Getting Started: Where Do I Begin?

A friend of mine recently decided to lose weight and eat healthier, and like most of us, she’s a little lost.  She knows what her goal is: being a healthier weight and healthier in general, but as to how to get there? It’s all a little vague. Most of us begin in the same situation.  The goal is usually pretty clear, but the path to take is like finding our way through a maze. Which route do we take and how do we know if we are making progress?

I think she has made a good start: she knows where she wants to go and she has an idea of how she wants to get there.  Although she wants to lose weight, her goal is to be healthier overall, so she began by making some realistic changes.  Instead of changing several habits all at once, she began by trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.  She said growing up, her family didn’t eat a lot of those, so she is making an effort to eat more of them.  She also joined My Fitness Pal and is logging her meals and exercise.  Although she’s just started changing her eating habits, she’s been exercising regularly for about a year now (I met her at the gym) so that habit is already firmly established!

As far as “choosing a diet plan,” she hasn’t really opted for a ‘packaged plan,’ which I think is a good thing.  Too often, I hear people trying to fit their lives and eating habits around the Rules for a diet. This is how people end up malnourished or becoming ill after following Rules carved in stone by someone they’ve never met.  (My all-time favorite is the college student who ‘went vegan’ and ended up almost dying in the emergency room because of B12 deficiency.) I don’t have anything against vegans (my cardio trainers are both vegan) but when we opt for following a way of eating, we need to make sure that it fits our nutritional needs and our own preferences.  I really love grapefruit and cabbage, but I’m sure not opting for the Grapefruit Diet or the Cabbage Soup Diet!

When people ask me if I have a diet, I usually tell them that I do a ‘version of Paleo/ Primal,’ because my ‘rules’ are going to be different from anyone else who also does Paleo/ Primal.  There are even disagreements over how to define Paleo and Primal, so following the rules is a little bit like choosing a religion!  This is why I’ve opted to make my own rules and follow my own version.  What I do may not work for my friend or for anyone else, so while it’s great to ask for advice, if it doesn’t work for you, then what’s the point?

As I mentioned above, my cardio trainers are both vegan and they are big fans of promoting veganism.  It really works for them: they are both healthy and fit 70 year olds (not a typo- they’re both in their 70s!)  Personally, I like eating animal products and I know I wouldn’t be very happy ‘eating vegan’ or even vegetarian!  At the same time, there are a few of my fitness and gym friends who eat keto, which is usually heavy on fat, mainly from animal products.  As much as I love things like butter, bacon, meat and dairy, the few times I’ve tried eating keto, it has not been very satisfying, even discounting carb withdrawal.  I hear repeatedly how healthy vegan/ vegetariansim/ keto are and I don’t doubt they work for a lot of people.  My sister was a happy vegetarian for several years before she opted to change her eating habit again.  None of those really made me feel good, so they’re off my list of eating plans!

My own version of Paleo means mainly whole natural foods as unprocessed as possible.  It also includes dairy (most hardcare Paleo followers insist that Paleo + dairy = Primal). It does not include starchy vegetables, grains/ grain products, cane sugar and some legumes.  Essentially, I started with a basic Paleo framework and adapted it to suit my metabolism and preferences. In fact, when I started, my diet did not include dairy for many months.  Eventually, I opted to include it again although I do think I need to limit it more than I do now.  The point is that the way I eat now makes me feel my best and I am getting the results that I want.

That is how we find the answers to those earlier questions: which route do we take to our goal and how do we know if we are making progress?  If you are feeling your best with your current eating plan and you are getting the results that you want, then that is the route to YOUR goal.  Most of us go into dieting with the general goal of ‘losing weight.’  Weight loss isn’t always healthy!  In fact, when I started losing weight, because I was so extremely obese, I lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time.  When I saw my doctor, her first reaction wasn’t “finally!”; it was “are you feeling alright? are you having health problems?” Rapid weight loss is an indicator of cancer, hormonal imbalance and intestinal/ digestive problems.  It also leads to malnutrition, i.e. the vegan college student with B12 deficiency.  What most of us really want is ‘fat loss,’ not just ‘weight loss,’ and while the distinction is lost on most people, it is an important distinction.  Losing weight can mean losing water weight (and becoming dehydrated) or it can mean losing lean body mass, i.e. losing muscle, among other things.  When the number goes down on the scale, most of us are really happy about it and keep doing what we are doing to keep the number going down.  But if we are doing something unhealthy, then we are only becoming thinner instead of healthier.  My friend made the observation that while most of her family was obese, all the people she knew who were diabetic were thin.  Just as being clinically obese doesn’t equal ‘unhealthy,’ being thin does not equal being ‘healthy.’

Getting the results you want, whether losing fat, building muscle or being fitter, is one way of knowing you are on the right path, but we must also not discount the ‘how am feeling’ part of the answer.  If you are getting the results that you want, like fat loss, but you hate the way you are feeling or eating, then that is NOT the right path for you!  If you hate the way you feel or you hate the way that you are eating, you are not going to sustain it for long. I tried both vegetarianism and keto a few times, and frankly, I hated both ways of eating.  I felt horrible, had terrible cravings and did not enjoy what I was eating. Although I’ve since learned that the cravings and the ‘keto flu will go away, I didn’t like what I was eating and overall, I didn’t like the way that felt. There are days when I eat more to a keto or veggie plan than other days, but those are the exception rather than the rule.  When I opted to include dairy again in my diet, one of the things I watched for was simply “how does it make me feel?”  If it made me feel awful or kept me from making my goals, then I would have kicked it back out again, but the truth is I like cream, butter and cheese and it doesn’t keep me from my goals.

We’ve all done diets where we strictly limit our foods, either the types or the amounts and yes, most of us have lost weight on those diets, but once we stop the limiting, we gain back fat and usually a bit more.  This is why it’s so important that we must enjoy the way that we are eating in order to be successful, otherwise any fat loss is going to be temporary!  Also, what is the point of looking great if we feel miserable?  Remember the last time you lost weight and showed up at a function like a holiday party where everyone commented on how great you look? That felt awesome…. until we reached the buffet table! There was all that food that either wasn’t on our diet or was simply too much! Instead of thinking, yum! what looks good to eat?, we were crying inside because it was all foods we were denying ourselves! I know from experience that situation is no fun at all! I know I don’t want to spend the rest of my life ‘looking great and feeling miserable!’  Even though there are a lot of foods that aren’t on my list, there are a lot of foods that are, and the last time I was at a buffet, there were still a lot of yummy foods that I could and did eat!  It was easy to choose those foods over the foods not on my list because I knew I felt better eating them and I knew I was going to keep making progress!

