Getting Out of Our Own Way: Imperfection Does Not Equal Failure

We’ve all heard that we are our own worst enemies, and we also believe we are pretty good at sabotaging ourselves when it comes to our goals.  We usually acknowledge when these things happen: the cookies are too tempting; the cheesecake looks amazing; we’re tired and Taco Bell is right there.  Most of us will acknowledge we gave in, even if we do try to shift the blame to someone or something else.

The real problems come when we are sabotaging ourselves and don’t know we are doing it.  I know there are fitness coaches who don’t like the word ‘sabotage.’  The internet defines it as “deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage.  Synonyms: vandalize, wreck, damage, destroy, cripple, impair, incapacitate.”  I think that pretty much covers it!

Some of these coaches say that sabotage is the wrong word because we really want our goals and we aren’t trying to destroy, damage or obstruct ourselves, nor are we trying to impair, cripple or incapacitate ourselves.  I think that’s a gross generalization.  I believe while on one level we really think we want our goals, on a deeper level, we may not.

I don’t mean to say that we have some kind of split personality or that we really hate ourselves and want to be fat or unhealthy, but there’s often a sense of safety in the devil you know.  You can’t fail if you don’t try, and when you leave the safety of what you know, who knows what’s out there? Many of us are familiar with the Tolkien quote: “it’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door.” While most of us don’t live in Middle Earth and have to worry about trolls and orcs, we do tend to worry about eating the wrong things or even too much of the right things.  We worry about making mistakes or failure, and we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to be perfect, because for most of us, imperfection equals failure.

I’m reminded of a scene from The Simpsons, where Homer is giving Bart some ‘fatherly advice’ about trying and not succeeding.  When he’s done, Bart quips: “Can’t win- don’t try! Got it!” This is what a lot of us have internalized, whether we’re aware of it or not.  I know I did: “I’d have to lose about 300 lbs to get anywhere near a normal weight! There’s no way I can do that!” Can’t win- don’t try! Don’t try- can’t fail! It’s the same philosophy: “I’m not a failure because you have to attempt it in order to fail. I’m staying in my safe fat comfort zone.  I know what it’s like being fat and if I’m not happy with it, at least it’s the devil I know. Losing weight is too much hard work and I know I’ll never be perfect at it.”

But perfection is not required for health, fitness or weight loss: improvement is all that is needed.  When we hold ourselves to impossible standards, even though we may think we are working towards our goals, we are actually getting in our own way and essentially sabotaging ourselves.  We plan out a ‘perfect week’: this is what I’m eating, these are the workouts I’m doing, I’m going to drink this much water and get this much sleep,’ and so on and so on.  We have all our little ducks nose to tail when we go to bed Sunday night! But on Monday morning, Real Life happens and somewhere along the line, our little ducks start wandering everywhere they are not supposed to be.  Our beautiful plan goes out the window and we begin beating ourselves up because “we failed!”

Seriously, though, we haven’t failed.  A few weeks ago, I did a post about community and how we are all connected to everyone else in our lives.  We have a similar connection with everything else that goes on in our lives because we don’t live in a vacuum.  We can make all the plans we want, but unless they account for everything that can possibly happen (work meetings, school functions, family celebrations, etc), there are going to be adjustments to those wonderful Sunday night plans.  This is why improvement is all that’s required and not perfection! We can plan to make dinner and even have all the groceries ready at home, but then there’s an emergency at work and by the time we get home, our choices are making the dinner we planned and eating at 10:00 p.m. or we can get something already made and eat earlier.  This is where we make an improvement (getting rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad) or we give up (get fast food).  The chicken and salad might not be the wonderfully healthy dinner you had planned, but is it still an improvement over what you used to eat? Even if the answer is no, it’s still an improvement over the fast food. You make the better choice and you still win!

