The Pain Scale: Weight Loss, Discomfort & Pain

One of the expressions I really really hate hearing is “no pain, no gain,” as if in order to make any kind of progress, you have to hurt yourself! That seems a little counter-productive: “let me blow out my back lifting 150 lbs so I can have really great biceps!” I know that no one really thinks like that, but it does happen.  We’ve been told by countless trainers and fitness programs that we need to “push past our comfort zone” to make progress! Pushing past the Comfort Zone, yes; pushing into the Pain Zone, no!

Anyone familiar with the medical profession or even just medical shows is likely familiar with the Pain Scale: “on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt and one being no pain, where is your pain at on the scale?” If you’ve had surgery or broken a bone, you are no doubt familiar with the scale numbers up past five, and if you’ve sprained a muscle or a joint, you are probably familiar with the numbers on the lower half too, but what isn’t on that scale is Discomfort. I really believe that we need to add that to the scale (maybe as – 1 or -2?) to keep people from confusing Pain with Discomfort.

Pain is usually sharp or stabbing or a deep ache because it’s our body’s way of telling us we have an injury! If you are out running or you are lifting weights and you feel a sharp pain in your arm, leg or shoulder and it hurts to use it, that is pain! If something starts swelling, like your wrist or ankle, or if it stiffens up, you have obviously injured yourself.  A tearing sensation is another indication that there is something wrong and that what you are feeling is really pain.

I can hear you thinking it: duhhhh! no-brainer! But before you click off the page, let me give you this scenario: you are working out with dumb bells and you do a lot of reps with a lot of weight and the next day, your shoulders and arms hurt a lot. Is that pain or is that discomfort? Obviously, your upper body is probably going to be a little stiff and really sore from the workout, but did you injure yourself? The only way to answer that question is how much pain you are in and how long it takes you to get over it.  Achy muscles aren’t really pain (injury): they are discomfort.  When you’ve been walking a lot and your legs and feet are tired or you have burning in your muscles from exertion, or even if you are a little short of breath and your heart is pumping, you are feeling Discomfort, not actual Pain. Granted, it probably hurts to walk and you will probably be a little stiff the next day, but compare that with an injury. Say you fell and sprained your ankle while on that walk: your ankle would likely swell and you would not be able to put much weight on it, if any at all. If you’ve ever twisted an ankle or sprained any joint, you know that’s much higher on the Pain Scale than sore feet and legs!

If something you are doing causes pain, that’s a clear indication that you need to stop what you are doing, but many of us are in the opposite end of the equation: we are so afraid of Pain that as soon as we feel Discomfort, we stop.  While you don’t need to work out to the point of causing Pain, Discomfort is neither Pain nor Injury.

I admit I have hard time with the Pain Scale, mainly because it is highly individualized.  I was recently at my doctor’s office for a routine check up and we went through the Pain Scale as it relates to the arthritis in my knees and back.  I was asked to “rate my pain”: average day; bad days; better days; blah blah blah.  My problem is that I have a high tolerance for pain: when something ‘hurts,’ I ask myself the question I’ve put to you here. “Is this Pain or is this Discomfort?” Most of the time, it is just Discomfort, as in sitting causes an ache in my back or walking a lot causes an ache or stiffness in my knees.  Does it hurt enough to keep me from walking or sitting? When it does, it’s actually graduated to Pain.  That is how I differentiate between the two: when it keeps me awake at night, again it’s grown from Discomfort to Pain.

It’s up to you to determine your threshold between Pain and Discomfort.  You are the one who lives in your body and if your workout instructor wants you to do more than you feel comfortable with doing, then tell her! Even if it’s just more Discomfort than you want to live with, you are allowed to say no. One of the exercises my trainer likes to do really aggravates an old shoulder injury of mine, so I modify it to keep my shoulder from hurting the next day. I am reasonably sure it’s not an actual injury, but it bothers me enough that I don’t like dealing with it.  Does that mean I am slacking off on my workout? Not at all since I am the one who has to deal with a shoulder that hurts when I raise my arm over my head or reach for anything.  Is it Pain or just Discomfort? While I don’t usually take anything when it happens, I’d call it Discomfort, but at the same time feeling the twinge each time I raise my arm or reach, it is still uncomfortable!

This brings us to the other issue when it comes to Pain and Discomfort: how we medicate ourselves.  Many of us are told repeatedly that if it hurts, take a pill! “There’s no reason to be in Pain!” That is correct.  Pain is debilitating and depressing and chronic pain drains victims of concentration, energy and happiness. There is no reason to suffer with it if you can alleviate it.  But again, Discomfort is not Pain, and while you are the judge of what counts as Pain or Discomfort in your body, we should not be afraid of feeling a little Discomfort, especially if our fear of ‘hurting’ is getting in the way our being active. Sore muscles and a little stiffness should not be anything to be afraid of and if it’s too much Discomfort for you, it is a temporary condition! There is a reason trainers shout No Pain, No Gain at their clients: the more you use those muscles, the more you have to work to make them sore. In short, if you keep moving those muscles and joints, they will get stronger and eventually, they will hurt less, so while it’s not exactly “No Pain, No Gain,” it’s close enough to make the point.

 

 

Feeling the Burn?: Fitness Isn’t About Weight Loss

One of the myths about weight loss is that we have to exercise if we are going to lose weight.  Exercise and being active are great things and they can really improve our quality of life, but when it comes to losing weight, exercise is only about 10% of the equation.  The truth is that our diet and nutrition make up the other 90%.

We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet,” and it’s the truth.  When you think about that burger and fries you had on the weekend, it’s likely over 1100 calories.  How many sit-ups, crunches and miles on the treadmill will it take to burn off 1100 calories? Depending on your weight and muscle mass, you could spend all day in the gym working to get off those calories, let alone burning anything else you ate that day!

What really drives weight loss is a consistent healthy diet. What foods go into that diet is up to you.  There are always people who promote one style of eating over another but the real test is you and your body.  If you can lose weight and feel healthy on a vegan diet, then go for it! Personally, I can’t do the “vegan thing” but I do manage vegetarian on occasion. I am a fan of Paleo, which contains a whole lot of veggies contrary to those people who think it’s all about meat, but whatever works for you is the only thing that counts.

