Being Skinny Will Not Make You Happy 

For most of my life, I have been overweight, and while I was younger, it often felt like everything in my life would be wonderful if only I were thin.  As I grew older, I realized that skinny people have problems too and being skinny won’t solve all of our or anyone’s problems.  It seems pretty obvious, but while our head might acknowledge this fundamental truth, the rest of us might not.  We still work at being skinny like it will solve everything and make our lives perfect.

“Being thin” is right up there with “being rich” and “being with the perfect spouse/ partner.”  We think these external accoutrements will fix the problems in our lives, and if the problem is “not having enough money,” “being alone,” or “being obese,” then yes, they probably will go a long way to fixing those problems.  Too often, however, these outward problems are symptoms of something deeper that needs to be fixed in ourselves.  Emotional eating is a prime example of this.  Most of us who are emotional eaters eat because we don’t know how to handle our emotions: either they are too painful to deal with, we don’t want to face them or we don’t know what to do with them, so we eat to soothe the pain, fear or just to avoid dealing with them.  There are dozens of examples of this on My 600 lb Life: the patient is able to control their eating long enough to qualify for bariatric surgery, and then they are surprised that they still have cravings.  Dr. Nowzaradan sends most of them to meet with a therapist because he knows from experience that the compulsive eating is only a symptom of a deeper problem.  Until the patient resolves those issues and learns to deal with whatever is driving them to eat, they will regain the weight.

While many obese people struggle with ‘food addiction,’ it’s not the real problem.  Mind you, obesity is a real struggle and unless successfully managed, it will kill its victims, but food is only the mechanism the addict is using to manage the real problem.  ‘Food’ can be substituted with a variety of distractions, such as alcohol, sex, shopping, drugs or anything else that can and does keep people from thinking about their problems.  Whatever the problem really is, the outward ‘addiction’ starts as a distraction: “my spouse is cheating on me but I don’t want to think about it so I’ll eat/ spend money/ get high/ whatever.”  Eventually, the addiction becomes a problem itself as we become addicted to the drugs, alcohol and even the high from spending money.  This is usually the problem that most people see because it is the one that is most visible.  If the guy in the cubicle next to you is always drunk and smelling of mouthwash, our first thought is ‘alcoholism,’ not ’emotional problems resulting in alcoholism.’  The same thing is true for obesity: we see someone weighing 400+ lbs and we think they have a problem with portion control, not there is something deeper pushing them to eat.  But whether it’s food, drugs, gambling or whatever addiction they are struggling with, there is something deeper inside creating the problem.  The outward addiction is only the symptom: it’s the first layer of the problem, and until that deeper internal problem is dealt with, the real problem is still there.  This is why I say that being skinny will not make you happy.

For some of us, finding out what that deeper problem is and dealing with it ranks right up there with getting a root canal minus the anesthesia! Of course we don’t want to deal with whatever the problem is: that’s why we’re 400 freaking pounds! We can change behaviors, and we might even manage to get our eating under control, but the emotional issue that caused it usually manifests another way, and rarely is it healthy. In many cases, they have panic attacks or they become anorexic.  They go from soothing their anxiety with food to soothing their anxiety with a sense of control, and they do this by controlling what they eat.  Obviously I am not a psychologist, but my grandmother and my aunt both died from anorexia.  In my grandmother’s case, the more her health deteriorated and the less she could do for herself, the more she refused to eat.  Refusing to eat was her way of exercising control over her life.  She needed a walker to get around, she couldn’t carry most items because of the walker and almost everything else she used to do on a regular basis had to be done for her by someone else.  What she was eating was the only left under her control.

In my aunt’s case, she was chubby most of her life and had a gastric bypass that I personally think she did not need, but for the first time in her life, she was skinny and she was thrilled.  Then the problems started: not eating enough, malnutrition and eventually the anorexia that left her too weak to continue living.

Not everyone who is obese has some kind of emotional issue. Really, there are just some of us who enjoy eating or really like some of the more fattening foods.  Sometimes, people are overweight because all they have to eat are the more high carb/ high calorie foods.  In a lot of cases, the obesity itself becomes the source of the emotional issue.  Whatever the reason we gain weight, once we become overweight, we begin to face backlash over our size.  There’s a lot of disapproval and passive discrimination that goes with being obese because the idea is that “you did this to yourself.”  There is also the idea that there must be something wrong with you or you wouldn’t be overeat. When you are told explicitly and implicitly over and over again that there is something wrong with you, you begin to believe it yourself.  My aunt was one of those people who implicitly let me know that I was defective because of my weight.  She also believed that she was also defective because of her weight. Incidentally, she barely weighed 200 lbs while I weighed 400!

Over the course of my weight loss, I have seen too many people who are not happy with how they look and they somehow equate that with who they are.  What you look like is not who you are, and until you are happy with who you are, being skinny will not make you happy.  I don’t think that getting your loose skin cut off will make you happy until you are happy with the person living in that skin.  Once I started losing weight, I started getting all kinds of hints from my mom about skin removal: have I talked to the doctor about it? when can I get it done? etc. Every time I look in the mirror, I see the skin on my arms, on my legs, my belly, all over.  You can literally fit another grown adult into the loose skin on my body! I think it bothers my mom more than it bothers me, since she mentions it every time I see her. It wasn’t until this last month that it’s actually become a problem physically, and if it continues to be a problem (ie, I don’t find a way to deal with it), then I will probably call the doctor and see what my options are.  Frankly, I think I will try compression garments before I do that!

We’ve all heard the platitudes about loving yourself first and accepting who you are.  They are trite and they are also true.  It isn’t that I’m totally content within myself and I have achieved some kind of inner peace or inner strength: I have listened all my life to people tell me that there is something wrong with me, and at some point, I just stopped listening.  They became the dull roar in the background while I decided I can sit there and moan about “what’s wrong with me?” or I can get on with my life despite being ‘defective.’  Now that I’ve lost a lot of weight and my new ‘defect’ is my loose skin, I still handle it the same way and get on with my life no matter what the dull roar is roaring about now.  There is a lot that’s wrong with my life and with me, but I am happy enough with what I have and with who I am.  Until you are happy with the person living in your skin, nothing else is as important in your life.

 

 

Child’s Play: What We Learn as Children Has a Lifelong Effect

Those of you with children are no doubt very aware that you are your children’s first teachers.  Babies begin modeling behavior almost from the very start.  We smile at our babies and they learn to smile back.  They are little sponges and watch us constantly to see what we do, how we do it without even wondering the why behind the action.  My cousin’s son used to sit at the breakfast table with his dad and “read” a magazine (even though he was still a baby) because his dad read at the table. (FYI the “baby” is now studying robotics someplace back East.) But the idea here is that his parents were readers and put a value on books and learning and so little Alex did too.

This parental modeling covers everything in our lives: how we deal with friends and family; how we handle stress and problems; how we drive; and of course, how we eat.  Most of us either follow in our parents’ footsteps or we go the other way, ie our parents taught how not to do something well.  As children we don’t really know any different and just tend to follow the path they’ve laid out for us, but as adults, our discretion and hopefully our better judgment takes over and we begin to make choices.  Either we do it like dear old mom and dad, or we do it our own way.  I know for me, one of the things that sticks out is that we never had any band-aids in the house.  I was forever cutting myself, sticking myself (I still have a scar on my thumb from when I was 12) and I was always stuck rummaging around in the bathroom drawer for a loose band-aid.  It probably wouldn’t have stuck out in my head so much except for the fact that my mom was a registered nurse and in that bathroom drawer would be her kelly clamps, rolls of tape and packets of gauze, but rarely any band-aids.  Instead of the cobbler’s kids having no shoes, it was the nurse’s kids having no band-aids.  As an adult, I make sure I have a box of band-aids in my house along with hydrogen peroxide (small bathroom, middle shelf).

