It Really is All About You! Weight Loss & Doing It Yourself- or Not

I think I do a lot of posts about being independent. Like just about everything important in life, it’s a double-edged sword. Being independent means you make your own decisions but it can also mean you have to do things without a whole lot of help or even support.  There’s a price to be paid for anything of value and admittedly, there are a lot of days I wish I had more help and maybe not so much independence!

Unfortunately, we really can’t have it both ways. You can only rely on others for a limited amount of things without sacrificing a big chunk of your independence.  For example, if you are going to rely on someone else to do the majority of the grocery shopping, then you can’t complain too much when they come home with something you don’t want when the store was out of the product you chose. For me, the example that springs to mind is bagged salad greens.  I hate iceberg lettuce, and the popular mixes that come with shredded cabbages, carrot shavings and tons of iceberg are NOT on my list! The same goes for the Spring mix blend full of baby lettuces and radicchio.  My list of salad greens NOT welcome in my house includes: iceberg, radicchio, arugula and if I can avoid carrot shavings, bonus for me! Cabbage of any color is great; so are spinach, butter lettuces, endive, romaine or practically any other lettuce!

So if someone else is doing my grocery shopping and comes home with the wrong blend of salad for me, it’s my loss.  I can choose to eat the salad or not, but yelling at them for getting me the wrong kind of lettuce would be unfair. (It’s not like I have an allergy to radicchio or arugula!) If I don’t like the way they do the shopping, I can do it myself! But by relying on someone else to do something like this for you, you are tacitly agreeing not to scold them too harshly if they get the wrong items. When you rely on someone else to help you out or take over a regular chore that you normally do, you are giving up some of that independence in exchange for convenience.  It’s the price of asking for help, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. We all need help occasionally and usually I get scolded by family and friends for making things harder on myself than they need to be because, frankly, it usually doesn’t occur to me to ask for help!

The most recent example is when my car died on the freeway, and after spending the morning getting it towed, I had to arrange for a rental while it was at the shop, and circumstances conspired to make that way more difficult than normal. So since my options were limited, I called a cab, which took over an hour to arrive and the driver, despite having a Garmin, didn’t know how to get to the rental car place. (What can I say? I was having a day!) When I was talking to my friends and my family later on about the whole “car situation,” most of them who either work from home or are retired asked me the same question: “Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve given you a ride!”  My well-thought out and eloquent response? “Duhhhhhh…..”

It had honestly not occurred to me that at least three of my friends in the area would have been able to run me down to get a rental in much less than time than waiting on a cab or an unreliable Uber/Lyft driver. I’m not being stubborn about ‘being self-reliant.’  I think it’s because I am so used to handling things on my own that the idea of calling a friend doesn’t even show up on my list of options.  While not being completely reliant on others has its benefits, this Doing It Myself mentality that I have really just limits my options and makes some things much harder than they need to be, as in the “car situation.”  Yes, it’s great that I can figure stuff out on my own and not have to call family constantly to help me out, but at the same time, I am isolating myself, not to mention stressing myself.  I am sacrificing ease and convenience for independence.  This situation isn’t any better than sacrificing independence for ease and convenience!

Most of us are far more familiar with those who are always completely dependent on others, either out of laziness or learned helplessness.  We learn to avoid these people pretty fast: they are the ones who always need you to run by their pharmacy/ other errands because they’re feeling too sick or are in too much pain or just can’t do it on their own; they are the ones who can’t find the address or phone number for anyone or anything because “the website/ google is confusing”; or they can’t change the batteries in the tv remote.  We all know people like this: they are utterly helpless and it’s a learned helplessness.  They’ve learned that they don’t need to do it on their own because if they are pathetic enough, someone will do it for them!  Why do they need to worry about it?

Obviously, there are many issues that come with this kind of learned helplessness/ laziness, including and especially abdicating responsibility.  If you are completely dependent on someone else to do your grocery shopping, then it’s not your fault if you only have junk food in the house! You didn’t buy it- they did! It makes it easy for nothing to be your fault or your responsibility since you are completely dependent on other people to ‘help you out.’ This is the opposite problem that I have (Doing It Myself mentality), but it’s still easy to fall victim to the same problem of abdicating responsibility. In my case, it’s because “I have too much to do and no one to help me!”

It really doesn’t matter if you are totally on your own or if you are totally dependent on others: sooner or later, you have to be the one to take action! It really is all about you and the decisions you make regarding your health and your lifestyle. We all hear comments about how we don’t have time to exercise because we are so busy or we can’t eat healthy because the family doesn’t like healthy food or that we get stuck eating junk food during the day because that’s what’s available at work. We make it easy to escape our responsibilities regarding our choices, either by blaming being busy or someone else’s failings.  If we don’t want to go to the gym because we don’t feel like it, then we need to own that decision. If it turns out that we were at the gym only three times (or less) in the last month, whose choice was it not to go? Do we get ‘workout credits’ with our bodies if we were really too busy or the trainer canceled?  Of course not! Busy, no trainer or just blowing it off, the result is the same: we didn’t exercise!

I’ve noticed that the things that are really important to people tend to be the things that don’t get left out of the schedule. Our favorite junk food keeps showing up at our house.  We manage to watch our favorite shows even though we are too busy to go to the gym or do the grocery shopping.  We manage to make our mani/ pedi appointments even if we cancel with our trainers.  It’s called priorities, and since those things are important to us, we make time for them!  The healthy eating, the workouts, going to bed on time, drinking more water instead of soda: all those fall to the wayside because they are not our priorities.  We can tell when they are important to us, because we will reschedule our workout, go to the grocery store instead of the nail salon or blow off a Friday night out to get some sleep! Our healthy is mostly the sum of our choices and if our health is pretty cruddy, whose choice was that?

Ultimately, those people who are either completely dependent on others or people like me who are way too busy doing it all myself have a few decisions to make.  We may have to learn to be more independent or to ask for help or even– gasp!— give up some other things on our schedules.  Yes, there will be times when we really are so busy it feels like we’re chasing our own tails, and yes, there will be times when the Uber driver gets lost and you miss your appointment.  There will be times when you show up at the luncheon and it’s full of the foods you’re trying to avoid.  Some things are just beyond our control no matter what we are prioritizing and we just have to accept that it really isn’t our fault. But we also need to take responsibility for the things we can control and the decisions we choose to make. Sometimes that means we have to ask for help and sometimes we have to do it ourselves since this is our life and our health and our responsibility.

Minus the Negatives: Weight Loss & Positive Reinforcement

Most of us who are trying to lose weight tend to focus on the negatives and what we’re doing wrong.  I believe it comes from too much outside influence.  We all have that family member or ‘friend’ who is only too eager to point out where and how you messed up again.  So naturally, that’s what we look for since our errors have been pointed out repeatedly (and gleefully) by everyone in our lives to whom we turn for guidance.

At the risk of doing it again, that’s wrong!  Seriously, though, while it can be helpful, focusing only on the negatives and the errors is negative reinforcement.  Some of you may remember that I have dogs (I also have a pet blog where I blab about them endlessly!) But I’ve learned a lot from having dogs in my life since forever and one of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of positive reinforcement.

When I started college (back in the ’80’s– aack!), one of my first classes was Intro to Psychology where the professor explained the difference between negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement, and since I had recently gotten my first Yorkie, I decided I would use positive reinforcement to teach him and he learned so fast that I’ve used it with all my dogs.  It’s the only way I teach my pets what I want them to do and not do.  What’s more important is that it’s fostered a sense of trust among us and a natural inclination to listen to each other.

We all know what negative reinforcement is even if we don’t know what it’s called.  It’s where your dog pees on the rug and you shout and spank him and rub his nose in it so he “knows not to do it again!”  I’m pretty sure that’s never worked for anyone I know who has dogs.  It teaches them to hide from you and to be afraid of you.  With positive reinforcement, if I find that one of them peed on the rug, I point at it, tell them “no” in a firm voice and then clean it up.  No shouting or spanking or nose-rubbing.  When we go outside and they do their business where they’re supposed to, I make a big deal about how they’re the best doggies in the whole world ( because they are!) and it encourages them to do it again.  They make the connections: “outside= yay! great doggies! and inside = blah.” Why pee inside and get blah when I can pee on the lawn and be the best puppy in the whole world?  I gotta pee anyway so why not get praised for it?