The first thing about weight loss and diet everyone thinks of is calories of course.  We need to eat fewer calories than our bodies burn so that it can burn the stored calories aka ‘fat.’ Too many people take this Calories In v Calories Out (CICO) thinking to the extreme and do a starvation diet and heavy exercise to lose as much weight as fast as they can.  This is the kind of thinking that got The Biggest Loser ‘winners’ into trouble.  Our bodies have a one track mentality: stay alive! So when it comes to low calorie input and heavy calorie expenditure, it turns down all the other systems it controls in order to conserve resources (aka ‘fat) so that it has calories to burn later on.  This is why we often feel tired or cold when we go on the Crash diet: our body is reacting to the drastically reduced calories.  It is also why people like those Biggest Loser ‘winners’ can exercise over two hours a day, eat 1000 calories and still gain weight: our metabolic set point has been lowered by low calorie input + high calorie output.

The fact is that eating a healthy diet consistently is what works the best without our feeling fatigued all the time, working out all the time and starving all the time.  Our bodies don’t turn down the metabolic set point and we can still lose weight.

So why exercise? Because another truth about our bodies is “use it or lose it.” If we don’t use the muscles and systems we have, our bodies stop putting in the maintenance.  Remember when you broke your arm or leg and after six weeks in the cast, your arm/ leg was a lot smaller than the other one (not to mention hairier?) It’s because for those few weeks, you didn’t use the muscles in that limb, so they atrophied. The same thing happens with our bones: not being used? The body sends those minerals to somewhere else in the body where they can be used or just expels them. This is the reason working out with weights has become a hot issue for older people who want to save bone mass: it not only builds muscles but bones as well! When we get out and move our muscles and bones, our bodies keep maintaining them. It’s when we stop moving and lifting and walking and bending and stretching that our bodies stop putting resources into our bones and muscles, and seriously, other than bones and muscles, what else are we made of?

The other benefit to exercise is that it keeps our joints lubricated, so to speak.  You know when you’ve been sitting for a long period of time and when you stand up, you feel stiff? Imagine how stiff you’d feel if you’d been sitting for days!  There is a science behind how our bodies begin creating a sitting framework that we have to break out of once we begin moving again, but the simple truth is that if we don’t move, our joints, muscles and bones forget how to do it.  They are out of practice and this is dangerous because this is where people get hurt. We all know that one of the biggest dangers for older people is falling and breaking a hip. These fractures usually result in surgery and it’s the beginning of a downward spiral for many of these patients. The sad part is that many people stop being active because they are afraid of breaking a hip or a bone, which leads to decreased bone and muscle mass and stiff joints, which just makes them more vulnerable to falling and breaking a bone.  Talk about a downward spiral!

I have heard trainers advise that it’s the stiffness in the waist and hips that cause most people to lose their balance.  They don’t reach, bend, twist or squat so the middle part of their body (the torso or core) loses the ability to do so, and when they are knocked off balance, they fall instead of twisting or sitting or reaching.  Result? Broken bone!  While I am not a young thing anymore, I like to think I’m not exactly “old” yet (yeah, I’m deluding myself!) but I recently had a similar experience which really added to my understanding of how this happens. I got up in the middle of the night and as I was walking around the bed to get to the hallway, I stepped on one of the dogs’ tennis balls and lost my balance.  Instead of falling like a tree straight on the bed on my side, I twisted and ended up sitting down hard on the bed.  While I don’t think hitting the bed would’ve broken anything, my butt still has a lot more padding than my ribs or my arm so instead of ending up with bruises, I ended up with just a little muscle strain from the hard twist and in less than a couple of days, it was forgotten (after I picked up the tennis balls!) When people fall, they usually don’t have time to think “how can I fall so I don’t hurt myself?” but our bodies react to protect themselves. I didn’t think “twist so you land on your butt!”; my body just did it once I realized I’d lost my balance. The fact that I was able to move to minimize any injury is due to regular exercise: two-three times a week in the pool.  Even if you can’t get to a gym or exercise regularly, all you need to practice squats is a chair: sit down, stand up, repeat as often as possible! If you can add a stretch to the other side of your knees, even better.

There are some benefits to weight loss with working out: you do burn calories when you exercise and you maintain or build muscle, which burns more calories than fat, so the more muscles you build, the more you exercise, the more calories your body can burn.  Many people also find that the more they move, the more they want to move! Honestly, I dreaded the thought of working out even in the pool, and I am still reluctant to change clothes and take time out of my day to work out, but once I am there and afterwards, I have to admit that I feel much better and frankly, it’s a lot of fun to move! Unfortunately, when people believe that exercise is going to be the key to weight loss, they get angry or disappointed when they spend a lot of time at the gym and lose only a minimal amount of weight.  That’s because they are still eating most of the same foods that caused them to gain the weight.  Real weight loss begins and ends with what goes into your mouth! Exercise and activity are important components in a healthy lifestyle, even if they don’t have major parts to play in weight loss. Staying as mobile and flexible as possible is the best thing you can do for yourself and your weight because a body in motion tends to stay in motion while a body at rest just gets stiff.

The Comfort Zone Workout: Weight Loss & Pushing Your Boundaries

Yesterday I was talking to one of my friends about her college age son.  He was in the enviable position of being offered two job opportunities: he had been offered a promotion at his current job and also offered a position at his church’s community outreach program.  While he definitely does not plan on a career in food service (his current job) and being active in his church is a major role in his life, he is not sure about taking the community outreach position because it is out of his comfort zone.

While most of us have never been in his position, we are all extremely familiar with our comfort zone and our reluctance to leave it. My friend knew right away that her son was nervous about trying something new.  While he is not a shy and retiring sort of person, this position at his church was just enough out of his comfort zone to make him give it serious thought. Many of us feel similar trepidation when faced with heading into unknown or unfamiliar territory, and that’s a good thing.  We should take such situations seriously, but there are a lot of us who automatically balk at leaving our comfort zone.

