Deja Vu All Over Again?: Weight Loss & Motivation

There are a lot of technical definitions and explanations for deja vu.  Essentially, you feel like this situation or scene is familiar to you when it shouldn’t be.  In weight loss, this usually shows up when we’ve gone off the rails and gone back to our old eating habits.  We all know– or should know– what happens then: we feel like we used to feel! Depending on how long it’s been since we’ve put ourselves in that situation, we may or may not feel a little deja vu.

When I weighed almost 440 lbs, I felt pretty terrible.  My knees hurt, my back hurt, and just standing was painful. These aches I knew were definitely weight-related but I was also up all night in the bathroom, I had terrible headaches when I woke up and a lot of times, I felt like I was getting hot flashes at night.  Since I am near the right age for hot flashes, I pretty much chalked those up to menopause.  It wasn’t until I changed what I ate that I realized my headaches, hot flashes and overall cruddy feeling were also tied to my weight and bad eating habits.

This past weekend, I experienced a major bout of deja vu and it was not a fun trip down Memory Lane! I spent a major portion of the long weekend hanging out with friends which meant I did a lot more indulging than I intended to do, mainly because I wasn’t paying attention half the time although the other half was intentional. Since I wasn’t paying attention, I did not realize until much later that I had had too much of pretty much everything! I know I can make excuses or blame my friends but the sad fact is I am responsible for my food choices.  It also doesn’t change what I chose to eat and drink, but the consequences were a literal wake up call to pay more attention to my choices!

Not too long ago I wrote about perspective and how we don’t know how good we can really feel because our idea of “feeling good” is a lot closer to “not feeling as bad as I normally do.”  The difference is that once we truly begin to feel great, we realize how awful we had been feeling before.  For me, some of the first positive effects were I no longer had terrible headaches in the morning and the ‘hot flashes’ went away as well as being up all night in the bathroom.  What I came to learn was that those were due to my over-consumption of quick carbohydrates, especially at night. The fewer of these quick carbs that I ate, the better I felt.  My joints began to feel better and I no longer felt like a stiff creaky old lady.  My energy leveled out instead of bouncing up and down and I stopped getting headaches and feeling mentally exhausted all the time. My legs, back and knees also stopped aching the more weight I lost, but I had expected those changes.  These other improvements were a complete surprise to me!

Like most of us, I had accepted the headaches, fake ‘hot flashes’ and being up all night as the “natural effects of aging,” even though I was still under 50 at the time.  The fact that these issues were driven by what I ate had never occurred to me.  It was obvious that my painful knees and back were due to carrying around 440 lbs, but just changing what I ate made a powerful improvement to my overall sense of well-being.  I was vividly reminded this past weekend of how powerful– and how delicate– this improvement really is!

To be blunt, I spent this past weekend on a carb binge! Things like popcorn, sugar, pastry and bread made their way into my diet and while there were some that I purposely chose to indulge in, there were a great many others that I dismissed since “they can’t really hurt me.” In short, I stopped paying attention to how many of these carb-heavy and sugar-rich foods I was eating.  That’s when I learned that yes, these foods can hurt me!

After a few short days of eating some of the things I used to eat on a regular basis, I went back to feeling the way I used to feel.  After not feeling like that for nearly four years, I had forgotten how truly awful it was. The morning-after headache was akin to a migraine and it lasted most of the night.  I was awake most of that night to feel it because I was running back and forth to the bathroom and when I wasn’t, I was lying awake with the covers thrown off because they were too hot. In fact, I had to turn down the thermostat because I felt too warm!  Even before I got that bad, I started feeling stiff and achy again: I was back to being the creaky old lady who was tired all the time. Being stiff, achy and tired again was bad enough without the additional effects! By the time I got up to go to work on Monday morning, I was truly and painfully regretting my choices over the weekend.

The result of this ‘deja vu all over again’ was that I was extremely motivated to go back to making healthy choices again! We all tell ourselves that eating low carb, nutrient dense whole foods is good for us, but sometimes we forget the consequences of not eating what’s best for us.  We tell ourselves that this is a permanent change to our lifestyle but it’s easy to recite the platitudes and slogans without making the real changes. Many of us lament the weight or water gain when we slip and I know I have done it, but it wasn’t until I revisited my old life that I discovered a new motivation.  I want to eat healthier not only to lose weight and feel good: I want to eat healthier so I never feel that horrible again!

We spend a lot of time looking for motivation and trying to keep the momentum going. Motivation tends to be short-lived.  Once it cools off, we start feeling cravings and begin making excuses for eating unhealthy foods.  I found new motivation the hard way:  if you really want to know why you started this weight loss journey, just take a short trip back to your old life.  Once you’ve lived a few days the way you did before, you’ll have all the motivation you need to get back on the road to living healthy!

 

Burning Calories?: Weight Loss & Exercise

I hear a lot of talk at the gym about “burning off the holiday calories.”  While some of us are joking about it, I know there are a lot of people whose primary purpose in going to the gym and working out is to burn calories and lose weight. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to burn off the pumpkin pie or the Halloween candy by working out.

We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” Most weight loss professionals will tell you that what you eat and how much you eat is far more important than how much you work out. There are myths about exercising out there and people will use them to justify either what they are eating or why they are or aren’t working out. One of my favorites is “I don’t want to build muscle because it weighs more than fat and I want to lose weight!”

While I am certainly not a weight loss professional, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the importance of regular exercise.  I work out generally three times a week and it’s not to lose weight. What I eat has nothing to do with how much or how hard I work out and vice versa.  Eating more carbs than normal doesn’t change whether I decide to add or skip a workout, nor do I eat more because it was an extra tough workout.