My friend is still in the early stages of her getting-healthier journey, but as I said, I think she is off to a great start. She is building good habits on a reasonable time line and she is asking herself the right questions. She mentioned it to me because even though she was enjoying her lunchtime salad with leafy greens and chicken, she was still getting hungry before dinner, so she was asking me about options for fixing that.  We discussed adding in some healthy fats (avocado, olives or more cheese) or more fibrous veggies (broccoli, cabbage or kale).  Obviously, what works for me won’t always work for her, but the important points are that you have to eat what you like eating and still get the results you want, because unless you do both, it doesn’t matter what you eat or how much weight you lose.

Flavor Boosters Boost Your Waistline, Not Your Health!

One of the things I’ve been noticing a lot is people complaining about eating healthy because “the food doesn’t taste that good!”  If it’s someone I can respond to, I usually let them know there’s a reason whole foods taste different: it’s because processed foods have been processed full of ‘flavor enhancers,’ among other things.  This is when they ‘boost’ the flavor by filling it full of chemicals, designed to overpower your taste buds and make you want more of it.  This is the manufacturer making sure you crave their product and want to eat/ buy as much of it as possible!

A lot of these ‘flavor boosters’ show up on the ingredients as ‘natural flavors.’  That does not mean that these ‘flavors’ come from food: it just means they are not ‘man-made’ and come from “Nature” whether that can mean it’s something derived from wood by-products, coal tar manufacturing by-products or something else.  It does NOT mean it comes from FOOD!  Seriously, the artificial sweetener saccharin was originally a by-product of coal-tar manufacturing.  Incidentally, that is NOT the reason it’s banned in Canada: the Sugar Industry lobbied long and hard to ban saccharin because of the competition in both the US and Canada.  In the US, they managed to get it labeled as a carcinogen after feeding it to lab rats at mega-high dosages (like it’s all they fed the rats for weeks on end and wow! some of them developed cancer!) If humans ate that much saccharin, they would probably throw up long before they got cancer, the same way we would throw up after eating the same amounts of sugar, if we didn’t fall into a diabetic coma first!

In all honesty, the food manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping you buying their products, so they make the products as enjoyable and addictive as possible.  The more you buy them, the more you want them and the more money in their pockets.  By contrast, the more unhealthy you get!  Processed foods like chips, snack cakes, fast foods and other things that come with an ingredient list, have been tested to determine what flavors light up our brains’ pleasure centers the most.  Taste testers rate the different combinations and additives according to how much they want to keep eating it, the mouth feel, the smell, and everything else that makes food taste “so delicious!”

By comparison, whole unprocessed foods are going to taste different, because they don’t have all the chemicals processed into them.  They haven’t been processed (I think of it as ‘pre-digested’ personally!) so they are going to have a different mouth-feel.  This is the term food manufacturers use to describe literally the way food feels when you put it in your mouth, as in chips should be crunchy but not too crunchy; mashed potatoes should be soft but still have some texture; burgers should be a little chewy; hot dogs should have a little snap to them, etc.  Products are actually tested to see what ‘mouth-feel’ rates highest.  Most of us do this on our own when we make foods from scratch: I like my ground beef to have a little spring in it and not be completely charred; when I used to make mashed potatoes from scratch, I left a few lumps in them because I like to taste and feel the actual potato!  We know how we like our foods to feel as we chew on them!

Whole foods, by comparison, don’t have the chemical additives to boost the flavor and keep us eating more.  So when you’re eating the ground beef burger you made from grass fed beef (hopefully), it only has the flavors and spices you put on it, such as salt, pepper and maybe some onion or garlic powder.  The same goes for the broccoli you steamed yourself, the spinach you sauteed yourself or whatever else you’ve made from whole foods.  It’s not going to have the ‘natural flavors’ or the MSG (monosodium glutamate) unless you put it on the food.  If you’ve been eating mainly processed foods most of your life, like most of us have, whole foods will taste a little bland at first, but our taste buds change depending on what we eat. When we stop eating processed foods in favor of the whole natural foods, we get used to the way they taste, especially once we learn how to prepare them in a way we really enjoy (for me, this includes not walking away from the stove and turning the beef into a charcoal briquet as I usually do!) I like my stronger tasting meats like beef and lamb with a curry powder I mix myself, but milder meats like chicken I usually just roast.  I’ve learned to prepare my vegetables with olive oil dressings or just a little salt and ghee.  It might sound kind of boring compared to garlic mashed potatoes or Kansas City spare ribs from the freezer section or a restaurant, but I know what’s in the food I’m eating, and it’s not ‘flavor boosters’ and chemicals, and that is important to me!

Another way that processed foods boost your waistline is that the chemical ingredients can really mess with your intestinal bacteria (your microbiome).  We in the Western industrialized world eat mainly processed foods.  No surprise there!  But there is a direct correlation between the rise in consumption of processed foods and the rise in metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, depression, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis.  There are people who say it’s because we’re living longer and we’re exposed to chemicals in our environment.  Both of those are true, but what is also true is that we are exposed to chemicals in our food, and these are chemical compounds that we as a species have never eaten before and were probably not meant to eat (such as a coal-tar by product like saccharin!)  These additives and preservatives are designed to boost taste and mouth feel, not our health.  They keep us fat and unhealthy rather than promoting good nutrition and healthy bodies.  When did the whole point of eating become satisfying our taste buds rather than fueling our bodies?

These chemicals were never part of the human diet before industrialization, the same way polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), what Dr. David Perlmutter calls “factory fats,” were never part of the human diet.  Because they are ‘derived’ from a plant product or ‘Nature’ they are allowed to be called ‘natural,’ but they are not naturally occurring in nature the way an olive, an egg, a fish or a cow are naturally occurring.  These are foods humans and other animals have eaten for millenia and are pretty much recognized in all societies as something to eat. Monosodium glutamate, cottonseed oil and disodium phosphate, not so much! (Incidentally, cottonseed oil has to be processed to make it edible.  That’s really something I don’t want to eat!)  Most of these PUFAs are also high in omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory and unstable.  They are not fully metabolized by the body either and those unstable fats become a part of every cell in our bodies!

Besides the fact that most processed foods are full of pro-inflammatory “factory fats” that really mess with our absorption of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, they are also full of highly processed carbohydrates that spike our blood sugar.  This is why I usually refer to processed foods as ‘pre-digested.’  The foods have been broken down into the simplest compounds possible for fast easy digestion in our system, so the corn chips we ate 20 minutes ago are already metabolized while the cabbage we ate an hour ago is just getting there. Processed foods have almost no fiber, fewer vitamins (unless it’s been fortified and had them added back in) but are full of quick carbs, artificial flavors, preservatives and unstable factory fats.  When these products hit our microbiome in our small intestine, the beneficial bacteria that break down our food so we can absorb it usually take a hit in that the fiber that some of them eat isn’t there, while some of the chemical ingredients are toxic to them. Remember the last time you tried a new food and it sent you running to bathroom and/ or kept you there for the next couple of days?  That’s your microbiome telling you that food didn’t agree with them! More and more health professionals are realizing that an unhealthy microbiome leads to more than just digestion problems: they are making stronger connections to a lot of the diseases mentioned above like Alzheimers, ADHD, MS, arthritis, diabetes and others.  Many of what we used to think of as ‘brain-only hormones’ like serotonin, dopamine and tryptophan are linked to our microbiome: the same microbiome we are attacking daily with processed foods full of chemical flavor boosters!

