not for them because “it’s just a lot of meat!”  It isn’t a lot of meat- it’s a lot of vegetables, and while it doesn’t “cut out carbs” or “cut out bread,” it does minimize simple carbs considerably.  It’s mostly about eating whole foods, which works for me in so many ways.

The difference between the changes I made this time and changes I’d made on other diets before is that I made these changes permanent and they were simple changes to make.  I also didn’t make a dozen changes all at once. Since I wasn’t eating out as much, when I went grocery shopping, I just switched the pasta I usually bought for something like broccoli, salad or squash. As I used up the boxes of processed foods in my house, I just replaced them with whole food items: eggs instead of bagels; broccoli instead of rice mix; sausage instead of cereal; and some items I didn’t need to change because they were already healthy options.  Rotisserie chicken is one of them. I had pretty much always eaten a lot of rotisserie chicken; the problems came from what I ate with it, which was usually a lot of pasta and bread.  Would it be better if it were organically grown chicken? No doubt, but is conventional chicken better than processed meat products? Again, no doubt. This is a key concept with simple permanent changes: make the best choice you can in the situation presented to you.  I do get organic when I can find it and afford it, but if I can’t then I make the best selection I can.  ‘Conventional’ whole foods are still better for you than processed foods.  It’s like that old joke: two hikers are out in the woods when they run into a grizzly bear.  The first hiker drops his pack and starts to run and his friend says “are you nuts?! you can’t outrun a grizzly!” and the first hiker says “nope, I just have to run faster than you!”  You don’t have eat “certified organic whole foods”- you just have to eat more whole foods than processed.  You don’t have to throw out all the boxes and packages in your kitchen at once- you can do it over time. When you run out of boxes of mac & cheese, get zucchini instead! And yes, you can do frozen vegetables! (Canned are up to you but personally, I have never been a fan of canned.)

This is the other big concept: since I was making these changes permanent, I chose what I wanted to change on my own schedule.  I wasn’t doing a planned scheduled diet where in Phase 1, I do X and after two weeks, it’s Phase 2 and I start doing Y and on and on.  There was nothing to ‘phase in or out’ unless I wanted to phase it in or out, and if I changed my mind, big deal! I don’t have to ‘start over!’  My diet, my timeline, my choices! One of the things I used to eat a lot of was bread and when I decided I was going to eat less of it, yes, it was a little tough since one of the few restaurants I went to on a more regular basis has some really great bread.  I chose not to eat it and smelling it, watching my family eat it and not having any was a little tough at first, but after a while, I realized a few things: 1) cravings go away when you stop giving in to them; 2) I was proud of myself for not eating the bread; 3) if I did eat the bread, it wasn’t the end of the world; and 4) when I did eat it, it was a bit of a let-down and just not worth all the drama.  That’s pretty much how it went with most of the foods I decided to pass up: more drama than anything else.  Are there some foods that are still great and fabulous even after not eating them for a long time? Oh, hell yes! (Peanut butter cups are still king!) But when I do decide to eat them, they are as yummy as they ever were, but I can eat one and not eat the whole bag.  I enjoy them but I don’t crave them anymore and if anyone had ever told me that I would be able to keep an open bag of anything chocolate in my cabinet and not fixate on it like my dog fixates on his toy, I’d have called you the same really offensive name as above! It’s taken a couple of years to get to this point, but while it was a longer transition than a lot of diet programs promise, it didn’t cost me any more than regular groceries and I don’t have to worry about “when the diet ends” or giving in to cravings. I don’t have to worry about going back to ‘bad old habits’ because those old habits don’t appeal to me anymore! The last time I had a Jack in the Box burger (and I had been on a first name basis with the drive thru guy!), I didn’t feel guilty about it, but it didn’t taste really great either. It’s the same thing as when I blow off a workout: I don’t feel guilty about it, but I also don’t feel as good as I do when I don’t blow it off. The incentive to go back to the old bad habits isn’t there. but there is an incentive to keep the healthy new habits: eating better makes me feel better and keeping my workouts makes me feel good.