For me, the chief benefits of regular exercise has more to do with simply staying active.  We’ve all heard the expression “use it or lose it” and it’s true with just about everything about the human body.  If we don’t keep using it (whatever It is), our body stops maintaining it.  As the Baby Boomers began aging, geriatric professionals began noticing certain trends such as decreased muscle mass, increased osteoporosis and more cognitive degeneration in the aging population.  Because the Baby Boomers are such a large demographic, they were able to reach a few conclusions that pretty much confirmed the Use it or Lose it philosophy.  If we don’t use our muscles, they atrophy and we are more likely to develop osteoporosis. The same is true of our brains: if we don’t regularly stimulate our senses and our minds, our brains will turn to mush!

When we choose not to exercise out of fear of falling, we start on a vicious cycle that can really hurt us because one of the chief benefits of exercising is flexibility. We all know what it’s like when we’ve been sitting still in a plane or a car for several hours: we get up and we’re stiff.  Imagine how stiff you would be if you haven’t moved very much in several years! For a lot of us, that’s what has happened to us: we do the same four or five movements over and over again. We stand up, we sit down, we bend down from a sitting position, we lay down and get up from a sitting position. When was the last time you got up from the floor? When was the last time you bent down and touched your toes from a standing position? When was the last time you stretched up over your head or twisted around at the waist? Have you squatted down lately? All of these are important movements that keep those joint, muscles, bones and tendons in good working order.  Calories are not the point of exercising but being able to move is!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about falling myself.  I am rapidly approaching that “falling is dangerous” age: I’m a fifty-something female nearing menopause.  I’ve already had hardware installed due a fall about fifteen years ago.  I have screws in my leg along with a plate holding my wrist together.  If anyone should be afraid of falling, it’s me! As it happened recently, I got up in the middle of the night and as I was walking around the bed, I stepped on the dogs’ tennis ball, lost my balance and ended up sitting down hard on the bed.  This is where those three nights a week in the pool paid off for me: instead of falling over onto the bed (or worse, the dresser!), I twisted when I felt myself losing my balance.  It was a natural reflexive reaction: not balanced– move! Instead of landing on my side, which could have bruised some ribs or sprained my arm, I landed on my well-padded butt.  The next day, aside from feeling a little foolish, I had a couple sore muscles from twisting rather hard and fast, but otherwise, I was fine.

In fact, since that little accident, I have fallen again.  This time I was loading my duffel bag in the car and I tripped on the dangling strap.  Since I was outside, falling on the pavement could have resulted in more injuries, but I fell on the duffel, knee first and rolled into the flower bed. Again, the shoulder and knee that took the brunt of the fall were a bit sore but no bruises and no sprains.  And in my opinion, it’s because I make a point of exercising three times a week: I was able to move when I fell and not be stiff as a board.

People think that “working out” means you have to lift heavy weights, run hard or use a treadmill for hours at a time.  You can do that if you want to and it would probably be good exercise for you, but to keep your bones and muscles in good working order, all you need to do is use them on a regular basis, and as we get older, this is more important.  We’ve all heard that as we age, we begin losing muscle mass and bone density, and then when we add in the Use it or Lose it effect, not exercising regularly is a recipe for disaster.

We all know older people who are afraid of falling or have fallen and seriously injured themselves.  This is one of the chief excuses older people use for not exercising: “I’m afraid of falling or hurting myself.”  It’s a valid fear, especially if you’ve not worked out in a long time (or never) and if you have balance or health issues.  For me, balance was a big issue and in some instances, it still is.  That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t exercise or work out; it just means I should take a few precautions when I do. For me, one of those precautions is working out in a pool. My workout of choice is water aerobics: I get to exercise without being afraid of hurting myself by falling, and for those of people who think water aerobics isn’t a real workout, I dare you to try it!

I’ve been told by one of my trainers that most older people fall because they lose their flexibility in their core.  Essentially, they stiffen up between their shoulders and their knees, so when they lose their balance, they come crashing down like a tree in the forest.  This happened last year to my mom: she tripped on a throw rug and landed on her side, breaking her hip.  When our bodies are used to bending and twisting, it’s easier for us to protect ourselves and instead of hitting the floor on our side (there’s the cause of a lot of broken hips!), we can twist to land on our butts.  Or better yet, we can prevent ourselves from falling!

I have two small dogs along with a couple of cats, all of which increase my chances of either tripping over a toy (like the aforementioned tennis ball) or the actual pet.  One of my dogs is habitually within two feet of my two feet! I never turn around or step back anymore without looking! Still, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gone to step over, around or next to a toy or a pet and found myself grabbing a door jamb, the wall or furniture to steady myself. I was reminded yesterday as I stepped over a moving Cockapoo that not only has the exercise increased my mobility and flexibility, it’s also improved my balance!

After three years of regular workouts, I have better balance and flexibility as a 50+ year old than I ever did in my 40’s.  It shows in my ability to walk longer and farther in addition to being able to bend, lift, squat and get up off the floor without using a chair to help myself up. When I got to my feet after falling in the flower bed, I was reminded of the last time I fell outside.  I had stepped back into a hole and landed flat on my back on the lawn.  At the time, I was in my mid-forties and went over like the proverbial tree in the woods. Although I didn’t injure myself, mainly because the lawn was soaking wet after weeks of rain, I had to use the lamp post near the walkway to help myself up simply because I couldn’t do it on my own! This time, although the wall of the house was right there, I was able to stand up in the flower bed without really thinking about it: I was more concerned if I’d cut myself on the bush I nearly hit.