I admit: I am reluctant to the point of balking in some situations, especially those that have me driving somewhere I am utterly unfamiliar with, and the only thing that can make that situation worse is to put a deadline on it, as in “I must be at a certain location by X time and I have no idea where I am going.” [Insert pic of me screaming in terror here.] I know I can use Google Maps and MapQuest to get there, and both of them are on my phone, but the anxiety about trying to get to an unfamiliar address remains.  In fact, I faced it earlier this week having to drop off my car at a location I didn’t know in a town I am unfamiliar with by a certain time. While the anxiety and accompanying stress weren’t overwhelming, it was enough to put a dent in my week.

A funny thing happens when we do things that make us uncomfortable: these activities become more familiar and more comfortable. They stretch our comfort zone and by definition, our comfort zone grows and so do we. When I first started going to a gym, all I used was the treadmill. We all know how much equipment is at any gym, but it could have been nothing but treadmills for all I cared.  When I moved to my current gym, it was because I needed to work out in the pool. I was familiar with using one for physical therapy exercises because of my physiotherapist. Doing them on my own was a little out of my comfort zone, but not enough to hold me back.

Water aerobics however was another animal entirely! The gym had classes posted on their website: all I had to do was show up but I didn’t know anything about what the classes were like, what the trainers were like, what the other students were like, so I didn’t go. It was scary and unfamiliar and just enough out of my comfort zone that I didn’t want to try it… until the day I showed up at the gym to use the pool and it was full of people using water weights and pool noodles and there was a trainer putting them through their exercises. Obviously, it was a class and I sat on the bench waiting for them to be done.  The students didn’t look that different from me: most of them were in their forties or older and some were overweight, some weren’t and some had obvious mobility issues.  After about twenty minutes of waiting around, the trainer asked me if I wanted to join them, so I did! And it was a great workout, a lot of fun and I’ve been going every week for the last three years! But if I hadn’t shown up in the middle of a class, I might still be too entrenched in my comfort zone to try the classes on my own.

We’ve all heard the expression “try it- you’ll like it!” but most of us take that only as far as we feel comfortable. We’ve got our boundaries marked and beyond them we will not stray. We know our limits, when it’s okay to stretch a boundary and when it’s not.  For me, that’s usually exercises and workouts and there’s a very obvious reason for that: I’ve never been particularly athletic. Athletics, exercise, working out: they are all in unfamiliar territory for me, so I don’t like going there.  Food, on the other hand, is way too familiar for me, so if you want me to try a new yogurt flavor or a new vegetable or spice, then no problem! I am in the habit of trying new foods and flavors, even though some have been pretty awful! But trying a new exercise? Balk!

It goes back to comfort and familiarity.  If you are used to doing something, it’s no longer strange or difficult! It’s just the ‘getting used to it’ that makes us balk. It’s pretty much a no-brainer: we’re not comfortable, we’re not sure we’re doing it right (whatever ‘it’ is) so we don’t like doing it and we end up doing those things as little as possible or not at all.  I know: duhhhhh.  But what gets missed in that thinking is that the only reason we aren’t doing those things is because we aren’t used to doing them! The more we push out of our comfort zone, the more comfortable that strange territory becomes until it becomes normal for us.

When I started cutting carbs out of my regular diet, it was nearly unbelievably difficult. They were a major staple of how I had been eating.  Breakfast was a bagel or breakfast sandwich, lunch was another sandwich or rice bowl and dinner was usually rice, pasta or more sandwiches, and don’t forget dessert: cookies, cake, pie. More than half of what I ate was bread, pasta, potatoes or rice.  What else is there to eat? Coming up with low carb/ no carb replacements took more work than I was used to putting into shopping or cooking. Getting groceries took over an hour: is this low carb? does this have carbs or sugar? what about peas? are they Paleo-friendly? OMG! It took forever!

But again, the more I did it, the more normal it became. Instead of automatically thinking of dinner as meat and pasta or meat and rice, it’s meat and veg or meat and salad, or even just salad! Grocery shopping takes me a half an hour if there is a line for checkout and less if there isn’t. Going out to eat with friends isn’t a huge ordeal anymore: it’s another no-brainer instead of another anxiety-filled appointment like the one I had earlier this week. It’s not strange or difficult anymore because I am used to doing it.  It’s just getting over the ‘getting used to it.’

That’s where we need to push ourselves and that’s why we have to do it. We don’t need to take risks to be healthier, but we should push our comfort zone a little so that it keeps growing and we can keep growing with it.  Whether it’s trying a new food or a new way of eating or working out, we shouldn’t be afraid to grow.  Who knows? You might like it and you might even make some friends along the way.  The friend I mentioned above? I met her in my water aerobics class.

 

Weight or Water? Weight Loss & Retaining (or Not Retaining) Water

I hate it when this happens: I get on the scale and it looks like I’ve gained weight.  My first thought? “It’s water weight! Right? I must be retaining water. Right? Because I can’t have gained weight?”

Yeeaahhh, riiigghhtt.  I couldn’t have gained weight so it must be water!  ……except it’s not.  It’s weight aka fat! But my first thought is pretty much the Number 1 excuse for why the number on the scale went up! Unless we made some kind of planned deviation from our eating plan, like a celebration or a holiday, gaining weight means we messed up somehow, either by eating the wrong things, too much overall or both.  Most of us know it’s not water, even if that’s the excuse our minds hide behind, and for me, after facing the grim truth that chocolate chip cookies are not Paleo and on my food list, I once again ban them from my shopping cart!

However, that doesn’t mean that our bodies don’t ever retain water. In certain circumstances, we do retain a certain amount of water in our tissues.  It’s not twenty or thirty pounds of water or maybe even ten, but depending on how much you weigh and the circumstances, it can be as much as 5 lbs. Five pounds can be a lot for but, again, it’s dependent on the circumstances, so you can’t just automatically dismiss that 5 lb gain as “water weight.”

Our weight fluctuates under everyday normal circumstances, even if we are ‘behaving ourselves.’ Water retention tends to be the biggest component in that fluctuation so if we find we’ve gone up a couple of pounds, it could really be that retained water.  Of course, the same holds when we find we’ve dropped a couple of pounds: it could be that water coming off! This is why so many weight loss professionals discount the scale or regular weigh-ins. Unfortunately, the scale is the easiest tool for us to use on a regular basis, so what we want to see is the downward trend over time. We want to see our weight going down, even if it does ‘bounce up’ a couple of pounds as long as it’s followed by a loss of the same amount or more.