Some people think that adding negative reinforcement to that increases the connection: “inside = bad spanking but outside = good doggie!”  The problem is that whole ‘teaching them to be afraid of you’ plus dogs (and people) develop a tolerance to scolding and negative treatment.  We learn to deal with it.  Anyone with teenagers know this: no matter how much you yell at your kids for not taking out the trash, they just block it out.  They stop listening, and so do the dogs.

Praise however is a different matter.  When I tell my dogs how great they are, they are always paying attention to that.  They love getting petted and get excited when I tell them how good they are, so they are getting the point: “I did something good and I want to repeat it as often as I can so I can get more hugs and pats and toys.” You would think they would get bored with it, but over the years of using positive reinforcement with my dogs, I have found they respond better to it, learn faster once they make the connections and they seem to pay better attention to me when I talk to them.  They listen and respond to me and I think I pay more attention to what they tell me too.

When it comes to eating better and weight loss, we tend to use the same tools we do for the dogs peeing on the rug: we shout at ourselves, belittle ourselves and do the emotional equivalent to rubbing our nose in the spot.  We had dessert when we went out last night: “I’m sabotaging myself! Why do I keep making the same bad choices? I can’t say no to temptation! I’m never going to lose this weight! What’s wrong with me?” We look at ourselves in the mirror and point out our muffin top, our chubby thighs, our great big butt, and that bra spillover that just makes our arms and chest look awful.  We’re trying to reinforce to ourselves how much weight we need to lose so stop with the desserts, stupid!

Does it really work for anyone? Or does it just make us feel like crappy failures because we ate dessert when we obviously look like an escapee from a Fat Farm? The same thing happens to us that happens when we go bonkers at the dog because he piddled on the rug: we ‘hide’ until we eventually stop listening to it.  When someone asks how we’re doing on our weight loss, we gloss over or omit our recent transgressions and tell them we’re doing “fine” or “okay.”  When someone points out that “maybe you’d do better if you didn’t have dessert or bread or cookies or frappuccinos,” our emotions are all over the place (anger; embarrassment; shame; frustration; hurt) or we’ve been chastised slash reprimanded so often that we don’t hear it anymore, a la teenagers: “yeah yeah yeah, I screwed up again! Whatever!” It doesn’t matter if we are the ones doing it to ourselves or if it’s that alleged friend or even someone who truly cares about us: after awhile, getting our nose rubbed in our screw-ups stops being effective.

What’s worse is that we stop trying!  It’s not that we want to give up; it’s that the constant accrual of screw-ups keeps growing and in the face of the overwhelming ‘failures,’ we simply feel defeated. “I’ve blown my diet four times this week and it’s only Wednesday- like one more screw up is going to matter now!”  This kind of thinking really doesn’t lend itself to success, does it?  Even if we are motivated to ‘win today!’, once that negative thinking creeps in, there goes our motivation! We all know that it’s hard staying motivated because it requires constant stoking like a camp fire: if we aren’t adding fuel to the motivational fire, it goes out, and remembering to keep it hot is work.  We all need motivation from time to time but staying motivated when you and others are always pointing out your failures is even harder, and we have all become experts at de-motivating ourselves that way.

This where positive reinforcement makes everything so much easier: instead of rubbing your nose in your mistake (and it’s only a mistake- not a failure!), how about you praise yourself every time you do something right?: “I had salad today instead of a burger! Yay, me!”; “I made my workout even though I didn’t want to go! Whoo hoo!”; “I said no to Barbara’s cookies at the office! Killing it here!”  It might feel a little weird or downright silly at first if you aren’t used to it, but it starts a trend. Instead of cataloguing what you’ve done wrong, you are keeping tabs on your good decisions and– most importantly– you are making yourself feel good about that list! This has the opposite effect of that negative list: if I’ve done so great on all of these situations, I can easily do it on this one! It builds confidence instead of tearing it down.  When someone asks “how are you doing on your diet?” you can give specific examples of how well you are doing: “I’m eating tons of healthy veggies and haven’t had a cookie in three weeks!” It makes it easier to say no to temptation because, heck, you’ve been saying no for over a month! Even if there is a mistake, not pointing out your muffin top and rubbing your nose in the one mistake lets you get over it and move on to the next success: “I can say no next time since I’m in the habit of saying no.” And should you make a serious decision to have dessert to celebrate a special occasion, it’s easier to remind yourself “I didn’t give in to temptation because I chose to have the cake.”

Positive reinforcement gives you another reason to make the right choice: not only are you doing something healthy for your body and your weight loss, your celebrating your wins gives you a reason to feel good about yourself– period!  Remember my dogs? Praising them for listening when I tell them no or for sitting still in the car encourages them to do it over and over again.  They get to go more places because they behave themselves plus they get the big bonus of being the best doggies in the world!  When you make the right choices for your health and weight loss, not only do you feel and look better physically, but your confidence gets a big bonus as well: “Score! I killed it today on my diet! Yay, me!” The bonuses add up and are more powerful motivators than rubbing your nose in the screw-ups: who wants constant reminders of our mistakes when we can focus on our growing list of wins? If winning yesterday makes you feel awesome, how hard is it to stay motivated to win again today? Not hard! “I’m on a roll!” vs. “How can I not screw up today?”

Most of us aren’t used to positive reinforcement.  All those Negative Nancys and Neds like to poo-poo it as “feel-good fluff.” They give you the unimpressed eye-roll when you congratulate yourself on having the veggies instead of the fries: “like those veggies make a real difference!”  However these are the same people who will nag you forever about that candy bar you had on the way home, as if that candy bar is going to add thirty pounds on you! (Knowing you feel good about your choices and your progress also allows you to poo-poo their negative comments.)  When you feel good about yourself, it’s easier to make good choices and stay motivated, because you are literally your own cheering section.  Instead of working to overcome the obstacles you are creating for yourself, you are giving yourself a leg up on the ladder to success. Whoo hoo! Yay, you!

 

Everything’s Outta Control! Weight Loss, Circumstances & Others’ Responses

We’ve all been there: you show up at a luncheon and everything is high carb, full of fat, gluten-filled or otherwise designed to ruin your diet.  It’ s like they did it on purpose! At least, that’s how it feels to you as you look over the offerings on the table.  Your brain is spinning: “there’s nothing I can eat! Even the ‘salad’ is pasta!” It feels like your choices are: 1) blow your diet; or 2) eat nothing. For most of us, we end up choosing the smallest amount of the least diet-wrecking choice and nibbling on it, or jumping in with both feet and figure “today’s blown!”  Even though what we end up eating is entirely our choice, it sure feels like whoever set up the luncheon had no consideration about your eating style.

In most cases, even for something work related, organizers/ caterers check with the employers regarding dietary preferences.  It’s not uncommon to have employees who are vegan/ vegetarian, low carb, gluten-sensitive, or have other dietary requirements and if someone is required to show up for their job, it’s normal for the organizer to make as many accommodations as they can.  Even for social functions, like a reception or a party, there are usually as many choices as possible for people who don’t eat meat, don’t eat dairy, don’t eat wheat/ gluten, are sugar-free or eat low carb. Food service is quickly becoming a minefield with all the eating styles and food allergies, so while many make the accommodations that they can, something will usually get missed!

While it’s easy to put bad lunch choices down to poor planning by the job’s caterer, it’s different when the person planning the menu is aware of your diet.  Obviously, you don’t expect everything on the menu to meet your dietary requirements.  If you’re low carb, you can’t expect there to be no bread, chips or potatoes if you show up to a friend’s BBQ, although you would expect there to be some low carb/ no carb foods available, especially if your friend is well aware of your eating style.  Are they trying to sabotage you?  Are they jealous of your weight loss or are they trying to tell you– albeit passive-aggressively– that they think your new diet is stupid? Or maybe they just don’t care? Whether they were just clueless or simply forgot, it’s easy to blame a day of terrible food choices on someone else, but the truth of the matter is that you ultimately made the decision so if you want to know who’s really at fault, that would be the person in the mirror!