This is why so many of us don’t want to try.  We want to be healthy, but we don’t know what’s out there and because our perfect plans can never be executed without adjustments, we tacitly accept ‘not trying’ or giving up repeatedly.  We think we don’t know how to do it, and rather than admit we don’t know what we’re doing or even that we’re just plain scared of failing/ screwing up, we accept the status quo, no matter how unhappy and unhealthy we are.  Change is scary.  Trying something new is scary too: what happens if I don’t like it or I’m not good at it?  What if I’m doing it wrong?  The last one is one that comes up a lot. So many of us are afraid of ‘not doing it right,’ whatever ‘it‘ is.  The truth is that there are no hard and fast rules for how to be healthier or fit or to lose weight. All we can do is the best we can, every day with every choice.  That’s as close as it comes to having a rule set in stone.  That’s as perfect as we can be, and as long as we keep trying every day, we’re succeeding.  I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but what works for me may not work for you and what works for me now may not work two years from now.  You don’t know until you try if you will like it, be good at it or succeed.  However, I can guarantee you this: you will never succeed if you never try. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait a Minute! This is Hard Work!

One of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard about losing weight came from a patient on My 600 lb Life: after gastric bypass surgery, she was recovering in the hospital and the orderly brought in her lunch.  It was the 1200 calorie bariatric diet, which she was not pleased to see: “No one told me I would have to lose weight after I got here!” Okay, so that magic surgery you had is going to melt off all that fat from your body while you continue to eat whatever you want as much as you want?? Dang! Sign me up for that procedure! What an idiot I’ve been doing this the hard way- being more active, eating more healthy nutrient dense foods and less of the processed sugary carbs! Wow! If I knew I could eat all the bagels, bread, cookies and ice cream I wanted and still lose weight, I’d’ve done it years ago!

So would everyone else who’s overweight! But the reason there isn’t a waiting line going around the block for gastric bypass is because it’s not a ‘magic surgery.’  Procedures like gastric bypass, gastric sleeve and the lap band only limit how much you can eat at one time; if you want to eat constantly all day, you can still do it, and the surgery has no effect at all on what you choose to eat. Sorry! Not magic!

Since there isn’t a magic pill (or surgery), that pretty much leaves the hard way: eating healthier foods, being more active and not eating the junk that we’ve learned to love! It’s definitely work and it certainly is hard getting started.  But here’s the trick that usually gets overlooked: the longer you do this, the easier it gets!  It’s like learning anything new- it’s tough at first, but the more practice we have, the easier it gets.  I was thinking about Shakespeare recently (the cost of being an English major!) and about the graduate course I took about his plays.  The professor began with Titus Andronicus, a lesser known, seldom performed play of The Bard’s. Odds are unless you are another English and/ or drama major, you’ve not heard of it.  Why? Because it stinks! In fact our class referred to this play as “Texas Chainsaw Shakespeare” because it was the equivalent of an Elizabethan slasher film, full of rape, murder and mutilation! The professor wanted us to realize that everything Shakespeare wrote wasn’t golden and like everyone else, he began at the bottom.

When we start weight loss or fitness or even just making healthier changes, it’s hard at first because we are also starting at the bottom.  We can really screw up at times and it’s not because we’re failures- it’s because we’re beginners! Yes, learning new things is hard and it takes time and it takes practice, but the more we work at it, the easier it gets and the better we get at it.  I’m sure Shakespeare wrote a lot of crappy plays that no one ever remembers and were probably burned, but the fact is he’s still popular four hundred years later (as evidenced by TNT’s Will) because he didn’t give up.

The particular patient referenced above lost a grand total of about 30 lbs after her bypass; her weight was about 490-500 lbs at the end of her second year.  She was still confined to a wheelchair.  The same night I watched her episode, I watched another: this patient was a man about 10 years younger but weighing 200+ lbs more (777 lbs).  At the end of his second year, he weighed about 350 lbs.  They had the same bypass; they had the same opportunities for physical therapy and nutrition changes.  In fact, the same nutritionist visited both of them.  The difference was attitude.  Both of them were frankly stymied when it came to making changes to their eating habits, and the nutritionist gave them the same information, but their attitude made all the difference.  When we are learning something new, most of us go into with an open mind and an optimistic attitude: we want to learn how to do something, so we are open to learning.  The woman (Penny) did not want to learn how to make changes and most importantly, she did not want to change, so she didn’t make the changes and in fact told her husband the nutritionist was full of BS.