Realistically, no one is going to eat something that tastes bad, but we forget that our tastes change over time. As a child, most of us made a face the first time we tasted beer or coffee or blue cheese, but as adults, we’ve learned to like those things.  We refer to them as ‘acquired tastes.’  Maybe it’s time we ditch the kiddie junk food in favor of a healthier subtle but sophisticated palate of whole foods?

Try It! You’ll Like It!

In my last post (“Getting Out of Our Own Way”), I made the comment that we will never succeed at anything if we don’t try.  Most of you who read my blog know that I am a hard-core TLC addict, mainly My 600 lb Life.  A lot of my family and friends don’t understand my addiction to the show and I usually quip that it’s my version of a 12 step meeting.  They think I’m joking but I’m not.  I came way too close for qualifying as a patient on that show, but more importantly, I keep learning things from it and it reinforces the positive changes that I’ve made in my life.

Sometimes, though, the patients are as irritating as all hell and one of the things that irritates me the most is when they whine and cry about how they “can’t,” as in they can’t walk, they can’t stand up, they can’t exercise, they can’t ‘insert basic human function here.’ (Yes. They cry.) They can manage to get to the kitchen for the ice cream, even though they are too big to fit in the front seat of an SUV.  They can’t eat healthy but they can sit on the sofa and make the meatloaf and mashed potatoes for someone else to finish on the stove.  They can’t bathe themselves but they can have someone set up the deep-fryer next to their bed so they can fry up some crab cakes for their po’boy.  I think it’s a matter of motivation and determination: if you want it bad enough, you will put in the effort! As Dr. Nowzaradan says in the intro to the show: “if you were serious, you’d make changes.”

There will always be a reason not to try something: fear of failure; fear of looking stupid; fear of not doing it right.  I mentioned some of these in my most recent post.  They are all legitimate fears.  As my mom rightly pointed out, no one likes to be laughed at or made fun of.  (I personally subscribe to the Dr. Seuss philosophy: “be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter won’t mind.” Not everyone is as thick-skinned and b*tchy as I am, however!) At the same time, if you let your fear dictate your boundaries in life, what are you left with?  Usually, not a lot!

For a long time after I started losing weight, I didn’t want to exercise.  I was afraid it would hurt; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it; I was afraid I would injure myself.  Eventually, I realized that I didn’t know if any of those were true because I didn’t try.  So I went down to the gym and used the treadmill, which did hurt my knees (thank you, arthritis!), and my doctor told me to use a pool instead.  So I switched gyms, and one day when I went to the pool, I discovered there was a water aerobics class going on and the instructor invited me to join in! And it didn’t hurt and it was fun and I’ve been going twice a week since.  In fact, taking the water aerobics class gave me the confidence to try a regular aerobics class.  (Building confidence is another benefit of trying new things.) I signed up for an aerobics class at the local junior college. FYI: both instructors are in their early 70’s, so no excuses about being old!

This class is little more challenging than the water aerobics and there are some days I come home from the class sore and exhausted.  There are a lot of exercises that I’m not good at and are frankly just too hard for me.  Correction: they are too hard for me right now, but I keep trying.  I keep showing up and I keep working at it and I am getting better. There are exercises that I couldn’t do when I started the class that are easy now by comparison, and at the last class, I did something I haven’t been able to do since I started the class nearly a year ago: I could balance on one leg.  That may not sound like much, until you try and fail. I try every time and until last night, I was never able to do it. Frankly, it is a little scary thinking you might fall and hurt yourself.  That’s how I shattered my wrist fifteen years ago (I had to get hardware installed- ugh!) There are some students in the class who move off the wrestling mats to balance, but I stay on the mats because if I should fall, I’d like some padding! The instructors are really good about telling us not do something if it causes pain and if we need to take a break or modify the exercise to do so; do what we can to the best of our abilities, and I think they are right to do so, but I also think they are right in encouraging us to keep trying.  I could have told myself that I can’t balance on one leg and I shouldn’t try because what if I fall and break another bone? I could have just said: can’t do it-don’t try! But I keep trying it every class.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back and say: “whoo hoo! look at me!” Because really, balancing on one leg is something most three year olds can do, and pretty much anyone else who’s not as out of shape as I am.  We do push-ups every class and I’ll probably never manage those on my toes- or my knees for that matter, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.  Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll surprise myself and manage to do those too!

The point is that so many of Dr. Now’s patients keep claiming they “can’t!” It hurts to walk; it hurts to stand up; it hurts to exercise- blah blah blah! Stop complaining about what you can’t do and do what you can! (Oops!… did I really just type that??) There are a lot of people who just learn to live with limitations because they have actual incurable physical handicaps, such as spinal cord injuries, MS or other conditions that limit what they can do.  When I listen to patients on the show talk about being ‘trapped in a bed or a room’ because of their weight, I get impatient with them. When they show up at Dr. Nowzaradan’s office, he usually asks them “what is your highest weight?” and they usually say “this is my highest weight.” It took me a while to figure out why he asks that question: he wants to know what improvements they have tried, and a lot of them haven’t tried anything.  It’s not that I am unsympathetic, but no one forces you to eat 10,000 calories a day.  To gain weight at 500 lbs, you have to eat about that much.  In actual food, that’s three sourdough jack burgers, three large fries, six regular Jack in the Box tacos, three McDonald’s hot cakes and sausage breakfasts, and three servings of Olive Garden lasagna.  Every day.  That’s approximately 10,065 calories, and if you weigh about 500 lbs, eating anything less than that means you lose weight. I also understand that for many people, the biological urge to eat is usually triggered by a psychological stressor.  I know that one all too well! Eating is a comforting distraction and the more stress you feel, the more you want to eat, and there is also the physical addiction to the fast starchy carbs aka bread and sugar.  I have struggled with all of those!

I also know if you don’t try, you won’t make progress! Weight loss is like any other new skill: it takes time and practice to learn it and get better at it.  That means you have to keep trying even when you screw it up. There aren’t “Calorie Gremlins” that appear while you’re sleeping and stuff cookies, burgers and milkshakes down your throat.  They don’t tie you to the bed or the chair and force you to stay immobile. The pain that comes with being super morbidly obese is mental, physical and spiritual, but even though this is where you are, the only thing keeping you there is you. I’m not accusing people of quitting or being lazy or even being afraid of failure. I’ve done all those things and I’ve been the one saying “it’s too hard” or “it hurts too much.” Those were the choices I made and I had to live with the consequences for most of my life.