However, depending on what we are eating, how we are moving and who we are, we can try to minimize our water weight.  The biggest culprits for retaining water are: 1) our diet; 2) our exercise; 3) our hormones; and 4) our stress levels. When we pay attention to these factors, we can have a better idea if that number on the scale is because we ate that pasta primavera last Tuesday or if it’s because it’s ‘That Time of the Month”!

Number 1 is number one for a reason, but not exactly like most of us might think.  When we think “water retention and diet”, we tend to think Salt.  Yes, salt is a big factor.  Salt is an electrolyte and our body keeps it in solution, so it’s not uncommon to eat a big bowl of salty popcorn and then feel puffy the next day. Usually in a day or so, we pass the water and we feel less puffy.  However, the other factor in that salty popcorn might take a bit longer to fade away.  That is the carbohydrates in the popcorn.  When it comes to carbs and retaining water, the best description of them is “little sponges.” Carbs soak up the water and it stays with us a while. No wonder you feel puffy after eating it! Between the salt and the carbs, hello! You’re retaining water for sure! When we eat a lot of carbs, even if it’s something not salty, if it’s a carbohydrate, it’s going to hold water, so a diet rich in carbs is going to show it on the scale.  Not only does your body store the excess carbs as fat, they also hold more water than protein or fat, so your weight will go up the more carbs you eat, salty or not.  I know from my own experience, after I’ve binged on carbs and then gone back to low carb/ no carb, after a couple of days it feels like I’m always running to the loo! It’s my body getting rid of all the stored water.

Most people know to watch their diet for any water-retaining culprits but we don’t usually think of exercise as one.  When we exercise, especially more strenuous than usual, it causes ‘damage’ to our muscles, which then need some time to repair themselves.  This is how our muscles get stronger and why we need recovery time.  That ‘damage’ is normal: our muscles build themselves up during the repair. But to do that, muscles need water, so after exercising, our muscles retain water! This is why some people don’t weigh themselves the day after a workout: they know their muscles are full of water! This is one reason our trainers are always pushing us to drink during and after a workout: we’re sweaty and our muscles need the water too! Even if it feels like it wasn’t a strenuous workout, if your muscles feel a little sore, you are probably retaining a little water!

Hormones are another no-brainer for most of us (and the guys can skip this one!) If you are a woman of child-bearing years, you are eminently familiar with this scenario. For most of us, the week before our period, we puff up like a balloon as our body stores water in preparation either for growing a baby or getting ready to shed the uterine lining.  If you are pregnant, congratulations! And get ready for some major changes in your body! If you aren’t pregnant, your body will start shedding a lot of water in a few short days.  All of us women have been through this more than a few times, and if you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t turn into a water balloon, you are the envy of every woman who does! That said, most of us know when not to weigh ourselves in order to avoid the appearance of weight gain.

Stress is another sneaky culprit with water weight.  When we are chronically stressed, either physically or emotionally, our body just recognizes it as “danger/ stress” and will hang on to the Basics to make sure you survive whatever stress you are facing.  For the body, those Basics are water and fuel aka fat. This is why so many health and fitness gurus are pushing stress management.  Incidentally, it’s also why they are pushing more sleep, since our body treats poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation as a stressor.  We all know how crappy we feel when we don’t sleep well or enough, so it takes a physical toll on our bodies beyond just exhaustion and low energy headaches: our body stores fat and water as a result! The problem is that most of us have a hard time knowing when we are getting enough rest and managing our stress, so when we get on the scale and see the number isn’t budging,– or worse, going up– it just seems to add to our frustration and stress! This is one of the benefits to adding a proper sleep schedule and stress management routine: they not only help feel better mentally and physically, they also help you lose weight!

When it comes to managing our water weight gain, it’s really just one part of a healthy lifestyle.  If we manage our carb intake, get enough sleep, relaxation and keep our bodies moving, we should be able to identify if the number on the scale includes a few pounds of water or not. We also need to know that water is not bad! Many pro athletes know that diuretics (“water pills”) are a quick and easy cheat for losing a few pounds in order to make their target weight.  But a “cheat” is exactly what they are if you are taking them just to lose weight! Dehydrating yourself either by not drinking enough or using diuretics can be dangerous.  Our bodies are dependent on water to send chemical signals to organs, including such vital organs as your heart, lungs and brain. No water, no signal, no life! Like so many other necessities, our bodies function properly in a narrow band of the Right Amount: too little water can cause as many problems as too much water. Our bodies are pretty good at keeping our water where it needs to be to keep you healthy: now it’s just up to us to do our part (and put down the popcorn and chocolate chip cookies!)

 

Weight Loss & The Best Intentions: Plans Are NOT Action

We all know what they say about the road to Hell. They might as well cross out that destination and replace it with Weight Loss.  We all intend to eat better; we all intend to exercise more and we all certainly intend to stop snacking on junk food.  Those intentions and a $1.08 will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s! We can “intend” all we want but until we actually DO something, it’s all just talk!

I realized again how important it is to follow up our intentions with our actions while I was watching the most recent episode of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now?  This episode featured an update on Sean, the young man in his late twenties who lived with his enabler mom. Following his surgery, now in the third year of his weight loss journey, Sean has had a tremendously stressful and difficult few months.  He loses his mother to renal failure and then many of his belongings and his apartment to hurricane Harvey. During these difficult months, he begins to gain weight, eventually reaching 600 lbs again. While this kind of stress and tragedy are certainly triggers for emotional eating, Sean’s biggest stumbling block continues to be his lack of action.  Although he has a therapist, he stops treating with him and pressures Dr. Nowzaradan to get him admitted to a care facility rather than live on his own.  He is forced to move into a smaller apartment, but continues to view it as ‘temporary’ until he can move into a care facility.  His father comes from California to help him move, but Sean seems disappointed that his father is unable to take care of him himself.  Sean has to live on his own which means doing things on his own.

He gets back on his feet in a new apartment largely due to the generosity and assistance of others but once he has passed the ‘living situation’ crisis, he goes back to the emotional eating while continuing to justify his need to ‘take a break’ to ‘recover’ from everything he’s been through. That’s the first Red Flag!