Even though exercise isn’t a major factor in my weight loss, it remains one of my primary goals. Working out regularly has taught me a lot about the importance of staying active and staying flexible besides saving me from my own clumsiness. Until I had regained my balance and flexibility, I honestly had not realized how much I had truly lost and I don’t ever want to lose that again!

 

 

Making Monsters: Weight Loss, Drama & Procrastination

I am the Queen of Procrastination.  My internal mantra chants daily ‘if you can do it another day, then do it another day!’ As a result, I have gotten very good at the Last Minute Scramble for a lot of things, such as paying bills, running errands and returning phone calls.  It’s also made me very hard-nosed when I am on the receiving end of another person’s Last Minute Scramble.  We have all been in  the situation where someone is begging for a favor because they waited as long as they could before doing whatever needs to be done. The classic response is “how does your failure to plan make this my emergency?”

In all honesty, I really hate that Last Minute Scramble and one of the reasons I am so hard-nosed is because I know I put myself in that situation by putting off the task day after day.  It’s a monster of my own making and I don’t let myself slide when it comes to taking the lumps for procrastinating, so I’m usually not going to let anyone else slide either! The more I hate it and the harder it is, you would think that I would do it less often, especially when it comes to situations that can become complicated.  (Once was enough with the Last Minute Scramble on taxes, believe me!) Unfortunately, it usually takes a few times before it finally sinks in.

When it comes to weight loss and working out, procrastinating has become Standard Operating Procedure for a lot of us.  You know the drill: I’ll start Monday/ next month/ after the holidays/ after whatever event or celebration.  The problem is that unlike bills, taxes or making it to the store before it closes, there is no deadline for weight loss! However skilled we might be at the Last Minute Scramble, it needs a ‘last minute’ in order to get us into gear, and when there is no last minute deadline, our weight loss and work out goals are just hanging out there in limbo. Forever.

No one who procrastinates likes to think of themselves as lazy.  Laziness and procrastination are two separate entities.  We can be lazy and not a procrastinator, and some of us put off certain tasks because we are too busy doing other tasks.  Some of us will put off these other tasks because they will require a lot of time and/ or concentration, so we wait until we can commit to them without distraction.  In other cases, especially my own, we put off unpleasant tasks because doing them is certainly not fun, i.e. taxes or bills.

For a lot of us, weight loss and working out fits all those categories: it’s a lot of work, takes up a lot of time and isn’t any fun at all! To be honest, when you look at it with that kind of mindset, I can see how it ends up on the Never-To-Do List! It’s right up there with “Colonoscopy” and “Root Canal!” When we moan and groan about “being on a diet” and “going to the gym” and having to “give up all the food I love,” we are only adding to the reasons to put it off until the second Tuesday of Never! It’s awful for us because we make it as awful as possible!

I go to the gym usually three times a week for water aerobics.  In the summertime, the classes are usually so full we run out of room in the pool, but once the cold weather gets here, the attendance drops off dramatically.  It’s cold; it’s rainy and no one wants to get out of the pool or the shower and walk out into a cold, wet parking lot.  Ugh! I thought about it earlier this week as I was hurrying into the gym and I knew it was going to be really chilly when I left class in about an hour or so.  There was a time when I would consider bailing out on the workout but now that it has become a firmly entrenched habit, the thought never crossed my mind.  Now I actually look forward to going to the gym.  It’s not that I’m a hard-core gym-rat: even though the point of going is getting a good workout, the focus is on seeing my friends. In fact, the third ‘class’ isn’t actually a class offered by the gym at all; it’s a bunch of us who show up at a pre-arranged time to work out together.  The activity itself hasn’t changed, but my mindset has.

I know there are books and other programs designed to help people with procrastination.  Building new, healthy or productive habits is a big business and for some of these, the focus is on stopping the procrastination.  In a way, it’s a little ironic: people want to do something about putting off tasks they don’t want to do! What many of us don’t realize is that it’s not your activity that has to change: it’s your focus and your mindset! When the focus shifted from ‘something I should do’ to ‘something I want to do,’ the workout stopped being a task to put off.  Why would I put off something I am looking forward to enjoying? There are times when I’m irritated because I have to ‘cram in the workout’ on a day when I have a lot to do already, but it’s not the workout that is annoying– it’s everything else that’s crowding my schedule!

The same thing is true when it comes to eating healthier.  When having something nutritious and healthy for dinner is something to look forward to instead of another chore to get done, it’s no longer something that needs to be put off.  I mentioned in a recent post that most of the time, people don’t realize how bad they feel on a normal basis because this is how they always feel.  They think they are fine because they have never felt any other way.  Example: where I live, I am surrounded by noise.  I live near a hospital with a helipad, a couple blocks from a fire station, a block away from railroad tracks and between two churches which also have schools. Between the ambulances, the helicopters, the  trains, the fire trucks, the church and school bells, there is always noise in the background at my house.  A few years ago, I went on vacation with my sister and her family and our hotel was literally across the street from a fire station.  The morning after our first night, everyone but me was complaining about “that fire truck blaring all night!” I didn’t hear a thing.  I am sure my ears heard the siren but since I hear sirens all the time, my brain didn’t wake me up.  It’s just normal background noise!