I remember how much it hurt to walk when I weighed 438 lbs.  It hurt to walk, it hurt to stand, it hurt to sit for long periods. Laying flat on my back was a little scary: am I going to stop breathing if I fall asleep? I remember how embarrassing it was buying clothes and being afraid of ripping out the seams in the clothes I still had.  I hated how the hems of blouses and t-shirts would roll up my hips and butt because they didn’t stretch that far. I listen to these patients and I know their pain and embarrassment. I’ve also been the subject of snickers and rude comments from strangers and co-workers.

Changing is really really hard, even after you’ve had some practice at it.  It gets so frustrating, you want to give up and cry. But if you give up, if you don’t even try, you’ll never know what success you can achieve.  As sad as it is to fail, it’s sadder still to never try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait a Minute! This is Hard Work!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional Eating: Dealing with Stress

This probably the most common excuse for overeating, eating the wrong foods or just plain bingeing. We either use food to distract us or comfort us. We want something yummy to make us feel good. It’s completely understandable: we’re anxious, uptight and we want those negative emotions to go away. Food is something that does that for us. Things like ice cream or chocolate or potato chips set off our pleasure center in the brain. It’s why we think of them as addictive. It doesn’t have to be sugary or salty: as long as they relieve our negative emotions, we will keep coming back to them when we feel the stress.

It’s easy to make healthy choices when we’re feeling good but once things start getting complicated, we feel it’s okay to ‘have a treat’ or ‘take a break,’ but actually it’s the worst thing we can do. Giving ourselves permission to make unhealthy choices, whether it’s cookies or skipping a workout, is simply reinforcing our old stress relieving routines which kept us from our fitness goals to begin with. There will always be stress in our lives: it’s an unhappy fact of life. Learning to change our habits in times of stress is another tough stressor but it’s a necessary one. Once we learn how not to stress-eat or make excuses, we make a quantum leap forward. Let’s be honest here: we’re under stress, we eat a stack of cookies, we feel better for the five-ten minutes it took to eat them, then we feel guilty about the cookies on top of the stress that started it all, then we worry over whether we’ve either stalled or gained weight. More stress and bad news!

There’s also the whole physical effects that come with our bad choices besides the stall/ gain. We usually don’t realize it until we get away from the poor choices, but things like chips, cookies, and other processed foods are ‘quick’ carbs. We use terms and phrases like ‘chocoholic’ or ‘sugar addiction’ and we’re not wrong: our bodies learn to crave the processed foods because they’re quick energy. One of the reasons they’re not good for us is because they spike our blood sugar, which is followed by a rapid drop, which results in the cravings for sugar or other quick carbs. These processed foods are full of calories but low in nutrition and they perpetuate our cravings. What about any of that is good for us? The less we eat of these foods, the less we crave them and once we lose our taste for them we realize a few things: we feel better physically and mentally when we don’t eat them. Unfortunately it’s not until we eat them again that we realize how just plain awful they make us feel compared to eating something healthier. They don’t taste as good as they used to, they’re not good for us and they make us feel ‘ugh.’ So, why are we eating them?? Because we were feeling stressed and that’s what we do when we’re stressed!

It’s a little bit of a catch-22: we’re freaking out over the negative emotions, so we go to what calms us down, but then we freak out because now we just ‘blew our diet’- no win situation.  But sometimes learning a new healthy habit doesn’t help either: we’re freaking out and we try the ‘healthy thing’ but it doesn’t really seem to help since it’s not the old comforting routine.  We’re still feeling the urge to do the ‘old habit,’ and we’re left stressing out with the negative emotions.  This transition period is usually where we give up and revert to the emotional eating we wanted to avoid.

It’s easy to sit here and say “stress isn’t an excuse! Don’t eat your emotions!”  In reality, when we are stressed, we aren’t thinking clearly because we’re under emotional duress (the fancy way of saying we’re freaking out!)  The law in fact recognizes this and makes exceptions to agreements made under emotional duress.  However, we have to be stronger than the negative emotions and learn new ways to cope with stress.  It’s not easy and it’s fun but until we learn how to deal with our bad habits and our negative emotions, we’re going to keep doing it. This is what makes that transition period so extremely difficult. Not only are we dealing with whatever triggered the stress response, but we’re trying to deal with learning new behaviors at the same time.  So in the middle of all of this emotional turmoil, we’re supposed to be clear-headed enough to tell ourselves to be patient and learn the new healthy habits because, in the long run, we’ll be better off.

Being a responsible adult really stinks at times and this is definitely one of those times! I vividly remember trying to be “responsible and healthy” about dealing with my stress and I still found myself staring into the fridge after the argument with my mom! I wasn’t hungry at all, but it was pretty easy to figure out what the trigger was! Luckily, I realized what I was doing and shut the door, but then, I was still left with the stress….

The first thing you need to realize is that screwing up isn’t the end of the world.  This is a learning situation, so there’s going to be mistakes and it’s going to be a little trial and error before you find out how to get over it.  The second thing you need to realize is that eating was your distraction from the negative emotions, so you are going to need to find a new distraction or learn to deal with the negative stress and emotions.  Obviously, learning to deal with the emotions is the best way to handle it, but until you do, you need to find a distraction that calms you down and doesn’t involve food!  Most people opt for exercise: it stimulates ‘feel good’ hormones and it burns calories.  Sometimes, however, when your body is occupied, your mind starts going to whatever you are trying to forget.  We all know how it is when we go to bed and then your day starts running through your head! I find this happens a lot to me when I start working out: body busy, brain not busy- so it goes right to whatever was bothering me! Sometimes it helps to focus on your form or counting your repetitions.

Even if you do opt for exercise as a distraction, it’s better to have more than one way of handling the stress.  We aren’t always going to be some place where we can start lifting or doing lunges or whatever we do when we exercise.  You need to have some other options available to you.  For some people, meditation works well because it teaches you focus on clearing your mind so you can relax instead of stress out. For other people, games, puzzles or reading work a little better since they distract the mind but require a little less practice at “thinking about nothing.”  It all depends on you. No doubt we all remember getting to the bottom of the page or the end of the chapter and have no recollection of what we just read: while our eyes were busy scanning the page, our brain was somewhere else!  This is actually the number one reason I had such a hard time (and still do) learning through audio. It’s much easier for me to dismiss what I’m hearing as background noise and focus on something else than it is for me to dismiss what I’m seeing or doing and focus on something in my head.  That was a good thing when I had to study in a noisy cafeteria as a kid but when I’m trying to listen to a book or a lecture, not so much!