The man (Joe) listened to the nutritionist, and after meeting with her, he went to the grocery store to buy foods that she had recommended.  He made the changes and lost the weight.  While Penny complained that she had not gotten the ‘appropriate tools’ or a ‘specific diet’ and continued eating whatever she wanted and not losing weight, Joe didn’t complain and did the hard work.  Yes, he acknowledged it was hard and he even had doubts that he could make it, but instead of making excuses, even when he failed the first time, he modified his approach, listened to the nutritionist and was successful.

The point is that we can look at weight loss and fitness/ improving our health as hard work, with a lot to learn and a lot of new (and probably difficult) changes we need to make.  We need to rearrange a whole bunch of things in our lives and if we have a family to care for, there’s probably also going to be a lot of strife. We can complain that “no one told us this was going to be so hard,” or “no one said we had to make XYZ changes,” and we can complain 24/7 if we want, but all of that complaining and all those excuses aren’t going to help you lose weight.  You can look at this as a problem, or you can look at it as an opportunity. Every time we try something new, it’s going to be hard and there is a learning curve involved.  We can look at it as something insurmountable, or we can look at it as a challenge. It’s okay to admit that it’s hard: that is a fact of life, but your attitude affects how you approach it and ultimately, how successful you are.  When you make the most of your opportunities, you grow as individual but when you complain that life is unfair, you get to stay in the same place you don’t want to be.  Be open and be willing to learn or what’s the point in trying?  You make all the difference here.

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!

 

“No Thanks! I Choose Life!” Weight Loss Starts with You

Every now and then, I hear people talking about how it’s nearly impossible to lose weight once you get ‘older.’  I have been overweight pretty much all my life.  I was a pudgy kid and then when I was in 6th grade (thereabouts) my weight really began getting out of control.  I was around 200 when I was in my 20s and for each decade thereafter, I added roughly another 100 lbs.  By the time I was in my mid-forties, I was about 375, +/- 10 lbs.  I’d lose some weight, gain it back, gain some more, lose a bit, and repeat the process.  I’d gained and lost the same 40 lbs for several years.  Most people would be thrilled at losing 40 lbs, and frankly, I was too, but when you’re going from 375 to 335, it’s a little less thrilling: “Yay! I’m under 350!” Essentially, I’m still sinking, just not as fast as before.  Unfortunately, even that little glimmer of hope soon faded away.

Most of us chronic dieters are pretty good at making bargains with ourselves and rationalizing our choices.  I remember when I realized that I had been over 350 for so long that even if I lost weight, I would need surgery to remove my excess skin.  “I don’t want surgery, so I won’t lose weight.” Great! Now I no longer need to worry about losing weight! Except….. my weight was still a problem.  I remember thinking “not everyone is cut out to be skinny, so I guess I’m just destined to be fat.”  Great! Now I no longer need to worry about losing weight! Except…. I still kept gaining weight.  “I’m still happy and fairly active even though I’m overweight.” Except…. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t very active.

Honestly, I spent about ten years or so- most of thirties and the first half of my forties- being about 375, and for most of those years, that last rationalization was true.  Despite being so overweight, I was independent and fairly problem-free.  I could do just about anything I wanted to do and knew how to get around the activities that were a little more problematic.  If I wasn’t truly happy being 375, it wasn’t a big issue in my life.  But unfortunately, I was still gaining weight and so every year or so, I would add a couple more pounds or so.  I think if it hadn’t been for the changes in my job, I would probably have kept gaining about that same rate and probably would have hit fifty closer to the 400 lb mark but still under.