I’ve fallen into that particular trap myself so I know how inviting it is! It’s the Weight Loss version of a Honey Trap: it looks warm and safe and comforting when it’s everything but! It lures us in and before we know it, we are right where Sean is: gaining weight without really paying attention! I am not going to point fingers at Sean since I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to suffer such devastating losses. Even Dr. Nowzaradan gave him a pass for the weight gain following his mother’s death; however, he also reminded him to keep treating with his therapist to find constructive ways of dealing with his emotions.  Having a resource as insightful as Dr Paradise is not to be thrown away so thoughtlessly; but that is exactly what Sean seems to do.

As Dr. Paradise had pointed out in an earlier session, Sean is intimidated by Dr. Nowzaradan as an authority figure and it is quite possible that Dr. Paradise has become a similar authority figure, which means he is also to be avoided as much as possible.  Why? Because both of them will hold him accountable for his overeating and poor eating choices. This is part of the danger involved with the Taking a Break scenario: once you have indulged until you feel safe, you have to deal with the consequences of your indulgences, which is usually weight gain! I am actually involved in the process of extricating myself from my own particular Honey Trap, so I know it’s not easy and it’s more than a little humiliating!

However, Sean continues to avoid both of his doctors because he’s ‘taking a break to get back on his feet’ but actually he is spending a lot of time sitting down.  I don’t mean to be flippant, because one of his complaints is how difficult it is to move around.  For those of us who have seen the earlier episodes, this is the second Red Flag! The last time Sean complained about how hard it was to move around, he’d gained almost 100 lbs, reaching a mind-boggling 1003 lbs.  When his mother passed away, Sean was fairly mobile in the 500’s but when he went back to see Dr. Nowzaradan, he was essentially 600 lbs again.  Anyone who has been overweight knows we don’t need to gain 100 lbs or be 600 lbs to notice unpleasant changes in our bodies.  When our knees ache a little more, when our pants or tops are a bit too tight, when we feel a little winded walking across the big parking lot– that’s our body telling us we’re carrying too much weight! When ‘squeaking by’ the file cabinets really is ‘squeaking,’ we know we’ve put on a few pounds.  This is when we need to stop talking about losing weight and start doing something about it!

For Sean, the first clue is that it’s harder to get around.  This is where Dr. Nowzaradan essentially gives him the pass on his weight gain, but rather than take action during his housing crisis– an admittedly difficult situation– Sean continues eating badly and overeating.  By the time the situation is resolved (a couple months), Sean is having a very hard time moving around.  He is content to sit on his new chair with a sheet spread over his lap so he doesn’t have to get dressed with a bucket to function as his toilet ‘when it gets too hard to get to the bathroom.’  As he opens the door to get his pizza, ‘dressed’ only in the sheet, he admits it’s not on his diet, but he really needs to take a break right now.  He laments that the Personal Care Assistant doesn’t come every day like she’s supposed to and on the days she doesn’t come “my bucket doesn’t get emptied.” He called Dr. Nowzaradan primarily to get the Personal Care Assistant assigned but also about the rashes on his skin becoming worse due to his lack of poor hygiene (which Sean denies)  because bathing has also become much more difficult. How much clearer can it be that he needs to stop talking about “going to get back on the diet” and just do it already?!

By the time he goes back to the hospital, he has obviously gained more than a few pounds and appears to be back over 700 again. The rashes have now become open infected wounds and forced his hand. Doing nothing and ignoring the infection could kill him and will kill him faster than his overeating. He tells Dr. Nowzaradan that this is a wake-up for him and he’s ‘going’ to get back on his diet, but the doctor’s reply is frank and a little harsh: “I’ve heard that before from you.”

That statement, more than the painful open wounds, is the real wake-up here.  How many times have we said that to ourselves? “It’s time to get serious about the weight loss/ poor eating choices/ blowing off workouts?” I know I’ve said it to myself through much of the last two months:” Okay, no more banana bread!” “I need to stop eating candy!” “I’ve got to get back to my regular eating plan!” And…. we all know how that turns out….

While Sean is obviously an extreme example of The Best Intentions, ‘going to do something’ is NOT the same as doing something! ‘Planning to make healthy changes’ does NOT mean you are implementing those changes! I’ve been ‘planning’ on eating right for the last 8 weeks or more and it wasn’t until the past three days that those ‘plans’ actually became actions!  Of course, my metabolism didn’t give me credit for those 8 weeks’ worth of plans: it didn’t tell me “your plans were pretty good so I’m deducting 10 lbs off this weight gain due to those good plans!” Like Sean, I have to deal with the consequences of my poor eating choices and my ‘taking a break’ mentality.  That means I have to deal with cravings and weight gain and admit to the doctor that I screwed up! It’s not fun and it’s more than a little humiliating.  However, once we begin actively doing something, we begin to feel better almost immediately, mentally, emotionally and physically. I’m not stressing over my ‘plans to eat better’ because now I am actually doing it! I’m not feeling guilty about eating bread and popcorn because I’m not eating them anymore and physically, my joints don’t ache because of the grains and my knees pop a little less and if my clothes are a little snug right now, I know that I am already doing something to fix that!

We all make plans to eat better and eat less and be more active, and plans aren’t all bad unless they stay plans.  Planning fools us into believing we are doing something but planning is NOT doing! We all intend to be the best versions of ourselves and we make plans to implement those changes.  No one plans to end up alone eating pizza in an arm chair and peeing in a bucket. But if we don’t turn those plans into actions, sitting alone with peanut butter cups in a recliner is a very real possibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laughter, Fear & Weight Loss: Taking a Stand

Humans are bit of a paradox: we like to think we stand out as individuals in a crowd, but at the same time, we don’t want to stand out too much. We don’t like to think we are just ordinary but then we don’t want to be “that weirdo” either.

This is especially true when it comes to our weight: being as plump or chubby as everyone else is okay, but being really big? Not okay.  This idea of being too far outside the norm becomes a real problem just at a time when we think we’d be getting over it. I’m talking about going to the gym.