This is where you need to spend a little time learning what works for you as a stress reliever.  Again, reading might not work so well but a puzzle or a game that forces you to focus might work a little better.  We all know there is no shortage of computer games and puzzles!  While playing a game to relax might seem like a waste of time, it’s really stress-management.  That’s why these games are so popular.  [Seriously, how many versions of ‘find the hidden object’ and ‘candy crush’ clones do we need?]  As a culture, we are super stressed! This is another reason why we eat so much.  It’s an easy thoughtless distraction.  Don’t think about the nasty letter we got from XYZ; think about the donut we’re going to get at the Krispy Kreme drive-thru on the way home! Don’t think about how we’re going to pay to fix the leaky shower: think about what we’re going to have for dinner instead! Games and puzzles are seen as a waste of time, like yoga and meditation.  It’s not for ‘serious minded business people.’  Somehow relaxation and stress-management have been overlooked by a lot of the health and nutrition industry, aright along with sleep, and are only now beginning to get the attention they deserve.  If we are so stressed out that we can’t sleep, that we are eating junk food to stay awake and distract ourselves from the unending stress, that our blood pressure is so high we’re in danger of a stroke, what difference does it make if we’re successful at our jobs?  One of my mom’s supervisors was someone who was a workaholic.  She was always working an extra shift and holidays because she wanted to have enough money put away for retirement with her husband.  It’s an admirable sentiment and one that most of us would agree with.  Unfortunately, a few months after she retired, she had a major stroke that left her paralyzed for the remaining few months of her life and her husband spent her retirement money taking trips with another woman.

We’ve all heard stories like that: “Mr. Jones worked hard all his life, and a few months after he retired, he died!!” Unfortunately, what we take away from those stories is “don’t retire! you’ll die!!”  The point is that the cumulative effect of chronic stress, chronic sleep deprivation and poor diet is what kills us. Learning to manage our stress has other benefits than just not overeating.  Once we learn to manage our negative emotions in healthy ways we not only lose weight, we allow ourselves to relax and heal mentally and physically.  We need to take the time to enjoy the life we have right now rather than kill ourselves working for the life we want to have when and if we live long enough to retire.

Watch Where You’re Going! Looking Up From Our Devices

This one probably sounds like it’s got nothing to do with weight loss, but our devices are insidious little creatures that really eat at different aspects of our lives.  Our health is just one of those things that slowly gets ground up by them.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of commercials that involve the family piled in the car and everyone is wearing headphones staring at their devices.  I heard a recent podcast where the two hosts were sharing an Uber with another woman who was too busy swiping on her dating app to look up at the two eligible young men in the car with her.  Myself, I’ve seen scores of men and women walking along the street, in the gym or in the stores, headphones attached, eyes glued on their devices. I really don’t need to tell you this is unhealthy behavior.

For starters, it’s just not safe to be walking through traffic and not paying attention.  That falls under the “Duhhh!” category.  You don’t even have to be plugged into your phone to do that: I was recently driving up the side street to our parking lot when a gardener with his blower on and his earplugs in stepped backwards WITHOUT LOOKING into the street! He nearly hit ME because he was not paying attention! I’ve seen so many pedestrians crossing streets without looking, run into people and things on the sidewalk because their eyes were glued to their phones. I can’t begin to count the ways you can be hurt doing that!

The one that really makes me laugh is when they are doing it in the gym.  Where’s the logic in that?: Hmm, let’s go work out and spend an hour sitting in the lounge not working out because I’m glued to my phone! Granted, I see lots of people busy on the machines, weights and treadmills with their headphones attached as they are working out, and I think that’s great! If you’re taking your phone to the gym, that’s how it should be used, but sitting around in the locker room, the lounge or out front doing nothing but texting or swiping over and over again is a waste of your gym time.  Unless you’re trying to find out where your gym buddy is (and how long does that take?), you’ll have spent an hour in the gym sitting around doing nothing! A good healthy use of your time? Not hardly!

The one that really bugs me is when the families are in the car and everyone is doing something on their devices: “let’s get together and ignore each other as a family!” Really, people? I remember when car makers began putting DVD players in the cars so the kids/ people in the back could watch a movie on the way.  I remember thinking then that was not a good idea.  Parents love it for one simple reason: “are we there yet??” Yes, it puts an end to whining and complaining, but it also kills any family interaction. When we used to take car trips (way back in the Olden Days), we used to listen to the radio and sing along badly; we’d play games like License Plate Alphabet or Landmarks.  Maybe it wasn’t as exciting as watching the latest Fast & Furious or playing Candy Crush or whatever on your device, but at least my family spent some time talking to each other.

This might seem like it doesn’t have a lot to do with weight loss, but it’s part of our overall health.  Sitting around at home, in the gym or wherever, while you’re glued to your device isn’t healthy because #1) you are sitting!  Even if you are walking in traffic, you might be walking, but you aren’t looking where you are going!  #2) That bent over posture isn’t healthy: your neck and shoulders are rounded and it limits your ability to move (don’t believe me? Read Kelly Starrett’s Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World!) Our devices are destroying our mobility.  #3) The artificial blue light emitted by those devices are playing havoc with our circadian rhythms.  We are up all night scrolling through Instagram instead of sleeping and when we try to sleep, we are lying there awake because we’ve wired up our brains. Our body is interpreting the blue light as daylight, so it’s time to be awake, even if it’s 3:30 a.m.  Our brains think it’s daytime when humans should be awake.  #4) We are sacrificing our human interactions and relationships.  When is it better to meet people via an app instead of interacting with real live people? Again, there are the half-funny commercials where family members are texting each other across the breakfast table. They are only half funny because people really do it: let me send you a text instead of actually talking to you, even if you are in the same room with me!

The cumulative effect of too much device-focused living is becoming more and more apparent.  The obesity and lack of mobility is what most people think of: we are out of shape, unable to do simple physical activity and the physical stress of sitting with rounded shoulders and repetitive stress injury on our hands and wrists is showing up in younger and younger patients.  Not to mention the PSA (public service announcements) directed both at drivers and pedestrians about watching out for the phone-focused person on the street and in the car! Again: “Duhhh!” category!  We are chronically sleep deprived because we are too busy binge-watching, streaming something, Facebooking/ Instagramming or playing games instead of sleeping.  The lack of sleep takes a toll on the brain and the body: we have chronic brain fog, inability to focus and fall asleep at our desks because we were too busy watching silly cat videos on YouTube.  (I love a cat video as much as the next person, but at 1:00 a.m.???) Human interaction seems like the least important aspect: “But I am making contact with other people through my phone!”  I’m sorry but that is not actual interaction- you are interacting with a device! We are becoming increasingly isolated and humans have developed as social creatures.  Biologists have noted that animals that are social creatures, such as birds, primates and canines, feel stressed when they are isolated.  They will bond with other creatures in order to secure that feeling of being part of a group. (Check out all of those funny animal friends videos- that’s why they’re together!) As a college student, we watched the video of the baby chimp in the enclosure with two fake mothers: one was a wire framework with a bottle of milk attached and the other was a wire framework covered in fur.  The baby chimp spent all its time clinging to the fur covered mother and only went to the milk-mother when it was hungry.  Honestly, it broke my heart seeing that poor baby missing its mother.  We are not so different: being alone stresses us as social creatures.  We need actual interaction that involves hearing, seeing and touching!  (Robb Wolf brings this up in Wired to Eat.)  I admit that I am also not good at this: I am well aware that relationships are a major stressor for most people, including me!  I substitute a lot of my human interaction with my pets (natural stress relievers).  Although I do make a point of spending time with the people who are important to me (and NOT via the phone/ device), I also spend a lot of one on one time with my pets. In fact, my pets are pretty good at shoving the device out of my face so I can pay attention to them! When they do, I put the device away.  After all, they did ask me nicely!