One of the other things I learned growing up is to put my keys and purse in the same place every day when I come home.  It makes it so much easier when I need to go someplace.  In fact, in one instance, it may have saved my dog’s life.  My Yorkie started choking and I had to rush him to the emergency vet.  I remember grabbing my keys (I don’t recall grabbing my purse, but I must have since I had it with me in the car).  It was what EMTs call a “scoop and run”: I grabbed him and ran out the door.  I learned to put those things in the same place after years of listening to my mom rant about about how she can’t find her keys and/ or purse and is going to be late for work and why aren’t we helping her find them??  Years after this choking incident I remember thinking what would have happened if I just left my keys wherever when I came home and had to spend ten minutes looking for them?  Scary thought! (FYI my Yorkie was okay- apparently, throwing him in the passenger seat dislodged the piece of meat he was choking on!)

Our eating and fitness habits are no different than everything else.  We either learn to eat and exercise the way our parents did or we go the other way.  Sadly, I pretty much followed in my parents’ footsteps in that regard.  It wasn’t that they have horrible eating habits; they eat the standard American diet, and while my mom used to make a habit of using her treadmill, my dad got plenty of activity at his job.  I learned to eat the way they ate but my activity was not like theirs.  I got a lot of walking and physical activity as a kid and as a college student, but my eating was way over the limit and I slowly gained weight as I grew older.  By the time I reached high school, I was very overweight, and although I got more walking in as I went to college (the campus was huge and I crossed it multiple times a day), I still continued to gain slowly until I graduated and went to work- then the weight loss really skyrocketed!  My parents’ eating and activity pretty much stayed the same over time (neither of them is overweight), but my eating was slowly increasing and worsening and my activity was dropping rapidly.  These were the changes I made over time as an adult, and they were obviously not good for me. I didn’t learn good eating and exercise habits as kid and it wasn’t for my parents’ lack of trying.  My dad made a habit of having brussels sprouts and broccoli on a regular basis because they were vegetables he enjoys. I saw a lot of vegetables in my house as a kid and my parents ate a lot of them.  My mom was always using some kind of exercise equipment, but I was never interested in using any of it much.  The habits were there for me to follow, but as I grew up, I chose different activities (soccer and basketball) until my adult schedule interfered and my activities came to a screeching halt.  (One of the good food habits I learned from my mom was trying different kinds of foods- I learned as a kid to eat Japanese, Indian, and other exotic foods. This was a big advantage once I went Paleo- different foods are normal to me!)

One of the reasons I think there was such a disparity between my parents’ eating habits and activity and my own as I grew up is that there was a fundamental shift in both “everyday foods” and “everyday activities” sometime in my adolescence: 70’s-80’s.  (Yes, I really am that old! ugh!) While there were things like hamburger restaurants and drive-ins, most of the processed foods were foods you had to go out to get.  When I was a kid, one of my fondest memories was having burgers at the McDonald’s on the main street, and it was mainly because we’d sit in the car, feeding the fries to the squirrels in the vacant lot next door.  We didn’t eat a lot of McDonald’s because it was “going out” and so most of the foods we ate at home still came into the house in their raw or natural form: the broccoli, brussels sprouts and other veggies, the meats from the butcher section, rice, even the “pasta sauce” pretty much came in as plain tomato sauce.  The pasta was about as processed as most stuff got, at least until the late ’70’s.  Then there was shift to more processed foods.

Things like boxed dinners and frozen foods became cheaper and more accessible.  I remember when Eggo waffles hit the market and they were really popular at our house! The same with frozen bagels, instant oatmeal and boxed rice/pasta mixes.  They made cooking easy!  No more standing over the stove making sure the rice didn’t burn or the waffles didn’t overflow out of the waffle iron.  Dinner was a snap and so was breakfast and even lunch wasn’t complicated anymore since processed lunchmeats and white bread were cheap and easy!  So, as I grew up, I was eating way more processed foods than my parents’ when they were my age.  My eating habits revolved around what came in a box or a bag, and while my parents and I still ate a lot of the same things, they still leaned more towards the whole foods they had grown up on and enjoyed.  My favorite foods had a wrapper; theirs usually had a stem.

The other big shift was activity: it was the dawn of the electronic age.  Atari and Nintendo hit the marketplace and ‘playtime’ slowly went from chasing each other around the yard to chasing Donkey Kong all over the tv screen.  As I grew up, I (along with most of my generation) became more and more sedentary. I wasn’t very active to begin with.  I was always more of a reader than an athlete or a outdoorsy type. I have always been more at home in front of a typewriter than a computer. [For those of you who don’t know, a typewriter is an old fashioned hand operated word processor- only kind of kidding here since I’ve met twenty-somethings who say they’ve never seen one before.]

Both of these fundamental shifts- cheap processed food and a more sedentary lifestyle- led to a lifetime of unhealthy habits and poor dietary choices.  I grew up eating processed foods full of easily metabolized carbs and few nutrients (besides being low fat and high in sugar) and I spent most of my time seated, either in front of the computer, tv or with a book.  Looking back, it’s no wonder I gained weight along with most of my generation.  We all grew up doing a lot of the same activities: tv, computers, music, books and eating a lot of the same foods: snack cakes, candy bars, chips, microwave popcorn, lunchmeats and other processed and fast foods.  Obviously not all of us grew up to weigh over 400lbs, but many of us grew up overweight.  When epidemiologists talk about the “epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity,” my generation is the one they are talking about.  While our parents were used to getting out and doing physical things, most of us grew up with less active pursuits.  The habits our parents learned as children pretty much stayed with them: being active, eating whole foods and not sitting for hours in front of electronic devices, and while they may have leaned to more sedentary habits as they aged and became more familiar with technology, they didn’t become as overweight as we did.  My generation and I grew into our sedentarism and found more ways to exploit it: instead of getting up and driving out to get food, we can now get it delivered from our computers.  We don’t even have to get up to use the phone plugged into the wall: if we can’t order online, our cell is right next to us! Then we grouse about getting up to get the food brought to our doorstep.

To be fair no one saw these kinds of lifestyle shifts coming and I for one know my parents promoted healthy activity (I just wasn’t good at it!) But now, most of us are parents (and some of us grandparents) and we are the ones doing the modeling for the younger generations.  At the grocery store, I see parents with their kids in tow pushing carts full of processed foods: frozen prepared meals, boxed meals, bags of bagels, chips, buns and boxes of snack cakes, sodas and “juice drinks.”  These are what they are feeding their kids and these are what the kids are learning to eat.  I do see parents with carts full of fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits and more whole foods, but they are far outnumbered by the ones with the easy to eat and metabolize processed foods.  At one store I saw a little girl following behind her dad: she looked about 8 years old and was already extremely obese, and her arms were full of boxes of macaroni and cheese. I feel bad for her, because I know what is coming her way: a lifetime of struggling with her health, her weight and a lot of emotional pain.