We’ve either started losing weight or we’ve made the decision to be more active so we head to the gym, and once we’re there, we realize it’s full of athletic, toned sweaty people in tight fitting clothes who know what they are doing.  Our first thought: “holy sh**! what did I sign up for?” It’s bad enough not being familiar with the gym itself, where things are, and how to use the equipment, but we’re also aware that we look a lot different from everyone else.  Now when we fumble with the equipment or get lost trying to find the weight room, it’s obvious that we’re chubbos who’ve never been in a gym before! This is pretty much why Planet Fitness’s slogans are “No Gymtimidation” and “The Judgment Free Zone.” They’re marketing to all the chubby gym newbies who are scared of sticking out!  (Planet Fitness was the first gym I joined, although their motto had nothing to do with my reasons: they were cheap and they were close to my house.  The gym I belong to now (In-Shape) is also close, though twice as much but it’s got a pool. If Planet Fitness had had a pool, I would still be there!)

There’s really not much you can do about learning how to use the equipment and where things are in your gym except experience and asking for help when you need it. The more you are there, the more you do, the more at home it becomes.  In this respect, everyone at one time or another was new to your gym and was wandering through the locker room looking for the showers or the towel bin.  It’s that being so much bigger, so ‘out of shape,’ that makes us feel even more self-conscious. It feels like everyone is looking at us and laughing.

As I mentioned before, I had been a Planet Fitness member and had gotten relatively comfortable with the treadmill, but when my doctor and physical therapist recommended a pool for me, I moved to In-Shape (the therapist’s suggestion). So about the time I was feeling pretty comfortable with my old gym, I had to start all over with new one, and on top of that, I had to wear a swimsuit in a public area, where everyone could see me!

It’s bad enough feeling like an idiot trying to figure out where everything is in the gym and then feeling like a fat lazy blob when you walk in and now you’ve got to wear a swimsuit so all your chubby parts and muffin top are visible to anyone who walks by the big glass walls of the pool. Ugh! Talk about torture! Isn’t this one of the top five nightmares that terrify most people?

In all honesty, being unfamiliar with the equipment bothers me the most.  I’m afraid of breaking equipment or injuring myself because I am doing the move incorrectly. As for wearing a swimsuit in public or a tank top or shorts? Not a problem! I remember years ago, I went by a weight loss company (something like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers) to check it out and the ‘counselor’ asked me if I wore shorts or tank tops in public. I remember telling her yes and being a little confused: “am I not supposed to wear them because of my weight?” She appeared equally confused because at the time I was easily about 375+ and apparently people “my weight” normally don’t wear revealing clothes in public out of fear of ridicule and embarrassment.

What this counselor didn’t know was that when I walked into her office sometime in the late 1990’s, I had already spent a lifetime being laughed at in public.  I went to a private grade school full of thin affluent white/ Anglo kids with ‘normal’ names like Jimmy, Molly, Kathy and Scott.  I, by contrast, was a poor overweight Mexican girl with a weird first name! In fact, outside of being overweight since grammar school, my name was the biggest target: Koren. (It really didn’t help that the teachers and administrators couldn’t spell or pronounce it either!)  Since childhood, I’ve been Karen, Koran, Korean, Korine and Koreen until the boys in the class finally settled on Korndog.  The teachers were completely aware of this appalling nickname bestowed upon me, but since it was the poor fat Mexican kid with the name no one could spell or pronounce– meh! whaddaya gonna do?

As I said, the teachers and administrators were completely unconcerned and neither my sister nor I mentioned this humiliation to my parents who would probably have raised a huge embarrassing stink with the principal (whose son was in my class and one of the offenders) so it went on for several years. My choices were either let the nickname bother me or go on with my life. In this day and age, this would be called bullying and harassment, neither of which would be tolerated at the school for fear of a lawsuit, but in the late 1970’s & early ’80’s, bullying and harassment were a part of every day life in grade school.  It’s just the way it was!

So when I walked into that weight loss center, I was pretty much over the whole ‘fear of being laughed at,’ at least for my weight. Being laughed at for doing something stupid was– and still is– a much bigger fear, and in these days of names like Jaeden, Brookline, Hadley and Genesis for little girls, having a different name at my age just puts me ahead of the curve!  The idea of changing what I wear so I won’t ‘look fat’ was a total non-starter.

All of us who are overweight know you can’t hide obesity.  Yes, you can wear clothes that minimize the pudgy parts and hold in that muffin top.  You can wear colors, patterns and designs that are more flattering and I think we should, because the better you feel about yourself,  the more confident you are.  Feeling bad about yourself because you are overweight is not a requirement for obesity or weight loss!

The problem is that’s what happens when you slink around the gym trying to be invisible!  When you try to hide how you look or that you’re uncomfortable in the weight room or you wear baggy t-shirts and shorts into the pool to hide your belly and thighs, you are shaming yourself.  You are telling everyone who sees you that you are not proud of yourself or that you are ashamed to be at the gym.  When I first started using the pool, the swimsuit I had was a tankini: shorts and a long tank-style top.  I had gotten it at Target in the plus size department and all they had were tankinis, so I had two of them.  Once those wore out, I went online and bought a regular two-piece with shorts and a bikini top– NOT a tankini!  Yes, they hide the muffin top and some of the pudgy thighs but overall, they get in the way of the workout! So when I walk out of the locker room headed to the pool area, going right by the weights and the sauna and the steam room and tanning beds, everyone can see me in my two piece: there’s the muffin belly, the saggy skin on my legs, thighs, bingo wings and my great big butt.  I don’t wrap my towel around myself on the way to the pool (on the way back, hell yes! It’s cold in that hallway!) I’m there to get some exercise and have some fun, just like everyone else in my class and everyone else in the gym.

Having been a regular at gyms for a while now, I’ve noticed a few things: those toned athletic young people are just about out-numbered by the older chubby less-toned members.  For every shirtless young guy in shorts is an older guy with a belly, age spots and cut off sweats.  For every tanned young woman with sculpted arms and legs is an older grey haired woman with chubby thighs and a double chin. No one points at anyone else and most members are happy to help someone new by pointing out the locker room or how to use the equipment. I admit the first time I walked into a gym, I was nervous. I didn’t know where anything was or how anything worked, and it took a little time before I got comfortable with everything.  Being nervous is okay but being afraid isn’t.  If you let your fear of being laughed at dictate what you do and where you go, you will have a very narrow and lonely life. Being overweight isn’t a crime any more than being poor, Mexican or having a different first name. Being afraid of being laughed at or being ashamed of who you are has no place in the gym or in our lives.  I learned that in grade school.