I know this seems like a bit of a rant, but when we are stressed, not sleeping and certainly not being active, do you think we are losing weight and eating healthy? Nope! Do you think we are making good food choices when we are exhausted, stressed and feeling cruddy? Also, nope!Our body interprets the stress and the lack of sleep as an emergency situation and we are not burning fat, but storing it instead! It’s a simple fix: put the device away at certain times of the day, like being in the gym or before you go to bed or frankly, just turn it off at dinner and leave it off so you can spend time with the family, wind down and get some sleep! You can binge Breaking Bad together another time! Instead, spend some time with the real people in your life!

Oops! Thanks A Lot, WordPress!! Starting from Scratch- Recalculating……

This is NOT the post I had intended to put up, but apparently, WordPress lied to me when I posted my blog on its regular date (Tuesday 6/20/2017).  I would be less unhappy if the post had not just disappeared into the ether, so I could post it again, but it’s apparently VANISHED so, we start again from scratch!  Ironically, that was the subject of the post for tomorrow: starting your fitness/ weight loss/ health journey from scratch, so other than losing a couple of days of work on my other post, it’s not a total loss.

Most of us have started this journey over and over again.  We want to lose weight/ be healthier/ be more fit and so we embark on some plan, usually set up by someone else and get to work.  Depending on how ambitious our plan is, we either go some distance before we start having problems, or if we or the plan are too ambitious, we can stumble out of the gate.  Either way, once we encounter problems and/ or it gets really hard, we want to “start over.”

This is why we end up in a vicious cycle of starting-stumbling-starting.  #1: whatever plan we start on, it needs to be OUR plan.  WE need to be the author/ designer of whatever plan WE decide to follow.  Too many of the weight loss and fitness plans we buy online, off tv or get in a book are made for the “general population.” Never met General Population, but apparently, he’s really popular with these health coaches!  One of the trainers whose podcast I listen to regularly even commented that when he started his own fitness journey, he bought a popular exercise dvd and it was really painful.  The day after starting the program, he woke up really sore and in pain.  A little soreness is not a bad thing- it means you gave your body a workout, but pain is NOT a good thing- it means you hurt yourself! Granted, this trainer was not a trainer when he bought this workout dvd, but then you shouldn’t have to be a certified trainer in order to improve your own health and fitness.

Most of us tend to overestimate our physical abilities when we begin a health plan, or we go the other way and we underestimate what we are capable of doing.  This is a case where I think underestimating is the best of the two.  Overestimating, especially when you are doing a work out, can really hurt you as the trainer above found out.  In his case, it was just a strain, but you can really hurt yourself if you try something “you think you can do.”  If we underestimate our abilities, we can always add more or increase our range, and any workout we do, even if it doesn’t stretch our capabilities, it is still a work out and it keeps our muscles and joints in practice.  For example, if you don’t normally walk a lot or run on a regular basis, trying to run a mile once a week may not be a good idea.  You might be able to do it, but if you can’t, you don’t want to injure yourself trying.  Begin by walking a mile and see how you feel.  If it was easy, then next time try running for part of it.  It’s easier to build up to running a mile a week than trying to run, hurting yourself and then having to recover.  Besides hurting yourself, thinking you’ve “failed to run a mile” is discouraging.  On the other hand, each time you build up to a new level- walking- running- running regularly and increasing your length or duration- leads not only increased capabilities, but also feelings of success: “I’m getting stronger and doing” more rather than “I failed.”

The same holds when you start a new eating/ weight loss plan: build up to your full potential. A lot of us are really enthusiastic when we start a new weight loss plan and we go full steam ahead: “I’m going to give up sugar!” “I’m going to eat five servings of veggies a day!” and then, by the time we’ve read the label on our sixth product that has sugar or it’s time for veggie number 4, we start “feeling the burn!” What the heck did we sign up for??

When I started with Paleo, I gave it a long hard look, and at the time, I thought I was going super-conservative when I opted to give up one grain product at a time.  It turns out that I was way more into bread than even I knew!  Potatoes and pasta weren’t problems but bread (any kind of bread!) was and is still a temptation.  But I made one change at a time. Some of them, like the pasta and potatoes, were pretty easy but others like rice and oatmeal took a little longer.  Bread got easier but there are still days when I really have remind myself that it’s not good for me.

And it’s not just about giving up foods: it’s about eating more of the healthy stuff like the veggies.  So it’s two changes that you are making when it comes to eating healthier: eat less processed food and eat more whole foods.  It takes some time to make the changes especially if you are going to make the changes last.

This goes for any activities you are adding in as well.  We may think that these changes are not really “big changes”- it’s not like you’re moving or changing jobs!  You may think these are little things, but have you ever noticed that when you trip over something and fall, it’s the inch high bit of concrete that you trip on and not the two foot stack of bricks? That’s because you notice the two feet of bricks but your eye misses the inch bit of concrete! We screw up on the little changes because “we forgot,” “it’s not a big deal,” “I can do that later.” This is why they take time to become fully incorporated into your routine- the more we do them, the more they become normal and then we do them out of habit. We also tend to overload ourselves because they are just little changes, but again, most of us can carry a couple of bricks easily, but carrying four or five or more?? That gets heavy! So when we make these little changes, we need to make one or two at a time until we make them part of our habit.  Going small and steady results in long lasting permanent changes while going big and fast usually leads to starting over.