It feels like it goes against the grain: why should you be punished for their screw up? You are trying to lose weight and be healthier and they just sabotaged your eating plan! They should be more supportive of you, right? Yes, I believe family and friends should support your healthy lifestyle, but in reality, it’s not their job to plan for your diet. It would be great if their Memorial Day BBQ didn’t have huge bowls of chips and trays of Rice Krispy treats to tempt you, but they did. Of course, you can’t expect everyone to eat the way you do and neither do your hosts, so there’s those chips, marshmallow treats, and plenty of other yummy crunchy bites for everyone else to eat. You don’t have to eat them.

It’s your choice whether you eat the foods that aren’t good for you.  No one likes to hear that.  It’s easier to blame someone else for tempting you or pushing the Forbidden Foods at you, but you can always say no. It’s all a matter of priorities.  One of the examples Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) uses is this: “if someone told you your children would be harmed if you ate another french fry, would you even be tempted?” Of course not! While her example is a little bit extreme (just a wee bit!), it puts your choices into perspective, because it really is your choice! Think about all those times you’ve walked through the grocery stores and there’s stacks of donuts or cookies or racks of potato chips and you walked by without putting them into your basket.  You made a choice not to buy those items.

I know: it’s different when you’re at a BBQ or a luncheon and they’re sitting out where you can see them and smell them and it’s so easy to tell yourself “it’s just one Rice Krispy treat…” Maybe it is just one for you, but most of the time, it isn’t.  Even if it’s just the one at the BBQ, you remember how yummy it was and then before you know it, you’ve bought one at a Starbucks or a Circle K or even a box at the store.  It starts the downward slide into a full out carb binge!  Dang-it!! It’s because of that BBQ!  If they hadn’t had those dang treats out, I’d have never eaten the first one!

That’s what we tell ourselves and I would seriously like to believe it.  If my friends hadn’t had that onion dip at their BBQ, I wouldn’t have eaten those potato chips! If they hadn’t had bowls of yogurt covered pretzels, I wouldn’t have eaten those either! It makes me feel better to blame someone else, but I know it’s not the truth. They had the carb-o-licious stuff that’s not good for me but they also had trays of meats, cheeses and veggies which I could have eaten, and I did have some of those….in addition to all the stuff I should have kept out of my mouth!  My friends are supportive of me (see the veggies, meats and cheeses) but they also don’t eat like I do. It’s not their job to be the Paleo Police and make sure I don’t go off-track, and they respect me enough to let me make my own choices.

Even if we are good about keeping the carbs and sugar (or whatever you’re trying to avoid) out of your home, sooner or later, you have to venture out into the world.  You’re going to be standing at the check out and there’s those candy bars you adore, or you’ll be at lunch with friends who ordered fries and they don’t eat them all.  We are all faced with temptation eventually and we have to be ready to say no or to accept the risks of saying yes.  It’s all up to us in the end. Even if we are really good and our friends and family are really good, we can’t avoid all temptation! It’s part of reality!

Of course, some of us have people in our lives who are jerks.  Most of us are familiar with that co-worker who’s always laughing at people who try to eat healthy.  They’re the ones eating the Krispy Kremes in your face or waving the brownies at everyone else.  It would be great if everyone could be supportive or at least polite.  Again, not reality! But the truth is that they’re being a jerk has nothing to do with what you eat. At the end of the day, am I going to feel better eating what’s good for me or will I feel better giving in to temptation and eating foods that not only make me feel like a guilty failure? Or make me feel awful physically?

I can’t control who brings donuts to the meetings or the chips to the BBQ any more than they can control my decision not to eat any of them. I can only control what I eat and how I want to feel. Sometimes it feels like a cop out to blame myself when I give in to the temptation, especially when everyone at the luncheon or the meeting knows I’m trying to eat better. They didn’t have to bring bagels or danishes or croissants, and I tell myself that I didn’t have to eat them.  Shifting the blame onto others for what I ate doesn’t make them any more responsible for my eating. All it does is make me feel powerless in the face of their temptations and that is definitely a feeling I want to avoid.

 

In Over Your Head: Weight Loss & Drowning in Excuses

When it comes to weight loss, excuses are the bane of any healthy routine.  They are especially insidious because they are so sneaky.  They masquerade as ‘reasons’ or they hide behind emotions or something else that looks legitimate in our lives.  Bottom line: they get in like weeds and unless we’re careful, our carefully tended healthy routine is overrun with useless excuses.

I always feel a little like Prof. Moody from Harry Potter when I talk about excuses, because he was right: “Constant vigilance!” What looks like a legitimate reason on first glance turns out to be a sneaky excuse trying to ruin your healthy routine! But it’s not just those sneaky ‘imposter’ excuses we need to watch for: it’s also the completely obvious ones that we just let slide out of laziness or self-pity.

One of my favorite movies is The Replacements with Gene Hackman and Keanu Reeves, partly because I love football (who doesn’t love John Madden??) and also because the soundtrack is pretty awesome, but I think I like it best because it’s about second chances and redemption.  There’s a great scene where Hackman is talking to the players about what they fear on the football field, and after a lot of goofy responses, Reeves says “quicksand.”  He explains, “You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”

Sound familiar? I know that one definitely struck a chord with me! I’m trying to plan my menu and I can’t find what I need so I try to make changes and screw that up either because I forget something or my plans suddenly change and so I try to compensate and that doesn’t work out because I’m scrambling and before I know it, it feels like the diet is messed up, the workouts are messed up, the stress of screwing up is getting to me and suddenly it feels like I can’t move, I can’t breathe because– you guessed it! I’m in over my head!  The worst part about this is, for starters, I don’t know how I ended up there and secondly, how the hell do I get out of it? 

This is where it’s so tempting to wallow in self-pity.  We tell ourselves: “I’m going to take a little break right now.  It’s been pretty stressful and things haven’t been going right, so I’m going to take a few days to get my head on straight and then I’m going to figure out how to go forward.” (yeahhhhh…… riiiigggghhhtt.  HAH!) That break isn’t for ‘a few days’ and during that break, which typically turns out to be a few weeks, we bury our disappointment and confusion and hurt with all those guilt-inspiring comfort foods that led to our being overweight in the beginning! Instead of regrouping like we pretend-intended, we actually end up deeper in the quicksand, because now we aren’t even trying to get out of it.  We’re wallowing in it!

I am not saying we can’t ever stop to regroup or get our bearings or whatever metaphor you prefer to use.  But, taking my cue from Prof. Moody again, we need to make sure that ‘regrouping’ is what we are actually doing! Obviously, if things keep going wrong, we need to stop making the mistakes.  Usually what happens (for me anyway) is that the more things go wrong, the more I try to compensate by just doing more things, which I usually also get wrong.  For me to get out of the quicksand, I choose one thing, do that one thing right and keep doing it until I am out of the ‘getting it wrong’ cycle. That usually means I need to let go of some things I wanted to do, but seriously, if I’m getting those wrong anyway, what am I losing?

Example: I find I am really eating just the wrong foods.  I gave in to temptation and now I am eating too many carbs all the time, so I try to ‘be strict’ and cut out all the carbs, but then I get really hungry (carb rebound!) and end up plain overeating which means I get hungrier and crave carbs so I give in to one carb (i.e. Greek yogurt- it’s ‘healthy’!) and then it’s cherries or fruit and the cycle keeps spinning: carbs carbs carbs! Obviously, I’m drowning and every move I make is getting me in deeper, so what do I do?  One meal at a time. 

It sounds simplistic, and frankly it is, but at that point in time, that’s all I can handle! I focus on the one meal I am facing and make the best choices I can for that meal. Yes, maybe I have stacks of Greek yogurt in the fridge, but I don’t have to eat it! I don’t even have to get rid of it right then! (Haven’t we all tried to get away from the forbidden foods we bought on impulse by trashing them and then end up bingeing on something else? It’s like trashing them is a trigger: it’s gone so now I really really want it!) I focus on the healthy choices I planned on making, usually salad and chicken, and I have that and then after putting everything away and tidying the kitchen, I focus on something productive or fun or anything non-food-related.  All I have to focus on is getting through that meal without bingeing on carbs. Once I get through that one meal, there’s something ‘simplistically positive’ that happens: hey, that went right! I didn’t screw it up!

Those ‘one meals’ start to add up to success one at a time. It doesn’t have to be a meal that you get right.  It can be anything at all that you’re focusing on: working out; saying no to temptations or cravings; getting to bed on time.  Whatever it is, narrowing your focus to ‘one at a time’ is one of the best ways to build or rebuild your healthy habits and routines.  It gets you out of the quicksand one step at a time and before you know it, not only can you breathe again but you find yourself on solid footing!