Our challenge is to change a lifetime of bad habits and in doing so, we can model better habits for our families.  When we make a habit of limiting our time at the computer/ phone/ tv and spend more time being active, we are teaching it to our kids.  The activity doesn’t have to be something labeled “exercise”; it can be gardening, taking the dog for a walk, or just playing with the dog, playing outside with the kids; it can even be going shopping and just walking around the mall for a few hours!  The point is to get up and move!  We can do the same with food: when we eat, make a habit of choosing whole foods.  Don’t think in terms of “diet” (which will teach the kids not to eat it): think in terms of nutrition.  Choose foods for their nutrient value, not their calories.  This teaches kids (and some older ‘kids’ too) that healthy food tastes good and is good for you.  It also teaches them that real food takes a little time to prepare, too!  Cooking can be family time too!  At holidays, most of our family would crowd into the kitchen as we prepared the meal, because most of our food took time to cook or even just warm up!  These are the happiest memories of holidays with my grandparents.

As we realize the consequences of a lifetime of processed foods and sedentary habits, there is more of a push to change them. Obviously computers, phones and Facebook aren’t going away but there is also a growing trend to spend time being active: take the phone out and make a video of you doing something! Body cameras are really fueling this idea: that way you can record your ski trip, hike, bike ride, whatever without having to hold your phone! You can be active and be on your device at the same time! Just because we grew up with bad habits doesn’t mean we have to live with them all our lives; habits can be unlearned as well.  The trick is to learn something new and better for you and hopefully, teach it to your family.

Guilt By Association

“Dime con quién andas y te dire quién eres” (tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are).  It’s a Mexican saying that I think holds value, mainly since every culture has an expression conveying the same idea.  One of the ones I heard recently that’s less than flattering: “if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.” It’s the same idea: who you hang with influences who you are.  Put simply: it’s peer pressure.  It goes back to the very heart of our species- we are essentially social creatures, whether it’s family bands or tribal or national.  We have ways of bonding with our chosen social group either through language, behavior, or other customs.  Standing out can be a way of choosing to disassociate ourselves, which can lead to us becoming separated from the group, either through our choice or theirs.  We learn it early in life: belonging is good.  Case in point: my uncle was driving home with his grandson, still a toddler in his carseat.  It was Easter and his grandson had a bag of jelly beans and was spitting out the pink ones.  Why? my uncle asked.  Because they’re girl jelly beans! He was only about three years old but he already knew what was associated with girls and he was not a girl, so they didn’t belong with him.

This idea of belonging to or being different from others in a group is reinforced throughout our lives.  As teens, we tend to wear our identities on our sleeves so to speak.  Athletes, musicians, rebels: whoever we are, we dress accordingly.  This is why many organizations and professions wear uniforms, even if they are not as regulated as those for the military.  When was the last time you walked into a legal office or a doctor’s office and saw your attorney in a t shirt, flip-flops and board shorts? Or your doctor for that matter?

The clothes are just one manifestation of how our associations affect our behavior and it’s why peer pressure is so effective and so dangerous.  If everyone else is drinking at the party, we feel the overwhelming pressure to drink as well, even if we don’t like it.  The pressure to be different is intense.  If you think I’m overstating this (or it’s just plain nonsense), ask any teen you know about peer pressure.  Being different can feel like being a man/ woman without a country! Everyone else is eating dessert at the restaurant and you choose not to have any- don’t even taste it!  “What’s up with you?”  It happened to me just the other night: I was out to dinner with my mom and took part of my meal home.  “You hardly ate anything!” Hah! I know what I ate and it was plenty! There’s a big box of the best in town pastries in the break room (thanks to the generous client) and everyone is having some.  “Is she allergic to gluten or something?” Even if they don’t pressure you to eat/ drink what they are, you still somehow end up feeling like you are different.  Recently, I was at a festival with a friend of mine and our meal came with a great big chunk of bread.  I left mine there and after a couple of minutes of confusion it dawned on my friend: “you don’t eat bread anymore!”  She didn’t mean to draw attention to my dietary changes, but it still was a little uncomfortable. Bread is not that big a deal, nor is my leaving it there, but there I was, being different!

Generally, we tend to go with the flow simply because it’s easier.  You are out with your friends and they order a slice of cheesecake with three forks, so a bite or two isn’t the end of the world! Even if you didn’t want any cheesecake at all? You are watching the game and your friend hands you a beer, even though you planned on not drinking, so you just make that one last all day. Those are better choices than eating the whole dessert or having multiple beers, but it’s still more than what you planned on having.  What do you do?  “No thanks, I’m too full!” That’s always an option, but sometimes with peer pressure, it only stokes the fire.

Of course, it works for the positive also!  If everyone else is going to the gym, don’t you feel the pressure to hit the gym as well? I know I feel it on MFP: all my fitness friends are posting their workouts and where’s mine? Well, I didn’t really make it to the gym today…..  Even though they don’t actually ask me about my workout, the fact that they are posting puts pressure on me to be more active.  I feel the need to join in and participate!  This is actually one of the reasons people seek out diet buddies; workout buddies, and the oh-so-cutesy: “accountabilibuddy.”  It works! If you are meeting someone at the gym twice a week and you decide to blow it off, you need to explain it to him/ her.  “Sorry- not going to make it today! Got too much to do!” Repeatedly blowing off the workout is going to get some questions: “hey, man, I thought you were serious about this!”  Now, you need to explain yourself.  You can blah blah excuse whatever to yourself but is your friend going to buy it? Probably not and after awhile, s/he’s not going to be meeting you anymore!

Experts and gurus like to point out that “being overweight is contagious!” If we hang out with “fat people,” we end up fat ourselves! One more reason not to be friends with the fat guy/ girl at the office! Yes, there is a correlation: our friends’ habits tend to rub off on us, but our habits tend to rub off on them too!  In my group of friends, I am now and have always been the biggest of us.  I was overweight when I made friends with them and even though I’ve lost a lot of weight, I still weigh more than they do (and this includes the husbands- yay????) I haven’t gotten fatter by being with them, and while they haven’t gotten fitter by being around me, they are now enjoying their little Fitbit trackers.  The point is that you don’t have to change your entire circle of friends if you want to be healthier or fitter.  If your friends don’t want to jog/ walk/ exercise with you, find some others who will! A few months ago I started taking the classes at my gym and now I see the same group each time I go and we chat and encourage each other.  I joined My Fitness Pal and have friends there that I chat with (it’s like Facebook for fitness/ nutrition).  You don’t have to dump your cheesecake and coffee loving friends; you just have to expand your circle. You also don’t have to eat what they eat: your real friends aren’t going to get in your face about not eating/ drinking what they do.  In fact, I met some of my friends over this past weekend and there was a bit of a delay.  When we did manage to meet, they both knew that I had already been by the coffee shop but they hadn’t and wanted to know if I just wanted to run some errands while they got coffee.  I went with them for coffee: they had some and I didn’t.  It wasn’t a big deal and I wasn’t sitting there feeling deprived over “not having more lattes.” We sat and chatted and waited for our other friend who was on her way.  We had a fun afternoon just the same.  My not having a second cup of coffee wasn’t a big deal: we were there to chat with each other and the coffee, even for them, wasn’t the point.

Experts and ‘those in the know’ are always quick to point out the short-cuts on how to lose weight or be healthier, but really there are none.  There are ways to make it more enjoyable or easier, like gym buddies or diet buddies (I now have more Fitbit friends) but really the heavy lifting is down to you (pun kinda intended). You are the one who needs to go out of your way to make the healthier changes life-long habits.  These may or may not include your present circle of friends.  It may be that you need to make new friends who share your same goals: yowza! that’s a pain in the butt! (sarcasm there!)  If your friends are anything like mine, there will be things you have in common and things you don’t.  One of my friends is a great gardener, another likes to decorate cakes, one is a gourmet and another is a Broadway fan.  I’m not a fan of any of those, but we all have things in common that we enjoy.  My thing now is fitness, and none of them are really into it, so now I have new fitness friends I can share it with.  It is easier when you have friends that you share things with, but really, your friend isn’t going to make you work out or make you say no to the cheesecake and peppermint mocha.  They are going to respect whatever decision you make.  You are the one who makes the decisions: your success does not depend on them, nor can you blame them for your failures (although sometimes, it would be nice!)  So, be a mensch and sit next to the fat guy/ girl at the office holiday party- you aren’t going to catch anything!