The same thing happens to us when we stop eating  junk food or highly processed foods.  Once we’ve stopped eating them for a while, we suddenly realize we feel different. We don’t feel tired or sluggish anymore; our digestive tract feels lighter or better; we have more energy and our sleep is more restorative.  Once we realize what it’s really like to feel good, we suddenly realize how bad we really felt before, especially if we relapse and go back to eating the unhealthier foods we used to eat.  After even a few days of eating more high carb/ high sugar foods than normal, I can feel a difference in my joints and my mood.  Even my sleep is different and it’s because of the change in my diet.

This realization that how I feel is directly tied to how I am eating has changed my focus.  Yes, I really want to lose weight but the real focus is “I don’t want to feel cruddy again.” Feeling cruddy isn’t something I look forward to, but feeling good? Sleeping well? Having more energy? Yes, I look forward to that! That is how I want to feel all the time, so eating healthier is not something to ‘put off for another day!’ There is also the bonus that I lose weight when I eat healthier and that eating the way I used to eat means I can start gaining weight.  I don’t need to gain weight to remember how awful I felt when I weighed 438 lbs.  Everything hurt and it hurt all the time!  So while others might think “I can start my diet in the New Year so it doesn’t ruin my holidays,” for me it’s the other way around: “I don’t want to ruin my holidays so I am sticking with my weight loss plan!”

When it comes to procrastinating, the only real Cure is changing how you think about it.  When you make it something you want to do, there is no reason to put it off.  We are used to tricking our kids into doing their homework or getting good grades by rewarding them and that is what we are doing with ourselves when it comes to things we would rather put off. Once we focus on the reward, it’s not a chore but something to enjoy.  Going to the pool gives me an opportunity to hang out with my friends.  That’s my ‘reward’ even though I also have more energy, flexibility and sleep better.  I do notice those benefits from the exercise, but honestly, I just like hanging out with my friends! In contrast, there is no reward for eating fast food or junk food for me: after eating it, I feel heavy, bloated, and cruddy.  It plays havoc on my digestive tract (not fun!) and actually causes pain in my joints.  Believe me, none of those things are ‘rewarding!’  Eating healthier and cleaner means I feel better overall and I also lose weight.  Why would I put off eating healthier and being more active for another day when I can do it now and feel great today?  All it takes is changing your focus!

 

 

 

Gratitude Adjustment: Weight Loss & Positivity

Almost all of us know someone who’s never happy about anything.  Even if something good happens, they manage to find a negative about it.  As my grandpa used to say, “if he won a million dollars, he’d complain about the taxes!”  These days I joke a lot about how I’m never happy with our office thermostat: I complain when it’s cold, and I complain when they turn on the heat in the office- whatever the temperature is in our office, it’s not right for me! So I spend most of my time either wearing a sweater or with my desk fan on.  The difference between “being negative” and my fake-complaining is that I know my boss is trying to accommodate me but obviously, there are going to be people who in the office who don’t like my temperature setting either.  My boss is doing the best he can for everyone here and I know that, so if it’s too warm or stuffy for me, I turn on the fan on my desk and if it’s too chilly, I put on my sweater, and I will kid him about it every chance I get!

People who are true Negative Nancys / Neds are people who don’t acknowledge that others are doing the best they can to make everyone happy.  Whatever is going on, they automatically assume the worst. The traffic is always bad; the restaurant always gets their order wrong; if they win a million dollars, they’d have to share the pot with a hundred people plus pay the taxes! Nothing is ever right or good for them so they are always miserable!

I know a few people like that and my comment is usually something along the lines of “he’s only happy when he’s miserable.” I’ve stopped going out of my way to accommodate them or make them happy because it’s never going to be good enough anyway.  I know that’s a cop-out and I do try to do my best for them, but at the same time, I know whatever I do is going to be wrong.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of keeping a positive attitude and looking on the bright side of things. Usually we (meaning me!) roll our eyes and tune out without a second thought, but when we do that, we not only lose out on any benefits, we condemn those around us to our bad attitudes. I know there is a lot of media attention about Gratitude Journals and Gratitude Routines, either morning, evening or both, and while some of it can come off as “Feel-Good Mumbo-Jumbo,” that doesn’t make it worthless or nonsense.

One of the suggestions that usually made me roll my eyes and sigh deeply was the Morning Gratitude Routine (any morning routine, actually!) I don’t have a lot of time in the mornings because of my commute: I need to be out of my house by 6:45 a.m. and to be on the freeway by 7:00 to make it to work by 9:00 a.m.  Since I am so NOT a morning person, that means if I get up at 6:00 a.m., I have overslept! Where can I cram fifteen or twenty ‘calm’ minutes into my morning?  I spend the whole time looking at my watch! I have alarms on my phone to let me know the time before I even leave the house! And you want me to spend 15-20 minutes calmly focusing on what I’m grateful for or how I’m going to ‘win the day’? [Huge eye roll with exasperated sigh right about now!]

Then I realized that I do have a ‘morning gratitude routine.’  It’s just not like one everyone suggests: every morning I spend about 15-20 minutes focusing on my dogs.  I’ve actually built that time into my morning, getting up in time to spend those minutes playing with them, petting and holding them. We spend about 10-15 minutes when we first get up, telling each other good morning and playing with their toys, and then another five minutes or so on my lap before I leave for work.  While it’s not writing in a journal or focusing on ‘winning the day,’ it does set the mood for the day.  I am grateful for my dogs and their positive attitudes are infectious: it’s hard to be negative when you have a happy dog on your lap who just wants to play and be held. When I leave the house, even if I woke up in a bad mood, am feeling rushed or thinking of my busy day as I go out the door, I always feel better for having spent a few moments bonding with my dogs.