It’s tempting to overlook the simple steps as being too easy to work, but they tend to be the most effective tools.  We all know we need to be aware of the sneaky excuses that look like legitimate reasons to blow off our healthy routines.  Those are the ones we usually defeat because we expect them. We learn to look for ways to get around them, like a family member scheduling something right in the middle of your work out! We learn what to look for on menus or how to plan for the unplanned dinner party or sudden evening out.  We’ve got a mini-arsenal for those kinds of excuses-that-look-like-reasons! But the self-pity and the overwhelming sense of helplessness? It feels like all our weapons are powerless and every maneuver we try just gets us in deeper. That’s part of what makes it feel okay to give up or stop trying: we’re already convinced we aren’t going to succeed anyway. That’s why they are so hard to escape even though we recognize them as excuses to give up. They sneak up on us, they overwhelm us and when we try to take a deep breath, we find ourselves drowning. Yes, let’s take a little break, catch our breath, regroup…. glub glub glub… Don’t let your weight loss drown when getting out of the quicksand is as simple as taking it one step at a time.

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Active Advocacy: Open Your Mouth & Say Something!

There are a lot of people who will accuse me of being a tactless loudmouth, to which I usually respond “Yeah, so what’s your point?”  It’s true.  While I do wish I was a little more subtle, I find subtlety is sometimes over-rated.  Yes, it’s good if we don’t bruise our friends’ feelings, but frankly, a lot of my friends are a lot like me: well-meaningly blunt!

It’s one thing if you’re trying to tell your future father-in-law that you don’t want him wearing his Bugs Bunny tie to your wedding without hurting his feelings but it’s another if you’re sitting in your doctor’s office and she’s giving you only five minutes to discuss your concerns over side effects of the medication she’s giving you. Your doctor is a professional who works for you: it’s her job to listen to her patient (you!) while your future father-in-law should be treated with respect, if not for his own sake, then for your future spouse’s.

This is one of those situations where being a tactless loudmouth actually works in my favor.  I am not afraid to voice my opinion to my doctor or other health professional.  I am also fairly lucky since I am not a victim of White Coat Syndrome (WCS). For a long time, I really didn’t know how many people suffered from WCS until I started watching some of those reality medical shows where lots of patients came in either tongue-tied or visibly nervous because they have to see a doctor. My mom was a registered nurse (RN) while I was a kid and nearly every day, I’d hear about how this doctor or that surgeon didn’t know what he/ she was doing or how they nearly screwed up (or really screwed up).  I heard how one doctor chose to fix a dislocated shoulder by planting his foot in the patient’s armpit and yanking the arm really hard! (Cue Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 2!) Obviously, it didn’t work: the doctor not only didn’t pop the shoulder back into place– he broke it, leaving the patient unable to raise his arm over his head.  While this incident was way out there, I heard plenty of stories of doctors doing ordinary mistakes like ordinary people. I’d also met about a hundred doctors by the time I was out of high school: these were the people my mom worked with so I’d talk to them on the phone or say hi when I went with my mom to pick up something she left at work. To me, they were like those geniuses who might be able to calculate pi to 8 digits in their head but forget where they left their car keys. “White Coat Syndrome? You mean people really are intimidated by doctors?!

As a result of seeing behind the curtain in the health care world, I grew up seeing doctors as any other skilled professional I’d hire to do things I can’t do myself.  So when I meet with my doctor or any health care professional, I make a list of questions and I’m not afraid of asking “why” or “what if.”  This is our health and our bodies they are treating but most of us grow up not questioning our doctors or the medication they are giving us.  We tend to ask more questions about the repairs to our cars or computers than we do about the prescription our doctor just called in to our pharmacy.

Most of us are used to trusting our doctors or at least not asking questions.  There’s a reason I read the little pamphlet that comes with the medication and I usually google the medication as well.  The main reasons to read the informational pamphlet has to do with side effects, drug interactions and how to take the medication correctly.  When you pick up your prescriptions, you might have noticed there are warning labels on some of them.  A lot of times, if it’s a new prescription, they will have you wait to speak to the pharmacist before they give you the medication.  This is because most people don’t read the labels or the instructions: some medications can kill you if you take them with another medication!  This is why it’s usually a good idea to have only one pharmacy! The pharmacist can see everything that has been prescribed to you and usually she/ he (or the computer) will catch a fatal interaction. It doesn’t have to be medication either: some vitamin supplements in high doses can also make you sick.  We need to remind ourselves it’s important to ask our doctors about our options for medication and for treatment!

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine fell off her porch and injured her knee badly.  She saw the orthopedist she was referred to, who promptly told her she needed a knee replacement.  It’s an invasive and painful surgery and at this point she’d hardly had more than a couple of weeks to recover from the injury.  She asked for a second opinion and another orthopedist sent her to physical therapy (“let’s try this and see where you are after a few weeks.”)  Two years later, her knee is fully healed and it’s not made of metal!  No replacement– just two months of therapy and exercise!

Of course, the second orthopedist could have suggested the same surgery or the therapy could have been ineffective and she could have ended up with a replacement anyway.  The point is that just because your doctor makes a recommendation doesn’t mean it’s the Only Option Available.  Back to the car analogy, most of us don’t buy the first car the salesman shows us or even the first car we test-drive! We look at a few and some of us look at a lot and at a lot of different places! A respectable doctor (as in one you can trust) will not fault you for seeking a second opinion, especially if surgery is involved.

Since doctors are ordinary people, they are prone to making the same mistakes ordinary people do.  They also want a quick fix and a simple solution, even if it means giving patients drugs or surgery that could have life altering effects.  There are some doctors who will also give the patients the procedure or medication they ask for, whether it’s the best option for them or not.  There are a lot of drug commercials now that tell you all the great benefits of the drugs and tend to minimize the side effects.  These commercials usually end telling you to “ask your doctor about XYZ today!”

One of the things I learned growing up around the health care profession is that if I want to learn about a medication, I am NOT going to ask my doctor: I’m going to ask the pharmacist! The biggest information source for doctors about medications are the drug companies! They get little pamphlets about the drugs with samples to give to their patients. The drug companies send representatives to promote (dare I say “push”?) the drugs and persuade doctors to prescribe their drugs to patients. The people who know the most about the drugs, how they work, side effects and interactions are the pharmacists!

I know that one reason some of us don’t like doctors is that we are afraid of bad news or getting ‘yelled at’ by our doctors. We think that if we don’t go to the doctor, we won’t be sick or we don’t have to be embarrassed by whatever they’re going to tell us.  I know I avoided doctors for a long time because they were always going to tell me to lose weight and I hated being told that (hello! 300-plus lbs! I know I need to lose weight!) But when we go, we have to be ready to ask questions and be proactive with our treatment. Not being assertive can be deadly.

One of my friends who also had a weight problem went to her doctor who put her on a pair of ‘miracle’ weight loss drugs to lose weight fast: fen-phen.  Yes, she lost weight.  Until she developed heart problems and had to have a valve in her heart replaced!  I remember being shocked because she was younger than I was and had never had heart problems despite her weight.  The heart problems came from the drugs.  She trusted her doctor who trusted the drug companies.  The two drugs fenfluramine and phentermine (both appetite suppressants) had not been approved for use in combination with each other. I’m not sure google would have helped much (1990’s) and like most of us, she was desperate to lose weight, but this is where doing a little research (her doctor’s job!) could have spared her a lot of distress, not to mention serious surgery!

When it comes to our own health, we need to be our own advocates.  Most of us do more research when we buy a new car than we do on our doctors, our medications and even any procedures or tests they do on us!  Our doctors get our test results back and we rely on what they say “it’s good!” or “you need to get your good cholesterol up!”  Do we look at the numbers? Do we look at the x-rays?  It matters and it’s okay to say “I want a second opinion!”

Most of us are so eager for simple quick fixes to difficult health issues that I can hardly fault my friend.  I probably would have made the same choice in her situation! But seeing what happened to her has made me seriously suspicious of drugs and procedures that promise simple easy results.  Maybe I’m just too stubborn to take the easy route, especially with weight loss, but what are the side effects to eating better and being more active? Better nutrition and more muscles? I can live with those side effects and my own doctor agrees with me!