But, when I was about 46, things changed at my job, which led to changes in my lifestyle, which led to me gaining about 65 lbs over the course of two years.  I remember being 48 and realizing I was not only over 400 lbs now, I was beginning to make some serious progress into that weight range: I was 438. That is some serious weight. Even worse, I was completely miserable.  I couldn’t walk for any distance or stand for any length of time.  It hurt to move around, to sit, or lie down.  While being 375 is far from healthy, those additional 65 lbs really put extra stress on my body physically and I started having health issues I’d never had before.  Family and friends started talking to me about getting a gastric bypass.

Frankly, I hated this idea.  I’ve never been a fan of surgery but having your guts rearranged seemed crazy.  I remember meeting with a bariatric surgeon (mainly just to tell others I’d considered it) but the idea was always a no.  [FYI: that surgeon was a real butthead!]

So what happened? Long story short: I decided to make myself a priority.  One of those goofy movie lines that sticks in my head sometimes: Ice Age– Sid looking at Diego’s ‘short cut’ and saying “No thanks! I choose life!” Yeah, it’s goofy, but it’s pretty much what happened to me.  I was looking down the barrel of a very short and painful future, and “no thanks! I choose life!” I quit the Job From Hell and that was the first of a series of choices that put my welfare first.  That lifestyle change led to others: no more fast food; eating healthier; slowly being more active; getting more rest; and those small changes alone had huge consequences.

And I mean Really    Huge    Consequences.  Like the small changes in my job that led to my being so unhealthy and so utterly miserable, those small decisions to eat less processed foods, eat more whole foods, get more sleep and be more active led to my losing roughly 100 lbs in about a year.  No surgery. No weird diets.  Nothing extreme.  I just decided to eat more whole foods, be more active and put my health first.  I picked a food and lifestyle plan that I liked that was also sustainable and I followed it.  If this were a movie, it’d be easy and my weight loss would have been consistently linear and there would have been no cravings, no difficulties (and I’d be happily married to a great guy who looks shockingly like Russell Crowe,) but- alas!- it’s not a movie.  There were lots of cravings at first.  It was hard work following the diet (Paleo), learning what works better for me and what frankly does not work at all.  I did a lot of research, mainly because that’s one of the things that works to keep me focused and I just like it.  It also gives me access to some new ideas, but while people will fret that “it’s impossible to lose weight after 40!”, I am here to tell you that it is not impossible.  I’ve not only lost the equivalent of an entire large sized adult, I am still losing weight.  I didn’t even start losing weight until I was nearly 50! Yes, it was a lot of work at first, but it gets easier the longer you stay with it!  It’s just like any other habit you learn: harder at first, then you learn the little hacks and it’s not so hard anymore.

I’ve lost 184 lbs and I now weigh about 250 lbs.  I am much more active and I feel so much better physically and mentally.  Yes, I do have some excess skin, but it’s not a problem right now.  Maybe eventually, when I either stop losing weight or it becomes a problem, I might have to deal with it surgically.  But the excess skin is less of a problem than my weight ever was! I know this isn’t a movie, but it still has a happy ending for me, and I know that there can still be a happy ending for everyone else who is over 40, overweight and thinks they are destined to be the ‘fat guy/ girl.’  You don’t need a fairy godmother, but you do need to choose yourself first.  (And if you’re a great single guy who looks shockingly like Russell Crowe, give me a call!)

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!

Dancing to Your Own Tune: Personalize Your Healthy Living Routine

As some of you know, I like to eat Paleo and one of our chief gurus, Robb Wolf, recently published a new book, Wired to Eat, about customizing your eating plan.  The book has been out a little over a week and I downloaded the audio version.  I confess I am not a big fan of audio books, but what the heck! I can give it a listen on the drive home.  One of my favorite people (Elizabeth Benton, Primal Potential) is also reading it and I’m looking forward to hearing her thoughts on it.