Do One Thing, Do It Well & Move On To The Next: Weight Loss & Repetition

Like most people my age (50+), I grew up watching M*A*S*H and one of my favorite characters was Major Charles Emerson Winchester, III.  He was a pompous snob and obviously meant to be the butt of Hawkeye & BJ’s jokes, but he was also very well read and educated and when he went on about opera or authors, I usually knew who he was talking about.  I admit: I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to great literature too!

During his first episode, he made it clear that he does things his way.  He pompously announced to everyone in the operating room: “I do one thing, I do it well and then I move on to the next.”  Despite all his arrogance and ego, he was not wrong about that.  One of our biggest mistakes when it comes to making New Year’s Resolutions or any kind of ‘self-improvement’ changes is that we try to do too much at once.  Instead of doing one thing, doing it well and moving on to what’s next on our list, we decide we are going to do it all now and save some time and effort!

Big Mistake!! Biiiigggg Mistake!! Huge!! I honestly can’t say it enough.  Remember when you were a kid and you saw the jugglers at the carnival? Five or six balls or batons in the air all floating easily like it’s no trick at all?  Remember when you tried juggling tennis balls and just got hit in the face by all of them? YUP!! That’s pretty much what happens to us when we write our list of resolutions and then try doing them all at once.  The only difference is that if we were hit in the face by them, we would probably learn something (like we did when we were ten and tried juggling) instead of trying to do them all again the next year or the next time!  Sometimes bruises are good for something, and I really think if New Year’s Resolutions came with bruises when we screwed up, we might learn a little faster!

The trick isn’t that different from learning to juggle or even Maj. Winchester’s pompous pronouncement: do one thing, do it well and then move on!  When novice jugglers learn, they start with one ball or baton: toss it, watch it, catch it.  Repeat.  It’s harder than it looks, really, because it means tossing it straight and knowing where it’s coming down. So once you can catch it blindfolded, you get to add another ball/ baton. As in, one ball/ baton.  Now you get to catch two of them! Repeat until you’re about to die from boredom, and when you can catch both of those blindfolded, you get to step up to the Big Leagues and add in a third ball/ baton.  Now you’re really juggling! You’ve got three objects in the air and once you’ve got all three going, then and pretty much only then, you appreciate all that super boring practice with balls one and two!  Because you practiced until you could toss and catch without even thinking about it, now that you actually have to think about # 3, not thinking about # 1 and # 2 makes it look easy and almost effortless.  Really, even though you’ve got three balls in the air, you really only have to think about ONE.  That’s the secret with juggling and that’s the secret with weight loss and ‘self-improvement’ habits: you do one thing until you do it well, and then you add another.

I wish I could tell you it’s glamorous or exciting or even funny like on M*A*S*H, but it’s not. The behind-the-scenes truth to juggling, working out and weight loss is just more of that super boring repetition. When you watch the jugglers or any kind of performance, what you are seeing is the Finished Product. It might be five minutes or less of a trapeze artist flying through the air or two jugglers sending batons back and forth with flawless ease, but what you don’t see is the hours of dropped batons, getting smacked in the face or the trapeze artist missing her hold and falling into the safety net.  That’s the whole point: they make something extremely difficult look amazingly easy!

This is what happens when we are presented with the infomercials and diet books/ plans and exercise programs.  They make it look like it’s just so simple and all you need is fifteen minutes or less! Everyone has fifteen minutes! No counting, no meetings, no measuring! It’s just fun delicious food and fifteen minutes of walking! Anyone can do this and have rock hard muscles, a chiseled six pack and lose twenty lbs in six weeks! Really! Just sign here!

Ummm…….NO. It’s never that easy because you have to do it. Consistently.  The fact is that even if it is as easy as opening a box of diet food and eating it or using your new machine for fifteen minutes, it’s still a change to your regular routine. How easy is it to say “I’ll do it later”? Even if it’s only a few minutes, you have to find a way to stick into your day: before or after dinner/ lunch/ breakfast? After work? Before work? Does walking the dog count? The same thing goes for opening that box of microwave diet food: it’s not what you normally eat and it’s one thing if you live by yourself, but when everyone else at home is doing “make your own taco night,” you’re there with your diet pasta.  Everyone else is having ice cream for Netflix night and you’re okay with your diet chocolate brownie?

I don’t mean to make trouble with exercise and diet plans but eventually we get tired of the repetition. It’s work! That should be obvious to us but what we were sold was “simple and easy.” If you want to buy the machine because you don’t want to go to the gym, that’s great! Just remember that the machine only works when you use it and you’re going to have to use it. Again and again and again. It’s the same thing with whatever diet plan you choose: it only works when you follow it, whether it’s make it yourself Paleo or frozen diet food from wherever. If you give in and decide to have taco night with the family, and then the ice cream and then the fried zucchini and burgers on the weekend, it’s going to cancel out the diet breakfast and lunch you’ve been eating. Unless your office had pizza at the weekly meeting or bagels at the Friday conference, and you didn’t want to look different by not eating. Then, you’re consistently not-eating your diet food.

Consistency is the monkey wrench in learning anything new and the secret to being consistent is the super boring repetition that makes the jugglers, trapeze artists and everyone else look awesome.  No one wants to hear about being boringly consistent doing the same thing again and again.  Where we get overwhelmed is when we try to be consistent with too many things all at once: again, if dropping our new healthy routines ended with a bruise on our face like a missed tennis ball, we’d probably be more sensible about starting new healthy habits!

Making one change to your regular routine is easier than making two, three or more changes. Whether it’s going to the gym, eating your new healthy meals or even just going to bed earlier: choose one, and do it until you don’t need to think about it anymore. Once it’s a complete no-brainer, move on to what’s next on your list and repeat. It’s not glamorous or exciting but it works! FYI: the exciting part comes when your waist gets smaller, your arms get cut and you can fit into the same size jeans you wore in high school. It’s the equivalent of the flawless rhythm of batons flying through the air with the greatest of ease! No one has to know it was day after day of being boringly consistent: show off the amazing results! You worked hard for it so enjoy being awesome for a while!