 

 

 

 

Institutionalized: Weight Loss & Breaking Down the Walls of Fear

We all know that we get in our own way when it comes to our goals, especially with weight loss. We know we need to change bad old habits at the same time we’re developing new healthy habits, and we expect that it’s going to be hard. What we sometimes forget is that change is scary and it’s normal to be scared. It’s not foolish or silly or stupid: it’s normal.

We also tend to minimize the fact that we’ve spent a lifetime developing those unhealthy habits in that comfortably safe-though-unhealthy zone. We don’t realize we’ve become, in a sense, institutionalized. Most people recognize this term in connection with inmates. Convicts who’ve spent long years in prison get used to the structured routine and there are some who cannot function outside of prison when they’re released. Institutionalization is one of the reasons for re-offending: they want to get sent back to a place they feel safe, even if it is a prison.

We do the same thing with weight loss and changing our habits. We feel so safe in our bad old routine and when we try moving away from those safe unhealthy structures, it feels like we’re moving into uncharted new territory. That’s because we are moving into uncharted new territory! We’re working without a net, with minimal structure and sometimes shaky support, so yes, feeling scared and nervous is normal! We are leaving our comfort zone so we are UNCOMFORTABLE! Unfortunately, we’ve been taught by so many institutions that ‘uncomfortable is bad’ so we need to fix it as soon as possible!

What we forget is that moving out of that Safe Comfort Zone is how we grow and learn new things. Do you remember the first time you had to speak out loud in Spanish class-  in Spanish? Do you remember the first time you had to give a speech or a presentation? How about the first time you met your spouse/ partner? Nervous, much?  I know I can hear the quaver in my own voice when I get nervous, and although I don’t like it much, I accept that there are times it’s okay to be nervous and uncomfortable!

It’s like the old maps you see in history books: when the map-makers got to the edge of the known world, they’d fill in the empty places with warnings: Here be Dragons! or Here be Monsters! Basically, if you’re venturing out past the edge of civilization, you’re taking your life in your hands! Now there’s a huge incentive to turn back and head down a well-traveled old road instead of blazing a new trail!

Except…. imagine where we’d be if no one ever took that risk. In the United States, if Jefferson hadn’t sent Lewis and Clark out west, my country would be much much smaller.  If King Philip of Portugal hadn’t been Philip the Navigator, most of South America would be a different continent and if England hadn’t sent Francis Drake out across the seas, would America even exist?  Let’s forget about the New World and look at Europe: Rome spent most of the Pax Romana exploring new territories and paving the way for commerce but even before Rome, Alexander brought together the entire known world under one throne just as Ghengis Khan did in Asia. All of them took risks and with each risk, the whole world got a little bit bigger.

History aside, when you move outside your comfort zone, you are taking a big risk in an attempt to get something better than what you already have. Risk involves loss and failure, so it’s okay to feel nervous, scared, unsure and uncomfortable.  I really think this is one reason babies are born fearless: if they knew the risks of trying to walk on two legs, they’d never stand up!  They cheerfully crawl all over the floor, exploring, climbing on sofas, coffee tables, trying out their legs and wobbling all over the room: their whole world map is one big “Here be Dragons!” and they happily explore everywhere, oblivious to the dangers. (That’s what parents are for!) Truth be told, if your baby wasn’t doing that, you’d be rushing her to the doctor frantic that something is wrong with her, because this is normal for babies: it’s how they learn!

But the older we get, the more scrapes and scars we get, the more cautious we become.  We become institutionalized by those Dragons and Monsters: last time I worked out, I hurt my shoulder so that’s not a good idea; I tried calorie-counting and gained three pounds so giving that up; I tried the Whole 30 and it gave me ‘digestive issues’ so we’re not doing that again!  We think we are playing it safe but what we are really doing is limiting our opportunities for growth.  The more we shy away from Dragons and Monsters, the smaller our world gets but we don’t realize it because we’re focusing on staying safe and comfortable.  The more we stay safe, the more comfortable we become, the less inclined we are to venture out among the Monsters, because, “you know, they hurt us and scare us and make us feel really really nervous.”

There’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable because you’re doing something new and different and being uncomfortable because you feel threatened in some way.  Being uncomfortable waiting alone in a dark parking lot is obviously one of the situations you want to avoid but when you are out to eat with friends and you feel uncomfortable ordering your grilled shrimp over veggies instead of rice or saying no to the chips, brownies or beer? That’s one of the those situations where you’re really just nervous or embarrassed because you are doing something new or different.  No one is going to belittle you over your food choices, and in truth if they do, it says more about their own immaturity than it does your improvements in your diet. It might feel a little awkward the first time you do it but once you’ve done it a few times, you can erase the Dragons on that part of your map and fill in a newly explored section that’s now become a part of your Safe Comfortable Zone.

There’s also no rules saying you have to start all the new and uncomfortable habits at the same time.  Most weight loss professionals discourage this practice and I can tell you from experience that they’re right: too much change at once is a recipe for disaster! In my experience, I found it much easier to do one major change or maybe two smaller changes at a time until they feel comfortable.  Once they are part of the New Safe Comfortable Zone, then I add one more change and one more and so on until I have a new set of healthier comfortable habits in place of the old unhealthy ones. It certainly didn’t happen overnight but it also didn’t overwhelm me so much I turned back.

Sometimes this fear of leaving the Comfort Zone manifests as a feeling of “I can’t.”  You simply cross this new opportunity off your list as “something I can’t do,” as in “I can’t lift weights because I’ll hurt myself;” or “I can’t do Zumba because of my bad joints.”  Once you start telling yourself “I can’t,” you’ve really locked yourself in.  You’ve created your own prison and you are totally institutionalized; you just don’t know how locked in you are or that you are the one who’s done it. It’s easy to blame our weight, our schedule, our circumstances or our health: we really want to be able to workout/ eat better/ walk more/ insert healthy habit, but we just can’t!

There really is no cure for institutionalization except breaking out of our own prisons.  Yes, it’s scary; yes, we are unsure of ourselves: again, it’s normal to feel this way when we’re trying out new things! It would be great if we had a fabulous supportive community or a clear plan of how we are going to accomplish our goals, but sometimes we just need to be brave and forge ahead on our own.  If we wait until we find that supportive community or until we’ve figured out that clear plan, we are tricking ourselves into staying in that Safe Comfort Zone, going over the same routines that keep us locked in place.  When we feel the urge to return to those old routines, we need to remind ourselves that those are the habits that led to our being overweight and unhealthy and eating badly.  It may feel “safe” but how comforting is it when we get winded walking across the parking lot or when we have to sit down while we wait at Starbucks because standing hurts too much?  How comforting is it when our weight is putting a strain on our knees or our back or our heart and kidneys? That’s what those ‘safe & comfortable’ old routines have done for us.  It may feel more comfortable when we eat the whole burrito at lunch instead of ordering a burrito bowl and you might feel less self-conscious having the chips and beer along with everyone else on Friday nights, but when your pants feel a bit too snug and you find yourself breathing hard when you reach your car after leaving the restaurant, are you feeling safe and comfortable? Or is it more like a scary “OMG! I need to do something!”

Whatever new healthy habit you begin, it’s okay to feel a nervous and awkward. None of us like that feeling of not knowing what we’re doing or how to do it, but we have to remind ourselves that: 1) this is a temporary feeling; and 2) if it really isn’t for you, it’s okay to move on to something else! The more you get used to trying new things, the more of a trailblazer you become and the bigger your world is!

 

 

“It’s Genetic!”: Weight Loss & Shifting Blame

One of the most common excuses for being overweight is genes. Lots of people who are overweight have grown up with overweight family members. A lot of it has to do with the family’s eating habits: either too much food, too much low quality/ processed food or too much of both. In that kind of situation, it’s easy to blame it on genetics or the family. “I’m big because my whole family is big! I can help it! You can’t fight your DNA!”

It’s true you’re stuck with your genes. I can color my hair and buy blue contacts but I’ll always be short with thick ankles! (If I could change one thing about my body, those ankles would be it!) But one of the things researchers are learning is that what we eat and how much of it can affect gene expression, which is the fancy term for what genes are turned on and which are turned off.  Whether we subscribe to gene expression or not, when it comes to what you put in your mouth, that’s all up to you!