 

Watch Out for the Free Range Twinkies!

In light of the upcoming holidays and all the goodies that will be available to munch on and share, I thought this would be a timely warning as well as a little bit of humor.  It’s almost time for those annual make-them-and-break-them New Year’s Resolutions, so we can add this to the list of things we want to get done in 2017!

One of the newest podcasts I’ve been listening to is Alan Misner’s 40+ Fitness.  (Yep, I fit that demographic! Yikes!) It was episode 181 with Jeff Scot Philips, author of Big Fat Food Fraud and it was an enlightening look at the health food industry. Years ago, I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and it was a long time before I could even look at a fast food restaurant! Unfortunately, I got over that, but I do eat much less of it now than I did before. (FYI: the book is way more informative than the movie- not really about the book, I think!) I am ordering Mr. Philips’ book: I think it will be a great complement to Schlosser’s fast food exposé.

Of the many shocking topics discussed on this podcast, the one I found most frustrating was the fact that food labels lie to us.  The manufacturer designs the labels and lists the ingredients and there is no agency (according to what I heard in the podcast) that regulates the accuracy of the ingredients list.  This is the label that we consumers RELY ON to decide if this is something we want to consume! Mr. Philips made the comment that a lot of consumers are trying to avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate) and so instead of putting it on the label as MSG, they call it something else (like “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”) put that on instead.  Joe Consumer comes along, reads the label: “cool! no MSG!” and buys it.  Except that he is getting MSG because the label lied to him.

Labels are designed for marketing, as Mr. Philips pointed out.  Cereals always say they are low-fat, because they want you to focus on that instead of the fact that they usually have a lot of sugar in them.  Alan Misner made a joke about “free range Twinkies” because it’s accurate: the Twinkies haven’t been caged up.  It’s silly, but it’s also like pointing out that your milk is gluten-free or that your cabbage was raised on an all-vegetarian diet.  Really?!  Yes, these are silly but they are not that much of a stretch from what manufacturers really do put on the labels.  They are designed to catch your attention and, like the magician on stage, divert your attention from what they are actually doing and getting you to focus on what they want you to see.  Yes, chocolate bars are gluten free, but they are full of sugar.  Yes, the pasta is low-fat, but it’s full of starch (essentially sugar once it hits your GI tract).  The same is true for the pasta sauce: they might point out that it’s got healthy olive oil, but it also has a lot of corn syrup (more sugar).

One of the other ways manufacturers fudge the labels is by changing the portion size. If they want to lower the calories per serving (Less than 300 calories per serving!), they make the servings smaller.  Instead of 12 ounces of juice, it’s 8 ounces.  I noticed it when the yogurt containers went from 8 oz to 6 oz to 5.3 oz.  Calories per serving dropped as low as 120, but then it’s almost three ounces less yogurt.  The amount of “sugar” also dropped.

I was really not surprised that manufacturers change the names of the ingredients to shy away from putting a hot button food ‘bad guy’ on the label.  (The latest is high fructose corn syrup.)  I’ve had friends with allergies who carefully peruse labels for their allergens and all the ways it can be hidden on a label.  The yogurt is another good example.  My dog likes it and when I buy it, I usually give him a little, but the artificial sweeteners aren’t good for dogs (like sugar alcohols, aspartame and sucralose) so I was checking the label to see if it had any.  I was initially looking for those products and not finding them, I noticed I didn’t see “sugar.”  What I did see was “evaporated cane juice”- sugar.

The practice of re-packaging the truth is particularly distressing when it comes to transfats.  As the host Alan pointed out on the podcast, transfats are man-made fats that your body cannot expel.  Once you eat them, they are stuck in your body FOREVER.  Every transfat you’ve ever eaten is still in your body, and now that the government has realized they are unhealthy, they are getting manufacturers away from them.  Once the amount of transfat is less than one gram per serving (<0), the manufacturer is allowed to say it has “No Transfats!” but what they may not point out to you is that the package of whatever you are looking at contains 4 servings, so you could be getting almost 4 grams of transfats if you consume the entire package.

Whenever you buy something packaged you are taking the risk that the manufacturer is telling you the truth. You should not have to be a food detective to determine if something is safe or healthy for you to eat.  This is one more reason to eat as much whole, non-GMO, and organic foods as possible.  Eggs, even though they come in a box and have a label, are essentially a whole food.  The same is true for your fruits, vegetables, and most meats. Choosing foods that are non-GMO, grass-fed, free-range/ cage-free, hormone & anti-biotic are all good, but the bottom line is anything that doesn’t come in a package is probably healthier than something that does.  Broccoli doesn’t have to tell you it’s hormone-free and is low fat. Even when it does come in a bag, the only thing on the ingredients list should be: broccoli.  Opting for whole foods is a small step towards being healthier and you don’t have to wait for the new year to start.  Learning to be a savvy label detective is something else you can do, whether you decide to eat more whole foods or not.  Next time you go to the grocery store, watch out for the lies on the labels, and watch out for those free-range Twinkies, too!

 

You May Already Be a Winner!

We’ve all had days like this: we ate okay for breakfast and we resisted the urge to add the holiday flavored syrup/ creamer to our coffee in the morning, and we did great for lunch but now, after the healthier than usual dinner, we went crazy and had a couple chocolate chip cookies! “What’s wrong with us?!” Or this scenario: we went on vacation and we had decided we weren’t going to “diet” on vacation, but now we’re back and we have to get into our routine again and it….just….feels…so…much…harder….than….before!  This is a tough one.  I don’t mean the whole ‘eating according to your healthy plan’ routine: I mean cutting yourself a break! Yes, we need to be accountable.  Yes, we need to be consistent.  Yes, that would be easy if we were all androids like Cmdr. Data or Vulcans like Mr. Spock.  (Trekkie here. Sorry!) But, for better or worse, we are simple humans and as both Data and Spock will tell you, humans are susceptible to emotion and are fundamentally illogical.  In other words, we know what’s good for us and we do what feels good instead, even if it’s not good for us.

We need to find that middle ground between stepping out of bounds occasionally and actually moving off the reservation.  As some of you know, I follow a Paleo eating plan, which means all those yummy crunchy grain products are off my menu pretty much all the time, and especially in the morning, but… I really wanted a breakfast wrap, so I had one.  I’d love to say that it was delicious and guilt-free, but as yummy as it was (and it was!), I kept thinking how it wasn’t good for me and I knew it and I still got it and here I am, eating this hot delicious wrap and I’m screwing up my whole eating plan for the day.  “What’s wrong with me?!”

Nothing is wrong with me, except my guilting myself for eating what I wanted.  Now if I had wraps every day or even more than once a week, then there would be a problem, but one wrap?! So, after a few minutes of guilt, I told myself to knock it off.  It’s a choice I made, so own it, and secondly, it’s not the end of my Paleo eating plan!  I don’t have to go back to ‘start’ and I don’t have to punish myself for eating off the plan. This is what I mean when I say we need to learn to give ourselves a break!