From having read the opening chapter (thank you, Kindle sample!), it looks like the point of this book is that no matter what eating plan you follow (Paleo, Keto, LCHF, etc) you need to find what works for you! You would think this would be a no-brainer, but many times we just “follow the rules” or “follow the crowd.”  For example, “my sister does keto and she doesn’t eat any veggies at all! I must be doing it wrong since I usually have salad once a day!” This is where so many of us run into problems, and not just with eating.  It’s that syllogism again: All poodles are dogs but not all dogs are poodles.  We are all human, so there are some foods that are better for other species than for us (ie eucalyptus leaves are not high on our diets!), but we are not all the same, so there are some foods that are better for me than for you, and vice versa.  Even among poodles, there are variations, so we need to account for these variations when we start making improvements to our routines.  Sometimes, following the crowd and/ or rules will not work for us, and it’s okay to customize our routines.

We often forget that when we try to adopt a healthy new plan. For example, another one of my favorite people (Alan Misner, 40+ Fitness) was giving some tips on how to stick with your workout routine, and one of his tips was to get it done first thing in the morning. Honestly, I hear a lot of advice about getting your workouts done first thing in the morning, doing your journaling or gratitude or meditation, etc, first thing in the morning. For a while, I just figured I was out of luck, since I am the antithesis of a morning person.  The old expression “I’m allergic to mornings” is the best descriptor for me. Listening to their podcasts, I pretty much came to the conclusion that as a night person, if I tried to do the routines Alan and Elizabeth were describing, it would be a disaster for me. I am not awake in the mornings, so when they gave advice about doing self-care and journaling and workouts, it would be the same as a morning person trying to do it at night.  Most people come home from work and they are pretty worn out, ready to have dinner, watch a little tv/ internet and go to bed.  I am more awake in the evenings: I come home, do my journaling, get online, watch tv, have dinner, play with the pets, do my workouts, make my phone calls and if I had my way, I would go to bed around 1:00 a.m. or so. Going to bed by 11:00 p.m. is a sacrifice for me!

So, instead of setting up an evening routine that’s pretty much on autopilot, I set up a morning routine that is on autopilot.  Before I go to bed at night, I set out everything I need to pack for breakfast and lunch.  All I need to do when I get up is turn on the coffee maker and grab my lunch bag.  My gym bag gets packed the night before and left next to my purse.  My clothes are laid out the night before.  The only accommodation I really make is I get up a bit earlier to I can do my version of gratitude.  “Gratitude” is a practice that focuses on things and people you truly appreciate in your life and it starts (or ends) your day on a positive note.  I don’t write anything out or pray or meditate: I spend a few minutes each morning playing each of my pets individually.  The rest of the morning is pretty much on autopilot for about an hour or so, until I really wake up sometime after coffee and getting on the highway.

The reason most people do an autopilot routine in the evenings is that this is the time of day when they are most likely to veer off track and away from their goals because they are emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day.  Alan refers to this as “decision fatigue.”  This is when you’re asking yourself what to have for dinner, should you go to your workout? what should you do to keep on track to your goals versus what feels easier for you to do right now?  This is when they stop for fast food or call for pizza or blow off the gym.  I know from my own experience, these ‘evening’ pitfalls hit me more often in the morning: if I didn’t pack my gym bag the night before, I am more likely to blow it off in the morning because I’m tired, not awake, I have too much to do, etc.  It’s easier for me to make excuses in the morning.  The same thing happens with breakfast: if I didn’t set it up the night before, I can pretty much guarantee I am getting it to go at some fast food place.

Plain and simple, I don’t fit the norm, so following the routines that all the “professionals” advocate is almost impossibly hard for me. The idea of my working out in the morning is pretty much laughable: I’d never get there on time and I’d probably hurt myself being half awake.  I customized my routines to fit what works for me and after a little practice, they are working out really well.  But for some of us, we have never thought of customizing a plan to fit our own needs: we just follow what everyone else says is “the right way to do it.”  If it doesn’t work for us, we scrap it and try another routine from someone else.  We forget that we can modify things to fit our own schedule, (although both Elizabeth and Alan will remind you to do what works best for you.)