We all know families with picky eaters: the kids who won’t touch vegetables or who only eat white bread. Sometimes it’s the adults who are picky:I have one adult cousin who won’t eat meat with skin and/ or bones!  (Really?!) Either way, it’s a personal choice that person has made and instead of pressuring them to eat like everyone else eats, we should applaud them for taking a stand for individuality.  For whatever reason, they’re not going to eat what they don’t want to eat!

Most of grew up eating what was put in front of us with the horror stories of starving kids elsewhere in the world who’d just love what you are snubbing on your plate! But too often, what was on our plate wasn’t the best food for us. I ate a lot of rice and noodles as a kid because that’s what was cheap and easy to cook. Pretty much every dinner was heavy on the carbs; breakfast was usually carb-heavy cereal and lunch was usually a sandwich with chips and a ‘juice drink.’  In short, my childhood meals went from one carbfest to another! Ironically, the things I complained about the most were the healthiest things in my meals: the lunchmeat in my sandwiches (still not a fan of Genoa salami or olive loaf!)

It would be easy to blame my size on my genes: a lot of my dad’s family is on the plumper side and the same for my mom’s (her nephew was 600+ lbs before dying at a young age).  Between the ‘bad genes’ and the poor family-taught eating habits, I’ve got this excuse nailed! “I’m fat because I’ve got fat genes and no one taught me how to eat healthy!” Boom! That’s done!

Except…… my family isn’t the one putting the food in my mouth.  Remember those picky kids? Family members! They stood up for not eating what everyone else wanted them to eat! True, they were pooh-poohed as being difficult, but at the end of the day, that food they didn’t want to eat was still on their plates uneaten! They chose what to eat and what not to eat, and there were a few who were literal picky eaters, as in they picked at their food a couple of times and left most of it on the plate. “He doesn’t eat enough to keep a mouse alive!”  Really? ‘Cause he looks pretty healthy to me!

While the Go Ahead & Eat It people definitely outnumbered the Picky Eaters in my family, as we all grew up, we all learned to eat differently and eating differently became the norm in our family: this one hates onions, that one won’t eat olives or mushrooms, that one is vegetarian, that one won’t eat fish, etc. So at most family gatherings, there were the foods without olives, onions or mushrooms, the veggie foods and only a couple fish dishes.  I leaned to make my chocolate chip cookies in two batches: those with extra nuts and those without any at all. This was simply how it was done once we became adults because we learned to choose what we wanted to eat.

And that’s what it comes down to: we choose what we put in our mouths.  Genes can’t be changed but our habits can be, and if gene expression has any validity, choosing to eat better can mean choosing to turn off those unhealthy genes.  We aren’t destined to be fat; we are choosing to be fat when we eat food we know aren’t good for us.  Yes, this is not what we want to hear since those of us who’ve been overweight from childhood grew up being ridiculed for being fat. As a kid, I heard a lot from family and other kids about my ‘choosing to be a glutton.’  As a kid, it was certainly not my choice: I didn’t know any better! Everyone ate chips, so why not me? Everyone had cookies, so what’s wrong with my having cookies? My parents fed me the rice, the bread, the pasta and the biscuits and the pancakes! Saying no to what they gave me got me in trouble but apparently eating them also got me in trouble because they made me fat! It was pretty much the same rock-and-hard-place situation for most overweight kids: eat what mom and dad gave you and continue to put on pounds, or say no to what they fed you and face recrimination and punishment. For me, it never occurred to me to say no to the rice or the pasta or anything else because it never occurred to me that my parents would feed me something unhealthy!  I don’t think it ever occurred to them that there was anything wrong with what they were feeding me, either!

Even though we are now adults,  there is still a lot of blame-shifting going on, only this time it isn’t our parents we are blaming, it’s our own family.  “My kids hate vegetables!” “My spouse loves potatoes!” “I’m the only one trying to eat healthy!” Remember those picky eaters I mentioned above?  Just because there are potatoes, rice or cookies on the table or in the house, that doesn’t mean you have to eat them!  Face it, as one of the parents in the family, you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to eat.  It’s not like making your kid eat his broccoli (though if he really hates it, maybe try another veg for him?) Even when it comes to eating out, you can either be That Person who orders the chicken alfredo but get it over broccoli instead of pasta, or you can be a little more casual and simply leave the stuff you don’t want to eat on the plate.  I’ve ordered lots of stuff that came ‘on a bed of rice’ and left the rice behind. Just because something is offered or available to you does not make you obligated to eat it!  If someone offered you something you really detested, would you have any trouble saying no? (In my case, if kale were the only thing to eat in the house, I would be extremely thin!)

Now that I am an adult, what I eat is up to me. I can choose the junk food or I can choose something healthy- whatever I eat and how much of it is entirely up to me. While I may be at the mercy of my DNA with some things, like these icky ankles, myopia, and predispositions to diabetes and hypertension, that doesn’t mean I am “doomed to be fat and sickly” the rest of my life.  How and what I eat, how active I am, how I manage stress and how much sleep I get– among other things– are all up to me and each of those affects my health and my metabolism.  As easy at it would be to blame our genes or our family, your DNA is just the framework of your body: what you choose to build on that framework is all up to you!

Weight Loss & Winning: YOU Decide if You Want to Let Go or Finish the Fight

Most of my friends know that I am a rabid fan of what are now called “police procedurals.”  Back when I was a kid, we just called them “cop shows” or “detective stories.”  But, whatever you call them, books, movies or tv shows, if it was about cops and criminals, odds were I’d checked it out at least once. (FYI: I include lawyers/ court dramas in ‘police procedurals’.)

These days, my current fascination is with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.  I’ve read several of the books, listened to some more via Audible, and watched all four seasons currently available on Amazon Prime Video. One of the things I like so much about the tv show is how much of what’s in the books has made it on to the show.  For example, one of the things that made it from the books is Harry’s sign on his cubicle wall that says “Get off your ass & go knock on some doors.”  This is part of Harry’s no-nonsense, do-whatever-it-takes attitude when it comes to solving murders.

For those of you not familiar with the fictional character of Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch, he is the archetypal “cop on a mission.”  (The title theme on the show is pure Bosch: “Can’t Let Go” by Caught A Ghost.)  For his good or ill, and sometimes it’s both, Harry Bosch doesn’t let go.  He’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if means he takes the heat for getting in someone’s way.  As far as fiction goes, it makes for some great drama, and while watching the tail end of season four, I spotted another sign on the wall of the precinct that I think was some great subliminal messaging: Harry is leaning against a bulletin board listening to one of his fellow detectives update the task force and right next to him is a sign saying “Winners are simply willing to do what losers won’t.”  While that statement is an accurate description of his character, as a viewer, it made me ask myself that question: what am I willing to do?

Not too long ago, I posted a similar phrase I found online: We seldom do things to best of our ability; we do them to the best of our willingness.  This one is along the same lines, but it also stresses this is the difference between winning and losing. If we knew the difference between losing 100 lbs and not losing 100 lbs was giving up bread, are we willing to make that choice?  If you knew you could be so much healthier if you didn’t eat sugar, are you willing to stop eating sugar?  While it’s easy to say, “if I knew for sure, then I’d do it!”  But as long as it’s just ‘an educated guess,’ we’re not going to stop eating bread or sugar? This doesn’t mean that we have to be rigid in our eating or super-strict when it comes to counting calories, but when it comes to our goals, we need to keep our eyes focused on what we are trying to achieve.  Sometimes that can mean being a little strict and sometimes that means doing what’s hard. 

Let’s be honest when it comes to fictional Harry Bosch: if Connelly’s cop took the easy way out the way some of his fictional colleagues do, no one would be reading the books or watching the tv show! We regularly tune in to see Harry go through the wringer and come out the other side with the killer in tow! It’s the struggle that makes for great drama, but in real life, drama and struggling are not so much fun!  It’s one thing to watch a tv character take it on the chin in a fistfight but it’s another thing to be sitting at a BBQ watching everyone washing down chips and hot dogs with beer and soda! It’s bad enough to see it and smell it but having to say no thanks when others offer you the same? Talk about struggling! Real life can be a real pain in the butt! No one wants to make things hard for ourselves, especially when it comes to the ‘simple pleasures’ that add so much to our lives, like hanging with friends at a BBQ! Not eating what they’re eating may not be the ‘pleasure’ you mean, but your not eating or drinking can draw unwanted attention and make others (and you!) feel self-conscious.  What’s fun about that? Now ‘eating healthier’ just got in the way of one of your major relaxation activities!