Too many of us feel the need to punish ourselves for not being perfect.  I was good until I had that cookie! I was good until I had a ‘insert off limits food here.’  No mea culpas necessary! You are a responsible individual and you can decide if you want a treat or not.  There’s a big difference between looking at the cookies, wanting one and deciding that one (or however many) can be allowed rather than seeing the cookies, having an irresistible craving for them and sneaking off with four or five in your hand.  Eating according to your cravings is not good and it’s not responsible eating; making a considered thoughtful choice is something else. I thought about having a wrap and chose to have one. The rest of the day and the next were in line with my eating plan; the wrap was a hot & yummy anomaly!

The other reason we feel the need to punish ourselves is because we aren’t doing ‘good enough!’  We use phrases like ‘out of control,’ ‘get my butt in gear,’ ‘get my head/ game together.’ Why? What are we doing that’s so wrong? We had a couple cookies after dinner?  We had a wrap for breakfast?  Damn, send in the Marines!! We need to whisked off to the nut house- we are outta control!! Except that it’s not funny and I’m not exaggerating, because that’s how we think of ourselves and that’s how we treat ourselves: “I had cookies- I’m bad! I had cookies- I’m bad! What’s wrong with me?!” Nothing is wrong with you either: you’re a regular person (see above reference to synthetic humans and alien species).  For most of us, this healthy eating and fitness lifestyle is still pretty new.  I’ve been doing this for two years, and while I may have a little more experience than some of you, I am far from an old pro! I am pretty used to eating according to my Paleo menu and it’s my default routine now.  That means it’s easier for me to say to things like cookies and potato chips and crackers because I’ve been doing it for over a year, but I’m still human and sometimes the cheesetoast at Sizzler looks good to me.  The chocolate covered pretzels at my friend’s party are kind of tempting.  Do I eat them? Rarely.  It’s not because I’m denying myself or doing penance for whatever imagined sin I thought I committed.  I say no most of the time because I know they aren’t good for me and as tempting as they are, I know that I really don’t want them.  They may taste good but they have consequences that aren’t worth it to me.  If I do have them, it’s not the end of the world or a fatal diet error; it’s an anomaly, and it usually serves to remind me of why I gave them up.  I usually feel kind of blah afterwards that has nothing to do with guilt: it’s like my body is saying “what the hell did you just eat and why did you eat it?!” (FYI: this is the same body that used to go into shellshock when I ate broccoli and now that it’s finally adjusted I go and give it cheesetoast again?!)

This is what Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls “All or Nothing” thinking, and it’s why so many of us give up trying to eat healthy or get fit.  Either you’re in or you’re out.  We are either staying on the straight and narrow path or we are off the reservation in the food wilderness!  When I was kid I used to play a board game called Aggravation, where we rolled the dice and moved our platoon of marbles around the board.  The goal was to get all our marbles to the end before the others did, and if someone landed on one of your marbles, you had to move it all the way back to the beginning to start over.  We are not marbles on a boardgame! When we have the cheesetoast or pretzels or anything else that’s “forbidden,” we don’t have to go back to Start! We don’t have to throw the board across the room in frustration!  We just have to remind ourselves that really no food is “forbidden” or “off limits.”  Eating Paleo doesn’t mean I never eat pasta or crackers again: it means I may eat it once in a while but it’s not a big part of my regular menu. Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you never eat cake again for the rest of your life: it simply means that cake is an occasional treat, not dessert every night!  Much of what we eat as every day foods now were never intended to be everyday foods.  Things like cookies and cake and chocolate were things made in celebration of a holiday or a special occasion.  (This is why we have things like birthday and wedding cakes, Christmas cookies and fruitcake.)

A lot of us get caught up in this dieting “on or off” mindset because this is what most diets teach: you follow this strict regime for X amount of days to lose X amount of weight.  Some of these diets are so structured, they set you up with weekly menus or goals you need to hit before you can move on to the next level and when you miss a goal or go off menu, they tell you to start again!  Really??  This is why so many of the diet books and programs my mom used to leave on my doorstep ended up in the bottomless pit of unused diets. These diets don’t teach you how to eat for health or nutrition; they teach you to diet! They teach a short term style of eating with one goal in mind: losing weight!  It’s not about being healthy or eating for long term nutrition or fitness- it’s all about the quick temporary fix.  This is why so many of us have spent so many years losing the same 10/ 20/ X lbs over and over again.  This is why I don’t say I am on the “Paleo diet”; I say that I eat Paleo, because I like eating this way and I intend to eat this way for the rest of my life.  It’s not about weight loss (although frankly, I think losing weight is awesome!); it’s about being healthier and fitter and feeling really great.

More importantly, it is a PROCESS! Whatever style of eating you decide on, anything that recommends you get up the next morning “fully onboard with their eating plan” is pretty much setting you up to fail, in my opinion.  When I decided to try Paleo, I did my research and downloaded some food lists and frankly, was shocked at all the things that were not considered Paleo.  It was pretty much everything I had been eating: bread, pasta, potatoes, sugars, grains, etc.  It was daunting, and I didn’t begin by throwing out everything non-Paleo from my cupboards.  I started by eliminating one or two items: pasta and potatoes.  I stopped eating those, until I felt I had a handle on it and I wasn’t going crazy craving them.  Then I moved on to breads and crackers, and so on.  It took a few weeks (really more like months!)  before I had everything non-Paleo off my menu.  I didn’t “start over” if I slipped up and had a piece of garlic bread a week or so after I stopped eating bread; it was an anomaly, and I kept going forward.  I made note of how after eating it, I started craving it again, and how that was not a good thing, and it reminded me that was one of the reasons I stopped eating it!  Learning to eat according to whatever healthy plan you choose is the same as learning any new skill: it takes time and patience but with practice comes improvement.  Yes, there will be a few bumps in the road, but you don’t give up. Every master was first an apprentice.  At some point in his life, Michelangelo didn’t know the first thing about drawing or painting.  Mozart at one point knew nothing about music (although I think he was probably one year old at the time- prodigy!) The same was true of all the great artists, musicians and scientists.  Everyone starts at the beginning and works their way forward.  We don’t win when we reach our goal weight or bench press X lbs like we did in high school.  Fitting into our wedding dress or a size 6 doesn’t make us winners.  We win every day we get up and keep moving forward with putting our health first! Even if we have the birthday cupcake or the breakfast wrap, when we keep moving forward, we keep getting better; we keep winning!

One Size Does Not Fit ALL!

The FDA lied to me (and everyone else)!

I am the first to admit that I am not any kind of health/ fitness expert.  I never have been and one look at my medical records would verify that! But like most people out there, I think, I tried to follow the best advice for healthy living and healthy eating.  So when everyone was freaking out about high fat, high meat diets, and all the benefits of whole grains, I followed their advice.  For years, I could not figure out what I was doing wrong as I continued to gain weight through college and grad school and somewhere towards the early 2000’s, I came to the conclusion, that whatever it was I was doing wrong was way beyond me and I was just doomed to be fat all my life.

About that point, I pretty much stopped paying attention to what I was eating and just ate what I wanted, though I tried to keep it in some kind of moderation (usually failing miserably), and it wasn’t until the end of 2014 (about this time two years ago) that I FINALLY figured out what I was doing wrong, began to lose weight and began to feel like an actual human being who had a chance to live a healthy lifestyle.  As some of you know, it was a complete and total accident that I stumbled onto my huge (no pun intended- well, maybe) diet problem:  I had been following the FDA guidelines on their Food Pyramid.

In the early 1990’s (1992 to be exact) the FDA’s Food Pyramid recommended eating daily 6-11 servings of grains, rice, cereals & pastas, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruits, 2-3 servings of meats & fish, 2-3 servings of dairy and to eat fats and sugars “sparingly.”  (They update these guidelines every 5 years or so.) In 1992, I was in college and literally my weight gain started to soar.  It was seriously out of control and the more I kept eating the low fat, high carb/ high “whole grain” diet everyone was pushing at me, the more weight I kept gaining.  Like I said, eventually I just gave up.