One of the other hot topics in the health & fitness media is sleep, both the quality and the duration.  I have never been a good ‘sleeper’ since I have been told since childhood that I am ‘doing it wrong’:  I sleep in the day; I am awake at night; I sleep with the lights on, with all kinds of noise, in a warm room and with all my pets jumping around the bed.  “Well no wonder you are sleep deprived!” they tell me. “You need to sleep in a cold dark soundless room during the night without anyone else in the bed!” Ummm…….no.  When I make my own schedule, I sleep just great: in the day, with the noise, the lights, the pets and the heat on. I sleep until I wake up naturally and I have lots of energy.  Trying to do it ‘the right way’ is an exercise in agony for me.  When I force myself to sleep according to the rest of the world’s day-night routine, I end up sleep-deprived. I am foggy-headed when everyone else is wide awake and I am wide awake when the “experts” tell me I should be getting my best sleep. I sleep just fine with the lights on (after a lifetime of pets sprawled out on the floor) and the lights going off will in fact wake me up.  The pets wrestling on the bed aren’t a blip on my radar. I wake up and find the ones who were on the bed are on the floor and the ones on the floor are on the bed, and I never even budged! How can I be doing it ‘wrong’ if the routine I use gets me the results that I want? [FYI: I was told the same thing by my study skills professor in college: studying in a noisy room while watching tv is “not effective!” Guess I just imagined graduating magna cum laude! My sister has the same habits I do, and she graduated summa cum laude, but what do we know!]

Robb’s book seems to be about taking this customization idea a little further to include your eating plan.  For most of us who eat Paleo, there are some foods that are simply off the menu if you follow the strict diet, like bread, wheat/ grains, refined sugars, beans/ legumes, etc.: “Completely non-Paleo! Bad food! Bad food!” But the truth of the matter is that if my sister and I eat a food like corn, I might have an extreme blood sugar response and she might not.  The corn will effect me negatively but she might be fine with it.  On the other hand, if we both have something like cherries, my sister might have more of a blood sugar response than I do. Sometimes, it’s not the foods, but the amounts of foods, and although most people focus on carbs and blood sugar, it’s not just the carbohydrates that effect us. Some of us don’t react well to fats or proteins.  MCT oil is not my friend and neither is coconut oil.  They don’t make me sick exactly, but I don’t like the way I feel after eating them.  If you listen to a lot of health gurus, both of those are really pushed at people as being “superfoods” (like kale, also NOT my friend-yuck!) and I am really “missing out” by not including them in my diet.  I beg to differ: why eat something supposedly healthy and good for me if it makes me feel awful?  “Awful” is not how I want to feel; if I wanted to feel awful, I would go back to eating the way I used to eat when I weighed 375+.  At least I was eating food I liked back then )although I have since lost my taste for it.) The point is that if your healthy routine and/ or eating plan make you feel miserable, awful or is just too awkward or difficult to maintain, then try changing it so it does work better for you.  Healthy living is supposed to make you feel better physically and mentally: if it’s not doing that for you, then you need to change what you are doing! You might be doing it “the right way,” but if your routine, whether eating, sleeping or working out, isn’t giving you the results you want, then you aren’t doing it the right way for you. You don’t win any prizes for following the rules; you only win the prize when you get the results you want.

I have to admit that the idea of creating something completely tailored to your unique lifestyle and metabolism can seem a bit daunting at first.  Everyone likes something custom-made just for you, unless we have to do the work to make it ourselves! Then it’s just too much work or too confusing: “Where do I start?”;  “What if I’m doing it wrong?”; “How do I know if it’s right?” Robb’s book gives you a great starting point, but even if you don’t decide to use his book, there are a few out there that will give you an idea of how to develop an eating plan that works better for you than a more generic “one size fits all” plan.  Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry? is also very comprehensive and it gives you a structured format to start you off before you learn to fly on your own. The important points to remember are: 1) it takes time to get all the kinks out before you find the routines and foods that work best for you, so be patient!; and 2) simpler is always better! It’s generally easier and more convenient.  The more you overhaul the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain! And not just the drain: if something involves too many steps or is just too inconvenient, what are the odds you will stick with it long term?