So, what does a good mood have to do with weight loss? A LOT more than most people think!  For starters, people who are happy or have a positive outlook are more likely to take better care of themselves. When you feel good about yourself or life in general, you are less likely to ‘medicate’ yourself with food or anything else.  Most of us look to sugar or treats to make ourselves feel better or happier, but when you already feel that way, there is less temptation and if you are offered treats, they are easier to refuse.

You are also more likely to be active.  When we feel good, we usually have more energy and are more productive.  We feel more confident and get more done at home and at work. In other words, when we are enjoying our lives and feeling positive about ourselves, we are less likely to grab a cheesecake and camp out on the sofa bingeing a tv show to escape from our own lives.

Happy positive people take more pride in their appearance, are nicer to others, are more productive, more active and tend to eat better than people who are pessimistic or have a negative outlook on life. So while taking a few moments every day to focus on the positive things in your life is good for your health and weight loss, it’s just plain good for you overall!

How you choose to focus on the positive is completely up to you! There are people who love and swear by their Gratitude Journals.  Those do have the added bonus of being able to look back on what you’ve written, but for some of us, just the act of sitting down with pen in hand to put your gratitude down on paper is enough to kill the positive mood.  There are people who take joy in spending time with their family and kids in the morning the way I do with my dogs, and there are others who choose prayer or meditation.  And it also doesn’t have to be in the morning (although it does tend to set the tone for the day).  I have a different evening routine with my dogs and cats (the cats ignore me in the mornings- also not morning people!)  I spend a few moments when I get home and more time when we go to bed, plus they are usually on my lap or on my feet when I am home anyway.

What you choose to do is less important than the ritual’s overall importance to you.  Reminding yourself of the good things and people in your life and their significance to you is the point.  When we focus on weight loss, most of us are used to counting our calories to make progress but we need to remind ourselves that we might make more progress if we count our blessings as well!

Weight Loss & Holiday Treats: Yummy or Not, Here They Come!

We are coming up on the holiday season, and after the Summer Swim Suit Season, this is probably the one that dieters hate most.  “OMG! There’s food EVERYWHERE!” And, it’s never very healthy food either.  It would be different if we had trays of roasted Brussels sprouts on every flat surface or people brought platters full of carrot sticks to share at work, but other than the occasional luncheon crudité platter that no one touches and eventually dries out, most of the holiday food is sweet and full of calories and carbs, but not a lot of anything nutritious.

This is where we feel super-self-conscious about turning down the proffered cookies or the pumpkin bread or anything else some tries to share with us.  We don’t want to be rude and we don’t want to feel like we’re making everyone else feel bad for eating them.  “He/she’s being so good and not eating any of these!”  At the risk of being Negative Nancy, you are not responsible for anyone’s guilt: if they feel guilty for eating the brownies and sugar cookie snowmen, that is their responsibility! (Those ‘treats’ aren’t any healthier for them than they are for you!) If they want to spend January and February losing those Holiday Pounds, that is their choice: you choose not to gain them!

The other danger with all these ‘treats’ is that most of them are just there for the mindless eating. We tend not to pay attention and just grab what’s next to us and eat it, whether it’s something we like or not. Frankly, I ate a lot of Twizzlers that way.  I don’t like Twizzlers and never have (they taste like bland sugary plastic to me.) If you give me a choice of licorice, I’d choose Red Vines (or black) every time! Twizzlers? Blecchh! But somehow, when there was nothing else left in the Halloween candy bowl, yup! I ate them! Why?? Ummm…. because they were there…..?? Yes. Really. That was the reason: they were there!  Even worse, while I was eating them, I would be thinking how they weren’t really good and how I wished they were really Red Vines, but that didn’t stop me from finishing off the bland plasticky Twizzlers! It really is mindless eating. While no one forced me to eat junk food I didn’t really like, the idea of saying no to them was utterly foreign to me.”You mean I can just throw them away? But that’s a waste of food!” As if there were anything nutritious about Twizzlers! (No offense to Twizzlers.)

The point of having a treat is to give yourself something a little special, as in doing something good for yourself.  Is stuffing your face full of blah run-of-the-mill sugar cookies doing something special for yourself? It’s like me with the Twizzlers! If I’d really wanted to treat myself to something I’d enjoy that wasn’t nutritious, I’d have gone to the grocery store and bought a package of the licorice I really do enjoy instead of eating “plastic candy.”  There are better ways of “treating” yourself than junk food but we tend not to think of them as real ‘treats.’  These can be real foods like apples, figs or nuts, or something like utterly radical like going to bed an hour earlier! They are not only beneficial to your mind and body, but who knows? You might actually enjoy them!

How you define a ‘treat’ is totally up to you.  One of my special treats for dessert is dish of dried figs and some Brie.  It’s basically a fruit & cheese plate but I love it!  A treat also doesn’t have to be food.  Some of you may know I have two poodle mixes, Remy (5) and Bentley (18 months) and while they are both poodle mixes, they have very different personalities. Bentley loves a new cookie or a chewer but Remy? His idea of a treat is several minutes of playing fetch! Give him a choice of a food treat or his favorite fetch ball, and woof! throw the ball! If he even takes the cookie from my hand, it’s left in his bed for Bentley to steal.  He’d rather play with the ball every time.  Why? Because for him, playing fetch is something more special than any cookie or chewer I can offer. He doesn’t care if Bentley eats all his cookies and if all the chewers end up in Bentley’s bed, as long as the fetch toys stay in his!