It turns out that everyone else following the same diet was also gaining weight at a high rate too.  We had an epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes by the time I finished college.  It kept right on rising (I think it still is) and now the doctors know why: it was the low fat, high carb/ high whole grain diet that everyone was eating– at their recommendation!!  Now the best doctors are telling us something very different than what they told us 25 years ago. Now they are telling us that high fat does not cause heart disease; it’s sugar that causes the most damage in the body.  What they are not explaining fully is that all those “whole grains” & grain products (this includes rice, cereals, pastas, corn & corn products, etc) turns into sugar in the body.  When you eat a candy bar, your body breaks it down into glucose, which is a sugar, and the body releases insulin to remove it from the blood stream and it is stored in the body as fat or glycogen for later use as a fuel.  What the doctors aren’t telling you is that all those grain/ grain products they were advising us to eat 6-11 servings of each day, are made up of starches, which are long strings of sugar, and are turned just as quickly into glucose by the body and the body goes through the same routine.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a bowl of pasta, a bagel, an ear of corn or a candy bar: it all turns into glucose pretty fast in the body and it’s stored as fat or glycogen.  (They may as well have told us to have 6 candy bars daily- the effect would have been the same!)

So there we all were: eating lots of grains, cereals and pastas like they said to do, and we were gaining weight, and becoming insulin resistant to boot too!  I figured out (22 years later!) that one of the reasons I was gaining weight was that all of those carbs were being stored as fat in my body, and they weren’t being burned later on because in order to burn fat, the blood stream needs to be cleared of insulin.  If there is glucose in the blood, there is insulin in the blood and the body can only store fat when insulin is present.  It’s an either-or situation: either the body is storing fat (insulin is present) or it is burning fat (insulin is not present). There was always insulin and glucose in my blood stream because I was eating those recommended grain products for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks: bagels, cereals,  breakfast sandwich, pasta, sandwiches, granola bars; cereal bars, etc.  (Does this sound like the stuff everyone else was eating??) My body was clearing the glucose from breakfast only to have it replaced with the glucose from lunch and then once that was cleared, there was the snack glucose and then the dinner glucose and knowing me, probably dessert glucose as well!!

You know that old saying that  if you have Chinese food, you’ll only be hungry again in an hour? This is why:once your body clears the glucose from your blood stream, obviously your blood glucose is low, and it’s usually lower than it was before you ate whatever it was you ate, so your brain sends out a signal that you need to raise your blood glucose, and that signal is hunger.  This creates a vicious cycle: you eat carbs (either because they’re “good for you” or you like them- whatever reason); your blood sugar spikes; your body releases insulin to clear the glucose; your blood sugar bottoms out once the glucose is cleared and your brain tells you that you need to eat.  This is why you can eat a huge meal of pork fried rice, chicken chow mein and broccoli beef over rice chased down with a fortune cookie and be hungry an hour later.  You know you just ate, but your brain says you’re hungry.  This is how you can have a breakfast full of good for you whole grains and then munch on a granola bar about an hour and half later.  You have a sandwich and whole wheat crackers for lunch and then munch on a bunch more crackers a couple hours later.  You have pasta and shrimp for dinner and then have a couple of cookies while watching tv an hour or so later.  By the time your body has cleared the glucose from the prior meal or snack, you’re dumping more glucose into the system!  It’s not your fault- this is what we were all told and this is not unusual for most people!  That is a perfectly reasonable daily diet laid out above and it’s a diet that will most probably keep you gaining weight.  It’s not that different from the diet I was on for most of my college years and I kept steadily gaining weight, until I just gave up and ate all kinds of junk food because NOTHING WAS WORKING FOR ME!!

As much as I would love to lay all the blame on the FDA, I can’t.  They meant well.  Even though I was following their guidelines, which were made with the best of intentions for everyone, I was simply eating too much and it was too much of the wrong things, so it was a perfect storm of weight loss chaos for me (and everyone else it turns out as well)! After I reached around the 370 mark, my weight pretty much stayed in that neighborhood for several years.  I would periodically try dieting, again using the low fat high carb model, and I would lose weight and then slowly gain it all back.  It wasn’t until things got really bad with my job and my eating habits that it really began to rise again, and it took a major life crisis to stop it.  The only good thing out of that crisis (aside from leaving the job from hell) was that I learned how to eat for weight loss and overall health.  It involved making permanent lifestyle and eating changes.

As the title of this post states, one size does not fit everyone.  The FDA, in putting out guidelines, is trying to help people eat better, which is to be commended, and obviously they cannot tailor a plan to fit each individual: that’s why they are called “guidelines.” It would be a whole lot easier if we could just take a simple test and get an easy to follow instruction manual on how to eat for our body type & lifestyle, but unfortunately we have to find out through trial and error, mostly.  What works for one person may not work for someone else, even if you are related.  My sister is a vegetarian and she is also losing weight eating a lot of the foods that I don’t eat.  The same is true for me: I eat a Paleo/ Primal diet now which includes a lot of animal products she doesn’t eat and I am also losing weight.  My sister’s diet includes a lot of starches and simple carbs and mine includes a lot of meat & fish.  Pretty much the only things we have in common are dairy (although mine is much less than hers) and non-starchy vegetables.

You would think it would be easy to figure out what to eat.  I mean, if you have a cat, you know you don’t feed it oats and grass, just like you don’t feed your rabbit meat and eggs.  Because humans are omnivores (meaning we eat everything), we think our diet must include “everything.”  Humans have been trying to figure out what we eat for as long as we have been humans; basically, we eat something and if it makes us sick, we cross it off the list and don’t eat it again.  This is fine if you are a caveman (or cave person) but with our big brains and modern conveniences, we techno-savvy homo sapiens think we should know better.  We can literally touch the stars but we can’t figure out what we should be eating?! As a wise and savvy engineer once remarked, “the more you overhaul the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain” (Mr. Scott).  He was right: just because we can make computers that fit in our palms doesn’t mean we should be eating “super techno franken foods.”  The shortest distance between points A & B is still a straight line.  1 + 1 is still 2.  One of the other things my Paleo/ Primal “cave man” diet has in  common with my sister’s animal-friendly vegetarian diet is that we both eat very few processed foods.  Most of what we eat is pretty close to its natural state: the vegetables are as fresh and organic as they can be and so are the eggs, dairy and in my case, the meats too.

I can’t tell you that “eating Paleo/ Primal” is the way to go anymore than I can say “eating vegetarian” or keto or low fat or any other diet is the way to go.  All I can tell you is what works for me.  Before I starting eating Paleo, my weight was out of control, I had high blood sugar and I was always hungry, always tired and felt pretty awful in general.  Now that I eat very few processed foods and grain products, my blood sugar is completely normal, I’ve lost 163 lbs and I have a lot more energy and feel pretty good overall. I wish I could tell everyone that I found the magic potion that makes us all feel wonderful and lose weight, but, alas, not so.  I honestly believe that some things I’ve learned are true: that too many processed starchy foods cause high blood glucose which prohibits fat burning and that processed foods are less healthy for you than organic whole foods.  Beyond those, I think everyone needs to decide for themselves what works best, and we need to remember that what works for one does not work for all.  I’ve had many people tell me that “keto is the way to go!” and I know that keto is too hard for me and it does not make me feel good.  I’ve also had a lot of people tell me that Paleo did not fix my blood sugar problem because “I bet if you ate a bagel, your blood sugar would go up!” Duh!!! That’s how blood sugar works! When anyone eats anything, your blood sugar goes up!! (That’s why you test it 2 hours after eating- if it’s still high after 2 hours, then you have a problem!) Some people really don’t enjoy eating Paleo/ Primal even if they lose weight. I know when I tried going vegetarian in college, I really didn’t like it. I like veggies but not that much! My sister on the other hand doesn’t like eating meat or fish (especially fish!)