 

Jumping Through Hoops: There’s Always a Loophole!

Most of us are used to things like paperwork, phone trees and red tape: nothing is ever simple anymore! Calling an agency to get a stupid fax number means giving out your name, your number and whatever ‘file’ or ‘reference’ number you’re ‘calling about’!  Seriously??  “I’m calling to get a dang fax number!! As soon as you get the dang fax, you’ll know what this is about!!”

The truth is that ‘modern life’ is full of different kinds of stressors and hassles and it’s a never-ending drama.  As soon as one problem resolves itself, another pops up.  Welcome to the Real World!  While we all know this, we usually don’t deal with it very well when it comes to weight loss, eating healthy and working out.  We use reality and its issues as excuses to blow off the healthy meal choice, the workout schedule or losing weight: “I can’t deal with one more thing today- it’ll have to wait until tomorrow/ next week/ after the holidays.”

Okay…so when exactly are you not going to have ‘something going on?’  Here’s my Real Life example: my mother had major back surgery the first week of August (it is now the middle of November) and since then has been in a convalescent hospital.  My dad (who is her retired ex-husband) has been visiting her every other day, mainly to shuttle her stuff back and forth between her house and the hospital and pick up her mail.  It also means he’s been caring for her dogs those days.  The days he doesn’t come (he lives 75 miles away), I’ve been going to her house to care for her dogs and bring in her mail.  I work five days a week with a 4 hour commute round trip; I work out three days a week and on the weekends, I spend a half day Saturdays and Sundays at her house to give her dogs some outside time and some people time.  This means I’m usually leaving for work around 6:45 a.m. (normal time) but I’m getting home around 8:00 p.m. which is not normal, even on workout nights!  In addition to my job, her dogs and my work out schedule, I also have my own pets and my own errands (like vehicle maintenance, grooming appointments and oh yeah a personal life?)  So right in the middle of this mess, my car decides to break down for the second time in less than a month, which means I had to borrow my sister’s car- so grateful!! But mine took a week to get repaired, mainly due to the incompetence of the repair shop.  As a result, I missed one workout because I was getting my car towed, and I missed the following day’s workout because we thought my mom was getting out of the hospital and we had to pick up her belongings.  By the time we realized that wasn’t happening, I’d missed my class! This past Monday, still driving my sister’s car, I showed up at my gym for my workout class only to realize my membership tag was on my car keys. In the shop with my car! GRRR!!! Luckily, my gym has an app with my ‘card’ on it, so I was able to make it to that class at least!

The point isn’t that I’ve got a buttload of excuses not to make my workouts, not to prepare a healthy dinner (at 8:00 p.m.) and plenty of excuses to eat fast food and lay around the house ‘resting.’  I’ve got great ‘reasons’ to ‘worry about my goals later.’  The point is that if I just decided to ‘take a break’ from my goals and go back to working out and eating healthy after my mom gets home from the hospital, I’d’ve been waiting for three months already! “Let me put my goals on hold for a quarter of the year, and counting!”

The point is that life is always this way!  It’s kind of how life works: we do what we want in spite of the real world! Believe me, I’m not some superwoman; there are a few nights where I blew off my cardio class to go home and go to bed (like at 7:30 p.m.)! I figured if I were too dang tired to make it to my workout, then I was at least going to do something productive and get some much needed sleep! Although I think it was a better decision that further exhausting myself, I am still not happy about it, mainly because the cardio class is only 8 sessions and it’s not included in my gym membership (where I can show up at the pool to do a workout on my own).

I admit that my weight loss has suffered, mainly because stress and lack of sleep really get in the way.  There have also been some holiday-related treats which probably would have happened without the added stress as an excuse to splurge. The point I am trying to make is that we need to fight for our goals despite what life throws at us.  It’s okay to pick your battles, like when I opted to go home to bed rather than making my cardio class.  I had to ask myself which would be more benefit to me, and honestly, I still think I was a little lazy, even though I pretty much fell asleep as soon as I got into bed! As for waiting until the craziness to stop? I’d be waiting forever! My goals are important to me and I know it’s going to take work to get there, even without the nutty schedule I’ve got right now.

The point I’m trying to reinforce is that if we want to find an excuse or a ‘reason’ to do or not do something, we will always find it.  There will always be something that’s ‘not convenient,’ such as working late, being sick, having a lot of errands, feeling stressed, or just not ‘feeling like it.’  I know at the pool, the classes have been getting smaller and smaller, partly I am sure due to the colder weather, and partly because of the upcoming holidays.  People are busy and that’s their choice, but if you claim you are ‘working hard’ towards your goals, then why are you letting excuses get in your way?

There are a lot of people, including some of my friends, who look at how busy my life is and tell me that I’m entitled to take a day off.  I think they’re right, especially since the last time I let myself get run down, I caught a cold.  I also know that skipping my classes doesn’t make me feel better- it adds to my stress because ‘now I missed a workout!’  I’d rather make my workout, do something I enjoy doing with people I like and feel better mentally and physically.  If my workouts don’t make me feel better, then I am not going to do them, and neither should you! I chose these classes because I like how they make me feel- getting the exercise and building strength are bonuses to me.  They are what I want to do and what I would be doing with my time if Real Life weren’t getting in my way, so they are not a sacrifice or a burden- they are my ‘fun time.’

I’ve heard it said that we make the time for things that are important to us, and I believe that is true.  One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Thomas Paine: “what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” I remind myself of that often.  If it didn’t cost us anything, then we don’t value it enough.  That’s why I make the time for workouts and for eating healthy.  Getting this far has been a lot of work and effort and throwing it away to eat chips and burgers and other junk food is simply not an option for me.  Finding workout classes that I enjoy was more effort and time as well as money, so throwing those away aren’t options either! These things- my health and my happiness- are important to me, which is why I will be driving to the gym after work and then driving to my mom’s to feed and play with the dogs and then driving home to throw together a salad and reheating rotisserie chicken for the hundredth time! (FYI: not taking care of her dogs is also not an option!) I worked hard to get here, and I’m not going to hop through some ‘excuse loophole’ to cheat myself out of my hard work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.