#2: you don’t need to “start over” each time. That’s the other fallacy that traps us in the vicious cycle. This is a lifestyle change, not an afghan we are crocheting! If we screw the beginning of an afghan, yeah, undoing it so we can start over is a good idea, otherwise, every one is going to notice those few inches that look really goofed up.  But this is a lifestyle change and no one is going to see that you spent the first three weeks missing your scheduled workouts and eating more carbs or whatever than you planned on!  So you missed your workout- just schedule another one! So you forgot to order the burrito bowl and ate a burrito instead! Some people will use these screw ups as an out- an excuse to push off their healthy change until next week or tomorrow, as in “today is a bust, so I’ll start fresh tomorrow/ Monday/ next week.”  Why????  One of the things I really like about Dr. Nowzaradan (TLC My 600 lb Life) is that he’ll call the patients on it when they try to push off being active.  He comes in and asks them if they’ve walked today and when they say they’ll do it tomorrow or they’ll do it on Sunday, he always asks them “what’s going to change between now and then?” Most of the time, they don’t have an answer for him. We need to be our version of Dr. Now when we want to push off our planned changes: you ate the burrito at lunch- big deal! So make dinner a better choice! Even if today does end up being a bust and we’ve eaten more bad food than good or we missed our workout, salvage the rest of the day/ week! Even with the poor food and work out choices, keep moving forward to make the best you can out of the day or week!

It really is like you are on a journey, and when you take a wrong turn, you don’t drive all the way back home to start over! You pull over, pull out your phone and get new directions from where you are!  We’re all familiar with the Garmin joke: “recalculating…. recalculating…..” but it usually gets us where we need to go.  When we take a wrong turn on our fitness/ weight loss journey, we may need to do some recalculating.  It may be that our work out schedule needs some adjusting or that our eating plan isn’t the best for us and it needs to be recalculated, but we don’t have to start from scratch every time.  We just need to keep what works and dump the rest.  It’s a little harder figuring it out on your own. It takes more time to show progress but the truth is finding your own way usually means the progress is permanent and you eventually become your own expert on you.  This last time you start over will be the last time you start over!

 

It’s Time To Eat! So Should I? Umm, Maybe….

This really seems like a complete no-brainer.  Unless you’re fasting, most of us don’t even think about it: it’s lunch time, it’s dinner time, it’s time for breakfast, so let’s eat! We usually don’t stop to think: am I actually hungry?  Even if we do, I have learned that my body will lie to me and, sometimes, my body gets tricked. Smelling food, especially if it’s something we really like, is one of the ways we get tricked into thinking we are hungry.  We’re sitting in traffic and the wonderful smell of Chinese food wafts in through the vents.  After a couple of minutes our stomach growls and we start thinking “I’m kinda hungry.”  We probably really aren’t hungry- we’ve just smelled something that’s triggering our digestive hormones and enzymes.  It’s a biological reaction: food is available so eat it!

My body will also lie to me by telling me I’m hungry, even if I’m not,  because it is “time to eat!” I’ve noticed it happens a lot around lunch time and again about 3:00 p.m. I call it ‘snack memory.’ Lunch time is pretty obvious, but I usually get off work about 3:00 and this is when I normally make a Starbucks run or if I stop for gas, I’d get sunflower seeds or some jerky.  So in addition to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, my stomach expects a snack around 3:00!  The funny thing is that if I tell my stomach no, I stop being hungry about about 20 minutes or so.  That’s how I know it’s not “real hunger”  and I think that’s the important difference.

We’ve pretty much been taught to eat according the to clock rather than determining whether we’re actually hungry.  We’ve also been taught to eat in certain situations.  We meet up with friends and they’re all drinking mochas, lattes and having brownies: want a brownie? Sure!  It’s polite.  Saying no draws attention to you ‘being good’ or ‘being on a diet.’  Why can’t I just not be hungry? It’s a social situation, so coffee, drinks, snacks are expected.  It’s how we socialize, so there’s a feeling of ‘not being social’ if you say no to whatever your friends are having.

It’s a catch-22: if we listen to our body when it says it’s hungry, we’d eat every time we smelled something good or food was available (isn’t that how I got to be 438 lbs?!) or we don’t eat when we’re hungry and eat when ‘it’s time’ instead (even when I’m not hungry??) So how do we find the right answer? Is there a ‘right’ answer? If it sounds like I’m being obnoxious, maybe I am a little, but as fitness and nutrition consumers, we’re constantly bombarded by advice along these lines: eat when you’re hungry! eat on schedule! And after being utterly confused by the internet, we decide to ask a live health care professional, like our doctor.  Doctors unfortunately are pretty much in the same boat we are in.  Unless they have a specialty in diet and nutrition, most of them have had about 12 to 24 hours of nutrition education.  (That’s about one semester to give you some perspective.)  They are as confused as we are, so don’t be surprised if they refer you to a nutritionist or a dietician.  Even then, the question of when to eat is less of a issue for them than what you eat.

I’ve listened to many experts discuss the merits of fasting, eating on a schedule, and eating only when you’re hungry. There are those who insist that we need to eat three times a day with snacks in between.  The logic is that eating on a schedule keeps your metabolism ‘revved up.’  I’ve also heard experts say that eating on a schedule or when you aren’t hungry keeps your body from burning any stored body fat, because rather than letting it draw from its stores (ie the fat in you’re trying to lose), you keep fuel in the bloodstream (that snack you just ate). They argue that constantly feeding your body keeps your glucose high and promotes fat storage rather than fat burning.  It also keeps you craving foods on a regular basis (like my 3:00 p.m. snack memory).

There are those who promote eating only when you’re hungry (also called intuitive eating).  Your body knows when it needs fuel and when you’re legitimately hungry (not tempted by sights, smells or snack memory), you are feeding your body appropriately.  They argue this means that your body has burned through whatever fuel is in the bloodstream from your last meal or snack and now it needs more.

Then there are the fasting advocates. When most of them talk about fasting, they mean Intermittent Fasting (IF), which can take different forms.  The one most of us are familiar with is pretty simple: you limit your ‘feeding window’ to certain hours and don’t take in any calories the rest of the time.  Example: you only eat all your calories for the day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the rest of the time you fast.  Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn’t it?  The fasting experts say this is pretty much what we did in ‘the old days,’ and that’s why we were a lot healthier.  (It’s kind of hard for me to argue with that because it’s what my grandfather did and he lived a long healthy life to age 96!)  Another way to do Intermittent Fasting is what they call ‘alternate day fasting,’ which is just like it sounds: you eat on Monday, fast on Tuesday and so on.  There are also other patterns like five days eating and two days fasting, etc.  Most fasting proponents like to move the hours or days around to suit their lifestyles, and there are some who are also fans of ‘extended fasting,’ as in not eating for several days at a time. (If you think fasting might be something you want to try, the best book on the topic is The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmie Moore.)

Then there are those who just offer advice, such as don’t eat within three hours of bedtime, or eat your biggest meal in the early part of the day, or wait until noon or later to eat instead of eating breakfast. As if eating weren’t complicated enough!