I think the most important thing I learned after this lifelong struggle is that when someone tells you they have The Answer, don’t believe them!  Either they are flat out lying to you or they are making a good faith honest mistake. This is why the weight loss & fitness industries flourish: every few months someone has The Answer and they’ll be happy to share it with you for $19.99 plus shipping and handling! All I’m going to do is tell you to listen to your body (for free!) and be patient.  Take notes in your diet journal about what you are eating and how it makes you feel.  Record your measurements and/ or weight every couple of weeks.  Take notes about your activities/ exercises and how they make you feel (same journal).  If you like how you feel, if you are losing weight, getting fitter, then keep going.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a specialized “diet with a name;” what matters is that you feel better! But the one caveat I’m going to put out there is that you need to be patient and give your body some time to adjust and time to lose weight and quite possibly heal.  I had to stop eating dairy for a long time before I could eat it again without feeling wretched from lactose intolerance.  I still have to be careful not to have too much too often, but a little is okay for me.  I know I was really addicted to starches and I’d really crave bread for days after eating one piece of toast.  It was a long time before I could see it and not want it.  I’ve learned that while bread tastes really good, it’s not good for me.  My sister on the other hand enjoys it without feeling awful afterwards.

It’s a little ironic that humans pride ourselves on our individuality, but when it comes to eating and exercising, we still look for the One Size Fits All approach.  Most of us go through the majority of our lives crammed into the One Size diet- and we all know how well those One Size sweatshirts fit: some of us have to roll up the sleeves and the some of us end up ripping a seam! It’s not comfortable wearing someone else’s clothes, so why would you want to eat someone else’s food?

 

 

 

 

Be Gracious in Victory, Not Vindictive

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may be familiar with a post I did (The Speck in Your Sister’s Eye) regarding comedian Kerryn Feehan and Whitney Thore of My Big Fat Fabulous Life (MBFFL).  Kerryn appeared on the show and she and Whitney disagreed- loudly- over Whitney’s approach to her weight and lifestyle and fat shaming in general.

Recently on part two of MBFFL’s season finale, Kerryn made another appearance.  The season finale (entitled “The Skinny”) was a round table type wrap up where they had the cast and host Shaun Robinson review certain moments from the season and offer their thoughts looking back at the various incidents.  Personally, I think Kerryn is to be applauded for walking into what was so obviously a lion’s den of disapproval straight from the get-go.  It was soon apparent that no one wanted to listen to her point of view on Whitney’s attitude and/ or approach to her weight and, although she frankly has a tendency to express herself crudely and hurtfully (maybe it’s the ‘comedic’ approach?), it was also very apparent that she genuinely felt she had come to have a frank and open discussion about the state of Whitney’s health.

When Kerryn brought up the fact that Whitney is “struggling” with her health and weight, she was attacked.  When she defended herself by bringing up the funeral intervention thrown by her friends and family members, she was attacked again.  Whitney took offense to a response Kerryn made to her parents, saying it was disrespectful (I don’t think it was, but it’s purely subjective) and walked off the set.  (Kerryn also left.) Later, after everyone returned, Kerryn apologized to Whitney, telling her she believed she was clearly a beautiful, intelligent and charismatic person.  Whitney responded by saying since Kerryn did not include respect in her list of attributes, Kerryn obviously did not respect her and made a derogatory remark about Kerryn, who was then abruptly asked to leave by the host.

I have to say I was not impressed by Whitney’s behavior (or her friend Buddy’s for that matter).  Upon her return to the set after the blow up, Kerryn flat out stated that she believed she had been brought there to have a frank discussion about Whitney’s weight and that clearly was not going to happen. I think Kerryn began badly by saying that she believes Whitney’s friends are enabling her when it is quite obvious she is struggling with her weight (the words Kerryn used were she “waddles” when she walks).  I think this is part of Kerryn’s “bullying for positive change” philosophy which I don’t agree with but I don’t deny that Whitney does tend to waddle when she walks.  (I used to waddle myself when I weighed that much! It’s because moving 370+ lbs can be a bit of an effort!)

Kerryn’s abrasive personality aside, it was painfully clear that she was hurt by the multiple attacks on the set and it was also quite clear that although Whitney had the opportunity to handle the situation with grace and aplomb, she chose not to do so.  Instead, she threw Kerryn’s words back in her face and childishly decided to have a tantrum by leaving the set rather than using her alleged charisma and articulate manner to discuss the matter with Kerryn.  Loathe though I am to side with Kerryn, I do not think she was wrong when she said that Whitney’s friends and family are not helping her.  While I don’t think they coddle her (as Kerryn stated in the first episode), I think they do enable her.  Kerryn brought up the funeral intervention thrown by her friends and family after Whitney passed out at the dance-a-thon she put on.  She ended up at a cardiologist, who of course told her to lose weight, although he also told her she was physically fine.  Her friends and family were quite obviously scared for her and did the intervention hoping it would bring about positive change.  Whitney’s response was to walk out after the funeral without speaking to them and on the season finale, her comment to them was “Y’all are lucky I don’t hold a grudge!”  Frankly, it’s clear that she does hold grudges (don’t get me started about Caitie and the whole Big Girl Dance class debacle!) and again she missed the opportunity to express her gratitude that they cared so much to do that, even if she felt it was not the appropriate way to show their concern (I think she was much ruder to her dad in this instance than Kerryn ever was!)

For someone who is supposed to be charming and articulate, Whitney can be rudely defensive about her weight, and it is to be expected.  As she pointed out, she gets attacked  daily about her weight, mainly because she is putting herself out in the media. She read aloud some of the Twitter feed about her and it was beyond disgusting, although there were some positive comments.  She is to be congratulated for standing up for what she believes in despite the ugly remarks (I think they scared her mom and brought a few of them to tears they were so bad!) It’s easier (though not at all easy) to ignore comments from ignorant meatheads who don’t know you, but when your friends and family and your own body are telling you that you need to make some positive changes, those need to be acknowledged.  When asked about how she intended to handle her fainting spell, Whitney defensively replied that she intended to sleep better, exercise better and get better nutrition rather than lose weight.  I think she was trying to save face.  I’ve been down that road myself.  It’s easier to say things like that rather than admit you don’t know how to lose weight and keep it off.  Another of Whitney’s defensive remarks was that she’d lost 100 lbs before and of course gained back more, and she said she was not going to put herself through it again.  She shouldn’t because yo-yo dieting can wreck havoc on your metabolism, but making sustained long term changes to your lifestyle can help you lose weight, get better nutrition feel better and sleep better. But it means having to change how you are living, and sometimes that is a bigger impediment than most people want to admit.