In the end, it’s all up to you: only you know what works best for you: eating, sleeping, being active- all of it!  It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work for others or if they are telling you to try what works for them, even if it’s a family member who’s telling you. If what you are doing is getting you the results you want, then stick with it!  If it’s almost there but not quite, then give it a tweak and see how it goes.  Don’t abandon what you’re doing until you have given it enough time to know that yep, not working! Then you can try what your brother or your friend recommended, but since we are all unique, there is no ‘one size’ for everyone.

 

 

Becoming Unstoppable: Motivation Comes from Momentum

I’ve been hearing a lot about motivation lately. As one podcaster pointed out, there is an entire motivational industry and motivational speakers command some hefty fees for revving up their listeners.  Frankly, I have never been a fan of motivational speakers; one of my first bosses was always throwing Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie around and, no offense to those gentlemen, but it got really old really fast (FYI: that boss got fired).

Motivational speeches and books are good starting points.  They get the blood pumping and the creative juices flowing, but they are really just the match. When you light a match, it flares up, burns for a few seconds and then it burns out (for you millenials who may not have ever used a match).  The point of the match is to use that flame to light your own fire. If you don’t touch the match to the kindling, then you are back in the cold darkness.  The speakers and books will get the ball rolling, but it’s up to you to keep it going and I’ve noticed that a lot of the speakers and books seem to gloss over this fact.  Most people either forget this or have never been taught that idea and as a result, they spend a lot of time looking for something or someone to motivate them. The irony is that the energy they are spending searching for outside motivation could be more beneficial in motivating themselves.

I really can’t fault them for looking for outside motivation, because keeping yourself motivated is a constant task. Every day you have to get up and find a reason to keep yourself ‘fired up’ and enthusiastic about your goals, whatever they might be.  It’s hard work and if you can find someone else to do it for you, then you can use their fire to stoke your own.  But too many of us let our own fires burn out and then literally have to ‘re-light the flame.’ This is why inspirational/ motivational apps and sites are so popular: people are looking for that outside impetus to keep going.

Outside motivation can be a good thing, if it really does keep you moving forward and better yet if gives you tools and practices you can use to keep yourself going, but the best tool for staying motivated is the forward movement itself. Movement builds momentum and the more momentum you build up, the easier and faster you keep moving.

If any of you have seen the movie Unstoppable about a runaway train, they try to stop the train with a device called a portable derailer (it’s supposed to knock it off the tracks) and when it doesn’t work, the boss is mystified; the derailer was “barely a bump” for the train, and the yardmaster Connie snaps at him “it’s a million pounds of train going 70 miles an hour!” She is not wrong: it takes about 5 miles for a train going 55 miles to stop. (FYI: the movie is based on a real incident.) Trains start moving slowly and to a lot of people they seem awkward and cumbersome, but once they are at speed, they are nearly impossible to stop.  (PSA here: Trying to beat a train is a death sentence because by the time the engineer sees you, IT IS TOO LATE TO STOP THE TRAIN! A MILLION POUNDS OF TRAIN WILL DEMOLISH YOU AND YOUR CAR!) [Side note here: the law firm where I work handles a lot of railroad cases and I deal with train v vehicle accidents all the time. The pictures are very unsettling.]

This is pretty much my point about momentum: it’s okay if you start slowly as long as you keep going because, like the train, you will build both speed and momentum.  It’s harder to derail you and a whole lot easier for you to keep going forward.  It becomes easier for you to incorporate new routines because you are already at speed and you are already on track. (This is where these expressions come from.) It’s the getting started that bogs down most people: they get frustrated because the diet industry is all about “quick results” but actual permanent weight loss is about the long term, as in “the rest of your life.”

Next time you see a weight loss/ diet plan/ fitness commercial, notice how many of them stress the quick results: ‘six weeks;’ ’30 days;’ ’14 days.’ As usual, in the small print under the pictures there is the “Results Not Typical” disclaimer. How many of these commercials stress keeping the weight off or permanent weight loss? I can only think of one and it’s for an exercise machine, because if you keep with your exercise, yes, you will most likely keep the weight off as long as you don’t eat too much of the wrong foods.