This is where a lot of us will try to choose the lesser evil or the greater good and choose one hot dog and/ or one beer to be part of the crowd.  I’m not going to judge, because only you know what’s in line with your goals and what’s not.  I am going to say that some of us (raising my hand here) will use this as an escape hatch for making too many ‘accommodations.’  It’s like the old saying: the exception becomes the rule.  If we are constantly making exceptions to have the one hot dog & beer at each BBQ, how long before it turns into two beers/ hot dogs, or even if it stays just one of each, there’s a difference between having one hot dog & beer once a month and having ‘one hot dog & beer’ once a week, because you get together with your friends on Friday nights and then at the BBQ later in the month and then there’s that work luncheon- meeting and you don’t want to draw attention to being different, so you have one slice of pizza and a soda.  It’s easy to allow those little ‘accommodations’ to take over the majority of your eating! Making too many of these exceptions, even if they don’t take over the majority of your eating, they can counteract all the good eating choices you are still making! Does it matter if you had a salad and lean beef for lunch if you then have pretzels, beer and a burger with your buddies when you want to ‘be part of the crowd’?  Been there- getting away from that!

Maybe that’s why the sign in Bosch jumped out at me.  (I actually backed it up so I could write it down!) What am I willing to do that I have not been willing to do up to now?  For starters, I can stop with all the exceptions! I can still be part of the crowd and not have the same food as the others, and if they are my friends, they will support my choices.  If they’re my coworkers, how I eat isn’t their business (not my friends’ business either, but I care what they think!) If it means a few awkward moments, my friends will get over it and so will I. It also reminds me that sometimes doing what it takes to win can be hard.  We all know weight loss is right up there with quitting smoking and if they were easy, we’d all be skinny nonsmokers! Sometimes, it means we have to make the hard choice and say no thanks to the cookies at the party or pass the bowl of chips without grabbing any.  For me, this means keeping my hand out of the bread basket and leaving the licorice alone.  It’s easy to make an excuse: it’s just one; it’s because of the party; it’s a vacation day; etc. We make it hard to let it go because of where we are putting our focus: we focus on what we want (the chips, the beer, the licorice) rather than on our goals of being leaner or healthier.  We all know what we get if we keep doing what’s easy– all we have to do is look in the mirror! If we really want to win, then we need to get off our butts and go do something positive about it!

Drifting Along: Weight Loss & Going with the Flow

One of the dangers with weight loss and work out plans is what’s called “drifting.” This is where you kind of lose your drive or motivation and, while it’s not quite going through the motions, it’s close. You’ve lost your focus and are just floating along with the current, doing things the way you’ve always done them.

Drifting or going with the flow is a little different than what I refer to as my “comfortable old rut.”  You may have heard me refer to this rut when in some of my posts about trying to talk myself out of going to the gym or not making it to my workout class.  Even though my brain is frantically trying to come up with a ‘valid’ excuse why I can’t go, because I’m stuck in my rut, I find myself turning into the gym parking lot without thinking about it.  Why? Because my brain was on Autopilot and followed its comfortable rut and we end up going to the gym because it’s Monday or Wednesday.

With drifting, you aren’t paying attention to your workout or your eating: you are going through the motions without any conscious thought.  You are eating the foods on your eating plan, and doing your workouts but you are phoning it in. Are you engaged when you are working out?  Are you putting forth as much as effort as you can?  When it comes to your diet, even though you are choosing the fresh veggies, are you watching portion size?  Or dressings?  When you eat, do you check to make sure you are actually hungry or do you eat the ‘approved foods’ simply because it’s meal time?

Drifting is a lot like drowsy driving. Most of us have been behind the wheel when we are less than fully alert and it seriously scares the living daylights out of me. You can feel your eyelids getting heavy and usually you begin to weave in your own lane.  Usually the side of the road or the lane reflectors will wake you back up and then you slowly begin to drift off again.  Your reflexes are also less than optimal, since it takes you a couple extra seconds to realize that ‘something happened’ that caused the car ahead of you to stop or swerve and then you react.  Sometimes those two extra seconds are the difference between an accident and a close call.  You are literally on Autopilot, going through the motions without really paying attention to what is going on around you.  How can you pay attention? You’re half-asleep!

This is what happens when we drift or go with the flow.  We keep doing things the same way we’ve always done them– or at least, we think we are!  Whether we are or not, we need to be paying attention.  When we think we are doing things the same way as usual, drifting can mean things like our portions slowly get a little bigger because we aren’t paying attention.  The size of our burger patty goes from 3 oz to 4 oz then to nearly 5.  Our salad might also get bigger and while most veggies are fairly low cal (especially greens), the amount of salad dressing grows proportionally from two tablespoons to almost four. The same with our ‘coffee drink’: no longer the Tall, it’s now a Grande.  We aren’t really paying too much attention since it creeps up on you.  That ‘occasional’ Grande Dark Roast is now a Grande Latte or a Grande Macchiato.  The lunch salad with dressing on the side may not change, except that now you are using the whole container of dressing instead of half or less.  That ‘serving’ of nuts you normally have as a midday snack goes from a closed fist of nuts to an open handful, which is almost 50% more for some of us.

This isn’t because we’re being greedy: it’s because we aren’t really paying attention to what we are eating and how much we are eating.  We are going through the motions: “nuts are on my list, so nuts are safe!” An ounce of nuts is ‘safe,’ but that ‘handful’ is probably about two or more.  Not safe!  Just like the mayo you put in your ‘healthy tuna salad.’  Is it really two tablespoons or is it closer to twice that because you’re ‘eyeballing’ the amount as you go through the motions?

I don’t want to turn everyone into a Diet Weights & Measures Nazi, but I do want all of us to pay attention.  There’s nothing wrong with ‘eyeballing’ a portion size of meat or salad dressing, provided that every so often you ‘spot-check’ your assessment.  That can mean throwing that bit of flank steak on the scale to confirm that yep! that’s a 3 oz piece of meat!  The same with dressing or oils or nuts: check that the amount you served is the amount you think it is! It’s okay to have more as long as you recognize it: I had two servings of cheese, not one! It can be that one serving (1 oz) isn’t enough for you. The point is to eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed, and if two ounces of meat and cheese don’t cut it, then they don’t cut it.  It also means that eating five ounces of meat and four ounces of cheese is probably too much for most of us and will probably leave us feeling like a blob.

Paying attention also means that before we eat, we have to ask ourselves: “am I really hungry? Do I want to eat because it’s meal time or do I want to eat because I am actually hungry?” Sometimes it helps to check the time of day and remind yourself when you last ate.  For myself, I got into the habit of getting a snack on my way home from work, so every work day about 3:30-4:00, my stomach would start growling.  It was expecting its snack!  The time of day, the location where I was (usually a gas station) or my actions would trigger the Snack Memory, and given that I’d usually eaten my lunch between noon and one o’clock, I wasn’t really hungry! If I ignored the growling and just drove home, usually after twenty minutes, I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Waiting a while is one of the best ways to determine if your ‘hunger’ is really ‘eating memory.’ If your body really needs food, after about half an hour or so, you are probably still hungry. For most of us, we can probably afford to skip a meal or two.  Many fans of Intermittent Fasting (IF) like to point out that most times, when they’re on a fasting day, even if it’s been a day or so since they’ve eaten, their hunger will usually go away after about a half an hour or so. Hunger is just our body’s way of letting us know it’s expecting or it needs fuel.  This is why I like to do a mental check of what I ate when and how much I ate.  If I skipped breakfast and it’s now 11:00, then the hunger is usually genuine, especially depending on how much or little I had for dinner the night before.  If I had a breakfast wrap/ burrito and it’s about 11:00, then I am usually not genuinely hungry. It really means I’ve metabolized the carbs in the wrap or tortilla so my blood sugar is dropping which triggers the hunger response.  (I like to avoid carbs in the morning for this very reason!)