I’m not going to sit here and tell Whitney how she should live her life.  She’s an intelligent adult who is more than capable of making her own decisions.  I like her and I think she would be someone I could have as a friend, but my point here is that she had the opportunity to show the world how really lovely and intelligent and gracious she can be and she opted not to do it.  One of my favorite people, Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential), shared a book on a podcast not long ago entitled The Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.  EB is a big fan of Stoic philosophy and, while I am not, one of the quotes she shared from the book stayed with me: be gracious in your victories and humble in your defeats.  It was so clear that Kerryn was humble in her flat-out annihilation on that episode and so clear that Whitney was anything but gracious.  I am so disappointed, not only that she came off as petty and vindictive, but that she missed the opportunity for real discussion of her no body shame message. She had the opportunity to discuss why one’s weight is not always a good indicator of health and how being confident in yourself does not depend on what you weigh or how many miles you can run.  Health and beauty and fitness are not about body size.  She would have been much better served if she had chosen to focus more on her physical and personal achievements and less on being defensive over her eating and her weight.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of her next season and hopefully she will learn from this unfortunate incident.  Again, kudos to Kerryn for putting herself in that minefield and showing what true grace looks like!

It’s Me or The Cookie: I Can’t v I Can

When you tell yourself you can’t lose weight, guess what: you’re right!

Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) devotes a lot of her podcasts to what she calls the “mindset side” of weight loss, and she’s not wrong to do so.  After all, what is will power?  Will power is not about physical strength: it’s all about the mind.  We “psych” ourselves up for big presentations at our jobs, before the “big game” at school, or before we step out onto the stage.  We do what’s called “self talk,” and how we talk to ourselves is important. Elizabeth often reminds her listeners that when we tell others (or ourselves) that we “always lose control at buffets” or we “just can’t eat one cookie and not eat the whole bag,” we are giving ourselves instructions: “this is how we behave.”  In a sense, we are giving ourselves the “out”: the permission to behave badly or go off script.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: “I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself with the Girl Scout cookies, and I was right!” Yep- you sure were! You ate the whole box of peanut butter sandwich cookies! Aren’t you proud of yourself? (Shaming is a whole ‘nother topic! Ugh!)

This is why Elizabeth advocates daily (usually morning) affirmations.  Telling yourself “I can make good choices! I can do hard things!” psyches you up for your day and reinforces your inner strength- your will power. These are actually two of Elizabeth’s morning affirmations and they’re pretty dang good ones! Think of how much stronger those words are than “I can’t say no to tortilla chips!” or “I can’t resist ice cream!” Self talk- that little voice in your head- really is stronger than you think it is.  Spend a day really paying attention to that little voice and listen to what s/he says to you.  Remember the last time you spent money on something you really didn’t need but really really wanted? Who talked you into buying it? “These golf clubs are way too much, but they’re on sale for 30% off, and when will that happen again?  This is my only chance to buy them before they are totally beyond my reach!  They’re an investment, because I won’t have to buy more clubs for at least ten years!” In my case, it would be a Kate Spade handbag, because I’m a total Kate Spade addict! (eye roll) and there’s that little voice giving me permission to go crazy on the Kate Spade sale page because they’re more than 50% off and they’re discontinued so when will I ever…….Blah, blah blah, and there we go, talking ourselves into doing something we really don’t need but really really want.

It’s justification, rationalization, whatever you want to call it; the bottom line is we talk ourselves into (and out of) situations. We really want the golf clubs, Kate Spade bag, tortilla chips; we don’t want to go to the gym (it’s hard!), fix a healthy dinner (yuck, cooking), say “yes” to the salad and “no” to the French fries (my noes is starting to twitch like a rabbit’s!) . It’s a lot like the cartoons with the little angel on one shoulder telling us what we should do to stay on track with our goals, and the little devil on the other trying to lead us off track.  From my own experience, there is a grocery store I used to avoid because I used to get cake slices every time I shopped there. I didn’t want to go there because I was afraid I would buy cake and it was never just one slice of cake, it was always two (I don’t know why- it just was!) but I ended up there one day and sure enough, I found myself in the bakery looking at the cake and the voice in my head was yakking away about how just one piece would be okay, and one is an improvement over two and if I get white cake, I could share it with the pets, so it wouldn’t be the whole slice of cake, it’d just be half or a third and Remy (my cockapoo) could have a big part of the frosting, blah blah blah.  Then I remembered a line- an affirmation- from one of Elizabeth’s podcasts: “I am stronger than a cookie.” I left the store with no cake at all.  Truly, I heard that line in my head and I lost all desire for the cake, because I am stronger than the cake.  It sounds silly, doesn’t it?  “I am stronger than a cookie.”  But how many times have you seen the box of cookies on the table in the office and eaten one or two (or more)? How many times have you gone to the BBQ and helped yourself to the chips/ cookies/ beer, etc when you knew it wasn’t on track with your weight loss goals? How many times have you talked yourself into the things you really didn’t want to eat but did anyway because they’re “yummy?” You wanted to eat them even though they weren’t on track and so you gave yourself permission by talking yourself into it.  You reminded yourself that you have no control over whatever food/ situation it was and gave yourself permission to fail; even worse, you “reaffirmed” your lack of control over the food/ situation by this “failure!”

When you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them!

This is another Elizabeth Benton expression, and yes, she is right again! (If you haven’t given the Primal Potential podcast a try, you really should! And no, this is not a paid endorsement- I just think she’s really smart!) When you start giving ‘reasons’ for why you can’t resist the chocolate/ French fries/ beer, you are reinforcing your reasons to fail.  You get to keep your future failures, because you have just told yourself that you can’t beat them.  The cookie wins, not you. The little voice in your head (the little devil) beats your will power (the good angel) not because it’s stronger, but because you choose to listen to it!! You are the one giving it the power every time you listen to it.  Eventually, the good angel stops talking, because what’s the point? This is when you give up: “I just can’t stick to a diet! I can’t stick to an exercise routine! I’m just not strong enough!” Guess what? You’re right, because YOU MADE IT THAT WAY.

It’s a lot like the “me and the cookie” scenario: there were a lot of excuses to give in with the cake.  One piece of cake is not going to be the end of my weight loss program; and yes, if I had gotten it, I would have shared it with my cat and dog (they get part of almost everything I eat at home as a rule), so it probably would have only been a half or two-thirds of the slice.  All of those were true, but instead of telling myself I can’t say no to the cake, I told myself I can say no.  I can leave it behind (FYI: I also said no to ice cream that day although that was a whole lot easier!) It’s just a matter of changing your language, your self talk.  These are the affirmations that Elizabeth Benton advocates: telling yourself “I can” instead of “I can’t.”  Think of it this way: remember when you had to make a speech to your co-workers or your classmates? Did you tell yourself “I can’t speak in front of people- I always mess it up! I’m going to stand up there and make a complete fool of myself and totally blow it!!” That makes no sense at all! You’re setting yourself up for failure, but this is EXACTLY what we do when we show up at the BBQ or birthday party or night out with the gang.  We let the little voice set us up for failure!  Imagine that little devil giving you a smug I-told-you-so smile as you scarf down the potato salad.  It reinforces the feeling of failure, of worthlessness, of futility.  “I blew it again! Why can’t I stop doing this?”

There’s that “can’t” again! It takes a little time, but replacing the negative self talk with the positive affirmations slowly bolsters your self confidence and will power, and every time you “win” over the negative voice, you reinforce another, better, positive self-fulfilling prophecy; “I can pass on the chips/ potato salad/ cupcakes, no sweat!”  Each time you walk away from the pitcher of beer, or the basket of tortilla chips, it’s one more in the win column and when you’re faced with a similar situation, it’s easier to follow the same positive path, because you’ve been down that way before.  Before long, it becomes the well-worn normal path of behavior- IT BECOMES YOUR REGULAR ROUTINE, and you find yourself routinely saying no to foods and behaviors that are not in line with your goals without really thinking about it!  It’s a series of choices that build upon each other, becoming stronger each time, and it starts with saying “I can” instead of “I can’t.” It starts with saying things like “I am stronger than a cookie.”