In the end, it’s up to you to decide what is really a treat for you.  If you love Twizzlers and decide that’s what you are going to indulge in this holiday, good for you! (I will gladly donate my share!) My only advice when it comes to treats, Twizzlers or not, is this: make sure it is something you mindfully enjoy! Whether it’s taking a day off to binge The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a bowl of popcorn, or sleeping late on Sunday morning or even finishing off the last of the pumpkin loaf, as long as it is something special and enjoyable to you and you are paying attention to your enjoyment of it, then it really counts as a TREAT.  Scarfing down the last popcorn ball as you’re running out the door to Target doesn’t count as a treat because, really, did you enjoy that popcorn ball? If and when you decide to treat yourself, then make the most of it! Set aside the time to enjoy that bowl of popcorn! Save the pumpkin loaf for a time when you can eat it without being rushed or distracted! Or if it’s sleeping in or lounging on the sofa with a book, then do it without distraction or interruption.  This is your treat after all, whether it’s edible or not!

 

Where Do I Begin?: Weight Loss & The First Step

I had coffee the other day with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time and eventually the conversation turned to weight loss. Like a lot of people, she’s been fighting the same 20-30 lbs for years and she usually manages to lose a few pounds, only to put them back on.  Sound familiar, anyone? I told her I was still doing Paleo and received the confused-not-quite-blank expression I’ve come to expect.  Most people have heard of The Paleo Diet but really don’t know what it means other than the “It’s a lot of MEAT!” soundbyte.

Also, like most of us, she felt a little overwhelmed by “what do I do first?” Really, it doesn’t matter what you do first as long as you choose something within your capabilities and do that one thing only until you feel comfortable with it.  This is rather a long-winded way of saying “PICK SOMETHING!” Too often we look at the landscape for weight loss (or any goal, really) and we want to make the best start that we can, but we get bogged down by: 1) the  overwhelming number of ‘starting points’; and 2) the magnitude of the change we want to achieve.  We don’t want to make a ‘wrong’ choice and fail, so we end up not really starting at all, or we choose too many ‘starting points’ and end up quitting because we get overwhelmed.

The other big stumbling block is the Diet Mentality, in which we get roped into thinking we are only “doing this” until we lose the weight we want to lose. We all know what happens next: the weight comes back!  Obviously, once we stop ‘being good’ and go back to eating the way we did before The Diet, we’ve blown all our hard work!  In order to maintain permanent weight loss, we need to make permanent lifestyle changes.  This is part of that ‘overwhelming’ goal I mentioned before, but big changes come through small steps!

Because Sarah asked about Paleo, I told her that it’s mainly whole natural foods, no grains, legumes, sugars and a lot of non-starchy vegetables. Predictably, she made a face: she loves grains and cereals and isn’t a big fan of non-starchy veggies.  A big part of her diet has always been white potatoes and ‘quick carbs’ such as pasta, bread, cereal and sugar. While white potatoes were never huge on my menu, grains of all kinds were a major staple of my diet, along with a fair amount of sugar. I told her when I started cutting these foods out of my diet, I did it one at a time.  I started with potatoes since they were easiest for me, and once I had a handle on making healthier substitutions for the potatoes, I moved on to pasta, which was harder, until I felt confident enough to remove breads.  In all honesty, breads of all kinds remain my biggest temptation and I told her that.  You can offer me chocolate, candy, cookie or any kind of “treat” and I can turn it down without batting an eye, but offer me a biscuit? “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Even if I do turn it down, I will think about that biscuit for days afterwards! I tried to reinforce that it’s a series of steps and you don’t try to make every change at once. 

I recommended she begin with a healthy breakfast like Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) suggests.  You start with one meal and work on that one until you get it down, then move on to lunch, dinner and any snacks.  I also recommended she get a food journal and a food scale. While there are a lot of weight loss gurus (Elizabeth included) who don’t recommend the food scale, I do because I am very aware of portion inflation.  Just because Cheesecake Factory brought you one slice of cheesecake, that doesn’t mean what they brought you is ‘one portion.’  (It is likely three!)  A food scale is a simple reality check for how much you are really eating.  The food journal is just a simple way of keeping track of what you are eating, so later on if you aren’t getting the results that you want, you can see what might be behind that slow-down.

As I said, I was having coffee with my friend, which included a grande maple pecan latte, and a bag of Moon Cheese.  Later on when I got home, those went in my food journal.  While they won’t torpedo my diet, recording them keeps me honest so they don’t become regular parts of my weekly routine.  Having an occasional sugary latte isn’t a catastrophe but when one a month becomes one a week and then several a week, those lattes will have an impact (as will several accompanying bags of Moon Cheese!).  When I write them down, it’s easier to go back through the months and see where there may have been a few too many ‘special occasion lattes’!

I also recommended she listen to some of the podcasts aimed at giving listeners a foundation for fat loss and the reasons behind her recommendations such as the Fat Loss Basics Series (https://primalpotential.com/ep-121-fat-loss-basics/) and the episode on the Golden Rules (https://primalpotential.com/195-golden-rules-of-carbs-and-fat-loss/). I am not in any way affiliated with Elizabeth Benton; I’m just a fan and I think she offers solid advice based on your speed and the changes you are willing to make.  Of all the weight loss professionals I’ve listened to, she is one who listens to you.

There are a lot of places to start and you don’t have to start with breakfast or go Paleo or even listen to Primal Potential, but you do have to make a choice. Choose one change you want to make, and once you’ve got that one down, move on to the next one.  It might seem like you aren’t ‘going fast enough’ but does fast really matter when you won’t have to make that same trip again next year?