I know it’s not rocket science, but it really does work.  By making simple permanent choices on my own schedule, I have lost 182 lbs since October 2014. I am pretty much the laziest, most unmotivated person I’ve ever met.Honestly for the first year, I didn’t even exercise. But I was consistent with my changes. In addition to being lazy, I like to keep to a routine (less work to do! I made the laziness work for me!) so my routine became my habit. I chose what I liked and that alone is incentive to keep going back to it.  I just kept making one better choice than the last choice I made and over time, I lost weight, developed healthier habits and then decided I felt like being active. I don’t have to outrun the diet industry or Jack in the Box; I just have to run faster than the last bad choice I made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caveat Emptor: Being a Savvy Fitness Shopper

Information is a double edged sword: it’s always good to learn new things, even if it’s just new information on an old topic, but sometimes that new info or idea is distracting.  When it suddenly becomes “The Thing that Everyone is Doing,” there’s always an urge to jump on the bandwagon.  Sometimes, doing your own thing makes you feel like you’re missing out or you’re off in a corner by yourself.  We want to be with the crowd (we’re social creatures after all) and suddenly being alone doesn’t feel good. It also makes it hard when you’re looking for support and motivation: “Everyone else on MFP is doing keto/ IF/ LCHF but me.” It’s hard not to feel like we’ve missed something, but at the same time, if what we are doing is working for us, then we tell ourselves why mess with a good thing?

This is why we have to be informed consumers: jumping from one weight loss program to the next is a formula for failure.  We will accomplish nothing beyond frustration and wasted money and possible metabolic damage, none of which are good things.  It’s great to keep an open mind and learn new things, because eventually, most of us reach a point where what we are doing stops working for us or we are ready to make a change for whatever reason.  But if we try keto one month and then move on to IF the next month and then maybe try Paleo the month after that, we are not being consistent long enough to earn any success at any of them.  As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likes to remind us, consistency is what earns us our easy as well as our success.  How can you make something a habit, and therefore easier on us, if we aren’t consistent enough to make it a habit? How do we know if we’ve achieved any kind of success at any of these programs, if after four weeks of keto and two weeks of IF, you realize you’ve lost 6 pounds.  Great! Was that because of the keto or the IF?  Well…… the IF was what I was doing last, so I guess it’s the IF? Yeah, that’s why there’s a question mark.  Are you sure it was the IF or maybe it was keto or maybe it was because you started CrossFit three weeks ago or you dabbled a little in Whole30 when you switched to the IF.  Maybe it was all of those or one of those or who knows?

If you are feeling a little confused with all of the jargon, it’s on purpose.  Weight loss, nutrition and fitness are huge businesses and jargon is one of the ways people make you feel like you are missing out and you need to join their program! It makes them sound like they really REALLY know what they are doing and so you should listen to them! Just because people can throw around a lot of techno-terms and stats doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about or that what they are selling is good for you. (There’s a commercial out right now for a financial service company that has customers speaking with  DJ who is pretending to be a financial advisor and he fools them by using all the right jargon.)  I am not selling anyone anything, but I have been on the receiving end of a whole lot of sales pitches.  One of the expressions I use a lot with people is this: Why listen to your friends and family who are trying to sell you something when you can listen to the sales clerk who only has your best interests at heart?  (yeah, it’s backwards and that’s also on purpose!) This is what we do when we are presented with a sales pitch and our friends/ family offer their free advice.  We are sooo tempted to go with the flashy sales pitch- “I can buy these little colored boxes to put my food in so I can eat right!” The important verb in that sentence is BUY. Someone is trying to separate you from your money, but it sounds a whole lot flashier than your sister’s idea of maybe using a food scale and regular old plastic sandwich bags. Why spend $20 on a plain old boring food scale when you can make three easy payments of $19.99 (+ S&H) and get those cute colored boxes, a diet book and an exercise DVD? If you are really going to use them and stick with their program for a few months at least, then I would say go for it.  BUT (and we knew it was coming!) most of us won’t do that.  We’ll try it until it’s not fun and new or we don’t think it’s “working” fast enough, or we see something else that we think we might like better!

The simple truth is that we need to be patient with whatever approach we try and we need to be realistic about those approaches we do try. This is where my mom and I parted ways: she was always pushing me to try new approaches/ diets/ magic powders/ exercise gizmos that were the newest latest thing, which 1) may not be the best choice for me; and 2) may not be a good thing- PERIOD!  There are a lot of programs and ideas out there that can be harmful and we assume that if we see an advertisement for something, it must be safe, since “they can’t sell it if it’s harmful, right?” Ummm, …….maybe.  It’s not up to the manufacturer to make sure things are safe for everyone, and even if it’s not dangerous, they may just be selling unrealistic expectations. How many times have you seen the commercials for some weight loss program and they show you those ‘amazing’ before and after pics? We all know down in the corners it says “results not typical,” but it’s a lot like selling lottery tickets: you probably won’t win, but the chance is always there, and as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play! So you buy the program and play their game.  In most cases, as long as you follow their program, most people will lose weight. The problem comes when you stop following the program.  Many of them promise to help you transition from their food products to regular food, but most of us tend to go back to our old habits and gain the weight back again.