One of the reasons most of us, including me, gained as much weight as we did is because we eat when we’re not hungry and we react to hunger like it’s the dinner bell. We eat because it’s meal time; we see a snack we like; someone offers us food; we’re getting something to drink so we get something to eat; we eat at every available opportunity!  It doesn’t make us gluttons: it means we’re reacting to our conditioning! Humans are pretty much hard-wired to eat when food is available because even just a few decades ago, food wasn’t all that accessible for some of us. Those of us with dogs know that most of them will eat the entire bowl of food or eat until they can’t eat anymore.  (I had a Queensland mix who’d eat until she threw up!) It’s the same idea: we don’t know when food will be available again, so fill ‘er up!

This was the same up until food became more convenient (i.e. processed) and cheaper but now that it’s pretty much available at any local gas station or vending machine, we are still eating every time food crosses our path! Now, we need to do a literal ‘gut check’ before we eat: are we really hungry or are we just eating to eat? It’s a little thing and to be honest it’s kind of a pain to remind ourselves each time we go to eat or drink something, but it helps us stay focused and it keeps us from drifting away.  In a sense, it keeps us tied to our goals.  There is nothing wrong with ‘going with the flow,’ as long as you are doing the steering and not letting circumstances and apathy guide your way!

 

 

The Secret Saboteur: Weight Loss & Stress

Let’s be honest: stress gets the blame for a lot of things we screw up in our lives.  We forgot to make the car payment because we were stressed over our job; we missed our dentist appointment because we were stressed over the kids; and the classic: we blew our diet because we were just so stressed!

We are so used to hearing Stress being painted as the villain that we regularly dismiss it now. Friend:”yadda yadda yadda Stress made me do it yadda yadda!” You: “Yeah, whatever!” But while Stress might be a convenient villain, it doesn’t mean that it really isn’t a villain. In fact, Stress is as ubiquitous and all-pervasive as Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Prof. Moriarty.  Stress seeps into every facet of our lives, working its corrosion into our best laid plans.  While you’re probably rolling your eyes and telling me, “duhhh! old news there!”, let me ask you “so what are you doing about it?”

When I was a kid (lo, those many decades ago!), drunk driving was no big deal. Everyone knew someone whose parents drove drunk a few times and even when I was in high school, no one thought twice about getting buzzed at some party out at the reservoir and then driving home. They were more concerned about getting busted by their parents than busted by the cops. The truth of the matter was that drunk driving was never a “big deal”….until it was. Once the general public became aware of how many lives are destroyed daily by drunk driving, then we saw it for the huge problem it really is.  But until we were actually paying attention, it was ‘nothing to worry about.’

While Stress normally doesn’t have the catastrophic and tragic results that drunk driving has, it still has some really negative results and depending on how severe the Stress is, it can be pretty bad. When it comes to weight loss, Stress is that secret saboteur that gets in your way, leads you astray and continually confounds your progress, and if your weight is contributing to a condition like diabetes, kidney, heart or liver disease, that can be just as catastrophic as a car accident!

For most of us, our weight isn’t life-threatening and usually doesn’t have such overreaching effects on our lives. It’s that annoying twenty pounds that makes us ‘feel fat’ when we wear jeans or keeps us from taking off the cover up on the beach.  Still, how much better would our lives and our health be minus that annoying twenty pounds? Probably a lot better! So… why haven’t we lost that weight? The answer probably has something to do with Stress!

Like I said before, we probably look at Stress as the ‘Convenient Villain’ that gets blamed for our over-eating, eating Forbidden Foods, skipping workouts, etc.  While Stress may not be the actual villain in those scenarios (admit it- you ate the chocolate cake because you wanted the chocolate cake!), it really is working against you! Whether it’s physical or emotional/ mental, when we feel stressed, we have a physical reaction which spreads throughout our bodies and damages us.

If you’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes, hopefully you’ve seen the Robert Downey, Jr. movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows where he shows Jude Law’s Watson his wall full of pictures, news clippings and notes all connected by strings to a central figure. In the stories, Holmes describes Moriarty as the spider in the center of web controlling it all.  Stress is the Moriarty spider in the center of our lives!

We all know about the Fight or Flight reaction we have when faced with a potentially dangerous or threatening situation.  Stress is part of that reaction.  Something happens that puts pressure on us, either mentally/ emotionally or physically, and our bodies react to it.  Most of us discount this Stress because hey, we aren’t going to die if we’re late back from lunch or if our morning meeting runs long and the 10:30 client has to wait a little while.  Our boss or the client might not be happy but some things (like traffic and long meetings) are out of our control.  It’s called the Modern World, people!

This is exactly my point: Stress is still in our lives, but because we don’t think “we’re going to die!“, we tend to discount it.  How bad can Stress be if it’s not going to kill us? The truth is that it is killing us, just very slowly.  Stress, especially chronic Stress, keeps our cortisol levels elevated.  Cortisol is the “stress hormone” and the main mechanism which causes so many of the problems related to Stress. Prolonged and recurring Stress, such as the kind that comes with a high pressure job or a hectic family life, effects us in ways we don’t think of as any “big deal.”  So we have “a few” sleepless nights; we forget the dentist appointment; we pour the coffee on the cereal in the morning because we’re preoccupied with the upcoming project. Nothing to freak out about, right?

Ummm, that depends. You know how little treats add up when you’re trying to lose weight? How those two cookies at lunch aren’t a big deal but how those two cookies are joined by the bag of chips on the way home and the grande mocha in the morning and then the bowl of ice cream after dinner? One of those treats alone isn’t that big a deal but all of them together turn into a diet killer!  That’s what happens with your Stress:  a couple sleepless nights aren’t a big deal but they add up and are usually joined by Stress-triggered effects.  These are things like headaches, muscle tension/ pain, fatigue, digestive troubles as well as the sleepless nights.  Stress causes anxiety, feelings of restlessness, hopelessness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, inability to focus/ concentrate, anger and depression.  These can lead to eating disorders (over-eating and under-eating), angry outbursts, substance abuse (food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco) and social isolation.

Those high cortisol levels are mainly responsible for increased inflammation which many studies are now showing are behind a lot of our autoimmune disorders (such as arthritis and fibromyalgia) and also behind some of those problems I mentioned earlier: heart disease and kidney disease.

The sleepless nights aka Sleep Deprivation also has a whole host of negative effects, such as memory issues, mood changes, inability to focus/ concentrate (brain fog), drowsiness, weakened immunity, high blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes due to the increased levels of insulin, weight gain due to the resistance to leptin (the satiety hormone) and increased ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and the increased inflammation- again!  The attendant drowsiness that comes with chronic Sleep Deprivation is usually responsible for all manner of accidents, from tripping and falling to car accidents due to drowsy driving (it’s now listed on police collision reports!)

All of these negative effects are the result of Stress.  This is why I call it the secret saboteur. Stress really does sit in the center of the web of many of our health problems.  Our weight is just one of the many things that is affected by the ongoing Stress in our lives.  While we may not be fighting off a tiger or a wolf, we are now constantly bombarded by little stressors such as traffic congestion, late-paying clients, lost phones, too many activities and pressure from family and friends. It doesn’t help that we manufacture our own Stress when we stay up too late scrolling through Facebook or ordering online and then we feel rushed in the morning because of the traffic and where’s our phone and are you taking the kids to basketball tonight? All this Stress leads to poor eating choices, lack of exercise, giving in to hunger and cravings, over-eating, and increasing waistlines.  How can we be expected to lose weight with all this Stress in our lives?  This is where we blame Stress (“That’s why I ate the whole bag of Chips Ahoy!”) but what are we doing about all this Stress?

Let’s be honest: Stress is not going away, so we need to learn to manage it. There are a lot of strategies to manage your Stress (google that late at night!) and they include simple things like going to bed at the same reasonable time each night; making time for relaxing hobby (I like puzzles); being more physically active; socializing with friends or pets; relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing and meditation; and the simplest is absolutely free: keep a sense of humor! I know it’s easier said than done but at the end of the day, we need to decide what really deserves our immediate attention, what can wait until later and what we need to let go.  When my cable box recently died, after a fairly major tantrum that night, I put off replacing it until the weekend.  So I miss a week of tv! It’s not worth the Stress of rushing around to “get it done now!” As a result, it was fun “camping out” with my kindle for a few days and I got to spend more quality time with my pets (my favorite stress relievers)!