 

Get Out of Your Head and Get Over It!: Weight Loss & Making Our Own Obstacles

This is a tough topic.  Most of us are reluctant to admit that we are the biggest problem we have when it comes to eating healthy, losing weight and being fit. We all like to think we have our act together when it comes to the “Important Stuff,” but the truth is that the things that matter most in our lives are the same things we have the biggest problems handling.

When most of us decide we are going finally going to lose weight and be more active, we are firmly resolved in our intent.  Yay! We made The Decision! Now, we just have to put that decision into action! …..Ummmmm….. okay….. going to lose weight……. yah… And there is our first obstacle! We know what we want to do and most of the time, we know how we want to do it, but actually doing it is where we trip ourselves up and end up face first on the pavement! Words and decisions are not action and the only thing that will get us to our goals is taking action! That usually includes doing certain things, such as making it to the gym on a regular basis, and not doing certain things, like leaving the bread in the bread basket! Frankly, these are easier said than done and that’s why weight loss and fitness are so hard for most of us.

Smoking is a prime example. Almost everyone knows someone who smokes and nearly every smoker has gone through a similar process: 1) They make the decision to quit smoking; and 2) they take action to quit smoking.  At least, they want to take action to quit smoking! When you ask them how their “Quitting Smoking” plan is going, you get answers like “I quit the quitting. It’s too hard!”

Everyone knows that tobacco and nicotine are addictive, which is a major reason it’s such a hard habit to break: you are dealing with an addiction!  Weight loss gurus constantly debate whether food is actually an addiction, but the question is really academic if you have a weight problem.  I believe that sugar is addictive (The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes) but even if you are not a ‘sugar addict,’ for most of us eating is calming, comforting and habitual. For many of us, our lives revolve around eating whether we planned it that way or not.

So when we make the decision to lose weight and be more fit, we are making a decision that will impact more than just mealtimes and then when we start taking action to eat healthier, we discover how big that decision really is! Think about it: we meet friends to do some shopping and someone suggests lunch or coffee; we go out to the movies and there’s popcorn, soda and candy; we take a trip to the coast so we ‘must’ try the local restaurants; there’s a family celebration: cake, snacks, drinks; we stay home and binge the new season of a favorite show– snacks, anyone? Food has become interwoven with our cultures and our habits, so when we make a seemingly simple decision to eat healthier, it becomes this huge issue that is so complicated, we can’t ever get out of it! OMG! It’s everywhere! I’ll never get away!

WRONG!!  The only thing stopping you from taking action is your thinking! When you go to the movies with friends, are they forcing you to eat popcorn and Twizzlers? When you meet your friends for coffee or lunch, are they making you eat croissants or pasta?  You don’t have to munch potato chips mindlessly while bingeing House of Cards on your own sofa and chowing down on lobster rolls isn’t a requirement for going to the coast.  It’s just habit and your own thoughts that make you think you ‘should’ or ‘must’ eat these things!  For a lot of occasions, eating is not the central activity: it’s not required for movies or tv and it’s not the point of shopping or sight-seeing.  It has become an accepted and habitual activity when we do these thing so when we meet up with friends, it’s expected that we will have lattes and croissants, but our friends won’t reject us if we say no to them. It’s our heads that tell us “you’ll be different!” if you don’t eat. When we go someplace new and we don’t try the local specialty, we’re afraid we’ll miss an amazing food, or that our family will shun us if we don’t have a piece of Aunt Lisa’s birthday cake. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves and we don’t want to appear ‘different.’

That kind of thinking is keeping us from reaching our goals.  Our head is making this process harder than it needs to be and we keep listening to those thoughts, partly out of fear and partly because it keeps us following the same reassuring behaviors.  We don’t want to fail at weight loss when everyone knows we are on a diet: it’s another way of drawing attention to ourselves. “Oh, dear. Sheila isn’t losing much weight, is she?” So we try not to ‘advertise’ the fact that we’re on a weight loss plan by not changing how we eat in public.  We don’t want to be the one at the table who’s not eating the brownies while everyone else is commenting on how yummy they are. It keeps us eating the same foods and following the same behaviors which means we are still not losing weight!

Taking action means we have to do things differently and that can mean some real changes in your old habits. That usually means your friends and family will notice these changes, and at the risk of sounding like old Aunt Lisa, “your real friends will support your changes!” (Your real friends are going to want to hang around with you, having fun and when you can’t walk around the mall without stopping to sit down every ten minutes, it’s not as much fun!) Aside from being supportive, if everyone knows you are eating healthier, then how likely are you to load your plate with potato chips at the family picnic? In this instance, their scrutiny (whether real or imagined) is going to help you reinforce those new habits you are putting into action!

Fear of missing out is all in our heads, just like fear of being different or fear of ridicule.  In many cases, our fear of these things is way out of proportion than the actual event, if it ever occurs. Once we get out of our heads, many of these obstacles vanish.  It makes it easier to build healthier habits if we aren’t so hung up on being afraid of missing out or of being different. Is it so bad if everyone knows that you don’t eat bread? (In today’s ‘gluten-free’ society, you might just blend in more!) More importantly, remember that Decision you made at the start of this process? There were legitimate reasons behind that Decision: important events like teaching your kids to swim, going hiking with your significant other, attending your children’s weddings; babysitting your grandkids, and maybe taking another trip to the Grand Canyon with your family.  Those are all great events, but you have to be healthy and fit enough to live long enough to enjoy them. Fear of missing out on coffee and beignets seems kind of silly by comparison, doesn’t it? What are you really afraid of missing?