I have tried a lot of diet plans and meal services: they are very good at motivating you, especially once you see the weight coming off, but the catch is after a while, you lose the motivation.  Honestly, eating the same packaged foods over and over again gets old pretty quickly, and it’s the same with drinking the diet shakes and eating the same cardboard-y meal bars.  “I’m losing weight but I’m pretty miserable in the process”; that’s not exactly motivating.  The thought of eating like that permanently is absurd, especially since after a while, our bodies get used to the lower calorie intake and start slowing down the metabolism.  This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up eating 800 calories a day to maintain their weight loss: the metabolic damage is insane.  The thought of eating only 800 calories a day is pretty de-motivating to me!

What does keep us motivated? Results keep us motivated, yes, but enjoying what we are doing also keeps us motivated. But we have to remember that building a new habit begins slowly, like the train.  We need to build up speed but it’s not going to be quick.  This is how the diet & fitness industry makes its money: by giving us the quick results we want.  We burn hot like the match, but we burn out just as quickly.  We see the weight coming off and “yay! it’s working!” but three weeks later, as we are facing the prospect of yet another pre-packaged meal, cardboard-y bar or chalky shake, we have pretty much lost our enthusiasm. The gilt has worn off that lily, and choking down another one of those while everyone around us is eating something they enjoy just gets more and more daunting. There are some who will just ‘toughen up’ and keep with it for a couple more weeks or so, but the more this rigid diet plan goes on, the harder it gets, because these weight loss plans were designed to be quick but not sustainable.

Sustainable weight loss takes time: it will be slow and cumbersome as it gets started but over time, it will build up speed.  The problem is staying motivated while it builds up that speed and starts showing us the results we are impatiently waiting for, and again this is why the diet & fitness industry rakes in billions each year: we are not patient! One of my favorite lines from the movie Postcards from the Edge illustrates this idea perfectly: “Instant gratification takes too long!” We are accustomed to instant results and pretty much everything we deal with all day long encourages us to move faster and faster.  We have entire industries built around getting our purchases the next day or in two days. When I was kid, 6-8 weeks was pretty normal; now it seems like forever! Fast might be fun, but it’s rarely healthy, and it’s definitely not healthy for weight loss!

It’s the Fast-is-Better mindset that knocks us off our rails.  We might be set up perfectly for weight loss, but when two weeks goes by and we aren’t getting the ‘instant results’ we were hoping for, we drop off that ‘loser program’ and move on to something promising us ’14 lbs in 14 Days!’ We sabotage ourselves by looking for ‘fast’ rather than ‘forever.’  Fast is motivating: it makes us feel like we are actually doing something and making progress, while waiting and working for a couple weeks or longer before we start showing appreciable results feels like we are doing something wrong or worse, doing nothing at all. When we are expecting fast, slow is de-motivating to say the least.

Getting away from the Instant Gratification Mindset is the first step to staying motivated.  We need to change the ‘mile markers’ by which we gauge our progress.  Weight loss and healthy living are our destinations, not our mile markers.  The more we stay on our healthy living track by making healthy food choices and being active, the closer we get to our destinations, and the easier it gets to keep making them. Think about it: which would you rather have for breakfast: a cheese omelet or a meal replacement bar? Would you rather have roasted chicken and zucchini for dinner or a pre-packaged diet lasagna? It’s easy to say yes to the real food, and yes, those are whole foods which will get you to your weight loss destination.  You won’t get there as fast as the diet industry’s ‘bullet-train fast foods’ but you’ll enjoy the journey more, and better yet, there is no ‘return trip.’  It’s easier to stay on track when you enjoy what you are eating and doing, and the more you make the healthy choices, the easier it is to stay on track.  Count your healthy choices as your mile markers: how many can you make in a day?  How many did you make last week? Can you set a new personal best for activity or food choices? The longer you stay on track, the easier it becomes and after a while (NOT a couple of days), you will find you are feeling better, looking better and losing weight.  The farther down that track you go, the better look and feel, and the more momentum you build until you really do become unstoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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……