This is why we need to approach weight loss, fitness and healthy living the same way we approach other “products.” Most of the time when we are out shopping, we know when we buy on impulse, and most of us are pretty good at stopping ourselves from buying something like the great big shiny gas grill that can hold 17 steaks and has a burner to heat up the chili. Whatever “grill” or shiny new toy we are looking at, if it’s a substantial expenditure, we ask ourselves “how many times will I really use this?” It’s the same thing when the car salesman tries to up-sell us on those wonderful heated seats for an extra $1000- really?! $1000 to heat up your bum while the car is getting warm? Is your bum really that sensitive?? If you can afford it, then go for it, but for me- I’m happy if my windshield de-fogs in 15 minutes; as for my bum, I’ve got a lot of insulation!

Weight loss, fitness and healthy living should not be impulse buys or lottery tickets.  We really should approach them like we are buying a car or new smart phone, because like our cars and phones, we will be living with them every day, and if they are a hassle, we won’t use them.  This is why we have jokes about treadmills being the world’s most expensive coat racks and used sports equipment stores are in business. We buy them on impulse, in a fit of good intentions, and they sit there taking up space and getting dusty.  The same goes with gym memberships: we sign up, agree to auto-pay and then when someone asks you what gym you belong to, you have to pull out your keychain to check the name on the tag:  “oh, yeah! That one! I think it’s East Avenue….” I am just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to the fitness impulse buy, although I tend to be a little cheaper about it (used equipment and discount gyms).

On the other hand, I think it’s a good idea to keep an open mind about new techniques, especially if what you are doing now isn’t working for you or you don’t like it as much as you thought you would. Most of us have traded in a few cars and upgraded our phones, but when we did it, we checked out what we were getting and compared it to what we were giving up before we did it.  If you’re looking for a new weight loss/ fitness plan, make sure that you’ve stuck with the one you’re on long enough to know that it either isn’t working for you or you don’t like it before moving on to something else. Listen to those who have done it before: some plans like a ketogenic diet (keto) or intermittent fasting (IF) require some adjustment time. If the plan you’re on now wasn’t a carefully considered choice, then make sure the next plan you choose is something you decide on like a new phone or a new car: how many of us got that really big smart phone because it was cool and new and then we realized what a hassle it was because it was so big and awkward to hold? We traded it in ASAP because it was unwieldy and we had to use it every single day.  When we approach a prospective weight loss/ fitness plan, we need to ask ourselves the same kind of questions: how much of a hassle will it be for me to get to this gym two or three times (or more) a week?  If I decide on Paleo, how difficult is it going to be to stop eating things like bread, cereal and pasta on a regular basis?  If I decide on whole foods, how much trouble is it going to be for me to prepare 90% of my food myself?

Most things worth doing are worth making an adjustment in our daily lives, like exercising regularly, being more active and eating healthier.  We know this and in that way, it’s different than buying a car or a phone: yeah, there’s a little bit of change, but not really.  Cars and phones are all pretty similar, but eating healthier and changing how we move and how often? They can be HUGE adjustments, which is why we need to take the time to give them and us a fair chance. I think this is why most of us buy on impulse: we know it’s a big change and we think we can handle it and then we realize we can’t or don’t want to make that big a change and there we are using the treadmill as drying rack.

This is where we need to be realistic: too much of a change is too much work and it’s often overwhelming. Maybe you really do want to try keto or IF, but if most of your meals come in a box or from the drive thru window, maybe you should try something a little simpler first.  This question is not unlike the massive car payment for that brand new SUV with the heated seats: yeah, if you stretch your budget you can make it work, but do you really want to stretch it that much?  Then there’s the used SUV without the heated seats but it gets good mileage and it’s in good shape and the payment is a lot better. It’s better than the car you’ve got now and you can easily afford that payment: for most of us, it’s a no-brainer and we go with the used car.  We need to have the same approach when we look at things like clean eating, a gym membership or any other lifestyle change: is it a good fit for us?

Personally, I was a total carboholic before I started Paleo.  Most of my diet was bread, pasta potatoes and fast food. Seriously, about 80-90% of every meal I ate was a processed carbohydrate like bagels, bread, wraps, toast, pasta or some kind of cereal bar. I bought boxes of mac and cheese by the case. When I decided that Paleo was what I wanted to do, I seriously asked myself if this was going to work for and after a few days, I decided to start by giving up the potatoes, and then I moved forward slowly.  It took the better part of a year before I had given up all the things on the “not Paleo friendly” list and now, more than two years along, I don’t miss them.  Garlic bread can be really yummy, but it’s not the temptation it used to be. Paleo is something I can live with and really enjoy.  It wasn’t an easy change but it was definitely worth the changes I made. It’s not for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be.  It just has to be what’s right for me.  Now, keto on the other hand……