 

The Pain Scale: Weight Loss, Discomfort & Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can Keep It Moving: Weight Loss & Not Looking Backwards

One of my all time favorite movies is Thelma & Louise. Aside from the fact that movie is full of first rate actors and has a killer soundtrack, I find it to be a very empowering film despite the ending (if you don’t know how it ends, I can’t help you!) One of the many themes in that film is “keep moving forward, ” which is something I hear repeated again and again in podcast episodes.

Most of these podcasts have to do with weight loss, health and fitness but this idea applies to just about anything in life: finances, jobs, relationships, etc. You would think it’s a no-brainer, but humans with our big brains and big egos easily get stuck in the past. Why? Because we like to dwell on things like people who wronged us, on situations we screwed up, on things that frightened us.  We get stuck looking back at these times and places emotionally and we forget to move forward. How many times have you heard someone say “I would do XYZ but I just can’t get past ABC?” As in, “I would start a new relationship but I just can’t get past that man/ woman who cheated on me.” Too many of us get stuck looking back at things we wish turned out differently and while there is value at figuring out what went wrong there so we can avoid the same mistake in the future, there will be no future until we start moving forward again!

Anxiety and emotional eating are the biggest culprits when it comes to weight loss sabotage. We all know this, but when it comes to getting over the anxiety and controlling our emotions, we get stuck.  We don’t know how to get past those negative feelings because we have no tools to control them other than eating! This is where most of us get stuck in a vicious cycle: I’m scared because I don’t know how to control my emotional eating and I’m afraid I’m going to wreck my weight loss and now that I’m scared and anxious, I really want to eat something but I know I can’t because it’ll wreck my weight loss but I don’t know how to stop being scared or how to calm down without eating something. It can go on and on until finally you either eat something (which starts another cycle of recrimination), or you find something to break you out of that cycle.

It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to be anxious and it’s okay to say “I don’t know what to do.” These are legitimate human emotions and even the bravest person in the world has had these feelings.  You can switch out the adjective “bravest” with any other superlative you can think of: wisest, strongest, calmest, whatever, because every human who has ever lived has had these same emotions.  You are not broken when you feel them and there is nothing wrong with you when you feel them. The trouble starts when you allow these feelings to control you. When you get stuck on these emotions and can’t get past them, then there is a problem.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you were learning how to do something? It doesn’t matter if it was math or how to hit a baseball or how to dance: as a kid, we are expected to ask for help, and when we reached the “now what do I do?” stage, that’s just what we did.  We asked a teacher, a parent, family member or a friend and they helped us get through it. I’m sure there were times when we were a little embarrassed or shy but no one expects a kid to know how to do everything! It’s the whole point of growing up!

Sometimes though we had to figure it out on our own and that’s where some of us are still stuck in the problems of the past. Something bad happened and now you don’t know how to get past it. All of us have things in our past that were really awful, some more awful than others unfortunately. Most of us need help to past these things but we either don’t know how to ask for help or we are embarrassed that we need help.  After all, now we are adults and we aren’t supposed to need help so we keep trying to figure it out on our own, and this is where we get stuck with emotional eating. It makes us feel better and we forget for a while about whatever is scaring or upsetting us.

Eating an entire cheesecake or the whole can of Pringles is not helping us get past the bad memories, though: it is just a coping mechanism.  It’s also a coping mechanism that is hurting us physically and emotionally. Think about it. Which is more embarrassing: calling a health professional or eating that box of brownies? Which one are you going to regret more: calling your sibling to talk about how you are feeling or eating an entire pizza?

While I realize that this post is more about emotions than it is weight loss, I do know that overeating and obesity for a lot of us are only symptoms of deeper emotional issues, the same way that drugs, drinking or other vices are symptoms. Until we deal with the actual problem, any attempt to fix the symptoms is just damage control. Being stuck constantly trying one weight loss plan after another isn’t going to fix the real issue if your emotions are what you are trying to control with food.  The problem isn’t the food you’re putting in your mouth: it’s the emotions that are driving you to do it.

The only way to get over the past is to make peace with it. For most of us that means looking back at these unhappy events and mentally telling them “you can’t hurt me anymore.” Looking at them is painful and usually scary.  We are all familiar with kids who are scared of the monster lurking in the corner, until you turn on the light and see it’s just the cat sleeping on the bookshelf. The monsters lose their power when you see them clearly in the light: that’s what making peace does to the monsters in our past.  Sometimes though we need help finding that emotional ‘light switch’ and until we ask for help, we’re stuck in the dark being afraid and left at the mercy of our fears. While food may help us forget we are afraid for a while, it’s not turning on the light for us or giving us the courage to get up and do it for ourselves. Asking for help also means taking action to move forward.  We need a hand to get over this bump in the road if we are going to make progress. Asking for help for some of us is considered weak or needy and it is neither. When we are drowning in the river, no one thinks it weak to ask for help so why is drowning in emotions any different?

Life is scary sometimes.  I’ve been through some pretty freaking scary situations myself and bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them and yes, good things happen to cruddy people who also don’t deserve them.  We don’t know what life has in store for us.  That’s what makes it scary and it’s also what makes it exciting. In a lot of cases the only difference is our perspective. Life has enough of its own obstacles to throw at us so we don’t need our fear and our emotions to hold us back. The only way to get through the scary parts is just keep moving forward, otherwise you are stuck with the fear and you already know that is not a good place to be. Keep moving!  Thelma & Louise: Better Not Look Down