Having listened to lots of experts and their arguments, my own choice is to eat on a loose schedule with a little IF thrown in.  Truthfully, the IF tends to happen more if I am some place that doesn’t have great food choices for me or if I am caught up in the middle of something.  For me, eating every two hours is a recipe for disaster (yeah, it’s a bad if apropos pun!) It keeps me feeling hungry and my energy level (ie blood sugar) tends to crash if I can’t or don’t eat ‘on schedule.’  There are some days when I don’t exactly ‘fast,’ but my calorie intake is less than normal simply because I’m not hungry or I’m just too busy or there isn’t anything available that I like or want to eat.  There is also the flip side: days when I eat a little bit more than normal because I’m really hungry.  [I’d like to say that all these ‘experts’ agree on how much we should eat, but again there are those who say we should eat to satiety (no longer hungry but not full), and those that say we should eat a minimum number of calories daily or we start breaking down our muscle tissue to burn that! Another argument for another day!]

The best common sense advice I can give you: do what works best for you and fits best into your lifestyle.  I tried some of the more conventional methods of IF, and it just doesn’t work out for me.  However, it works out great for my sister and some of my fitness friends.  I also know people who eat according to a schedule and they are successfully losing weight.  The only thing they all have in common is that they are doing what works best for them.  I know this seems like a cop-out answer, but it’s the only answer that works for you.  We each respond better to different foods so why should it be so odd that we each respond better to different eating schedules?  This is one of the reasons so many of us have trouble losing weight: we try to cram our needs into someone else’s schedules.  If eating intuitively is working for you, then stick with it! If it’s not having the results you want, then find something you like better. Too many of us are looking for The Right Answer and there are a lot of companies that will happily sell it to you with no guarantees attached! Their Answers tend to be quick simple little Cookie-Cutter plans.  Unfortunately, I’ve never met any Cookie-Cutter people.

“Instant Gratification Takes Too Long!” And It Only Lasts an Instant…

We all know that getting started is the hardest part of anything.  It takes time to build some momentum, to feel secure in what you’re doing, even just to learn your way around the block, so to speak.  Most of us are looking for a quick fix, too, so waiting is really really hard!  We want instant results!  I love the quote above from Carrie Fisher because it is so true! We want what we want and we want it NOW! Most of us have grown up in an “instant” society.  When I was a kid, microwaves were the “new thing” (yes, I am that old!)  Most of them were the size of compact cars and they cost just as much, and everyone thought they would give you cancer or kill people with pacemakers.  But it was the beginning of “instant” everything.  We could get our popcorn and burritos and tv dinner right now instead of waiting 20 minutes or an hour.  Anything you ordered took 6 to 8 weeks to come in the mail.  Now we get impatient if it takes more than two days! “What do you mean it’s arriving Monday?? I ordered this on Tuesday!!”

We do the same thing when it comes to weight loss or fitness- especially weight loss!  If we don’t see results in a week, then “there’s something wrong this diet!”  In fact, advertisers specifically state, usually in a loud voice with descriptive graphics, “get results fast!” They not only know we don’t want to wait, they are counting on the fast results pitch to sell you their program! What most people don’t realize is that it’s easy to drop a few pounds really fast if what you are losing is water weight.  Basically, if you dehydrate yourself or flush all the sodium and electrolytes out of your body, you will lose a few pounds of water and the number on the scale will go down.  Is it healthy? Oh definitely not!  In fact, flushing out your electrolytes can cause some serious reactions (like a heart attack).  This is why athletes get muscle cramps after strenuous exercise: they have lost significant electrolytes through sweat, ergo sports drinks were invented. However, the heart is also a muscle and when your heart ‘cramps,’ that’s not a good thing!

One of the arguments often made against the Paleo diet is that it eliminates most starchy carbs (bread, rice, pasta, etc).  Carbohydrates are little water-retaining sponges, so the more carbs you eat, the more water you hold on your body.  People arguing against the Paleo diet say that yes, you lose a lot of weight fast because once the carbs and the water they hold are gone from your system, “it looks like you’ve lost weight, but when you go back to eating those carbs, you put that weight back on.”  The part after the ‘but’ is the key part of their argument for me: why would you go back to eating those carbs if they weren’t really good for you to start with?  Some people can go back to eating them in limited amounts after they’ve repaired the insulin resistance those carbs have caused.  But, if you don’t go back to eating them or eating them as much as you used to, then the water weight associated with excessive carb consumption is pretty much gone for good.  [FYI: your muscles will also store water to repair themselves after you’ve exercised, so if you do weigh right after working out, it can look like you’ve not lost weight or even gained.]

There are other diets out there that are formulated to give you ‘fast results,’ but fast does not always mean sustainable.  A lot of times these are what we think of as ‘fad diets’ because “everyone is doing them and they are losing a lot of weight super fast.” But do you really want to eat only cabbage or grapefruit all day every day?  You think you’re going to get all your vitamins and nutrients from eating one thing all day every day? This is what makes fad diets and other quickie diet promises not only unhealthy but possibly dangerous. Eating only one or a few foods can cause malnutrition (another argument leveled against the Paleo and the ketogenic diets!) Also, any time you have rapid weight loss, it can cause problems with your gall bladder, which can mean painful gallstones or gall bladder removal.  Unless your weight is endangering your life, as is often the case with Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, it’s healthier to lose weight slowly and steadily while maintaining good nutrition.

It’s not fun and it’s not fast, but it has the advantage of being permanent.  Essentially, it took you some time to put the weight on and it will usually take a little longer to take the weigh off, but if you do it right (slow, steady and sustainable), it won’t come back.  This is because it isn’t a temporary fix.  We have all done the ‘temporary fix’ where we don’t eat anything for two weeks before the special occasion so we can look great in the photos.  It was really hard and we were starving most of the time but one of the reasons we were able to stick with the torture is because there was an End Date!  We only had to last until the day of the event and then we could go back to ‘eating normally,’ which usually meant the weight came back on!

When you take the time to make sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle, it’s more of an adjustment, because there is no End Date.  It takes longer to make the changes part of your routine and longer for the results to show up, and just to rub a little salt in the wound, the discomfort is Johnny-on-the-Spot! You are usually craving whatever it is that has been ‘adjusted’ out of your diet or you are sore and uncomfortable because of the workouts you’ve added to your routine. Everyone around you is probably eating what you used to eat and the time that you’d spend scrolling through Facebook or something else more sedentary is now spent being uncomfortable, embarrassed and sweating in a gym or some other public place. Oh yeah it’s giggles galore!

So, why am I doing this again? Because even though the changes are permanent ones, it’s the discomfort that is temporary this time! Yes, in a quick fix, the discomfort is temporary but so are the results, and we end up doing repeated ‘quick fixes,’ hoping for something permanent. Once we begin earning the results from our slower sustainable cbanges, the discomfort begins fading. Then, we begin picking up momentum as the changes become part of our new normal routine and less of a struggle. The workouts not only become easier, they actually become fun! The cravings go away and if we should eat something that used to be ‘so yummy,‘ we’re usually surprised to find it’s not as yummy as we thought it was! It gets easier to say no to foods and behaviors that aren’t as healthy and easier to say yes to those that are. It’s a triple win: the results are coming faster, the work is getting easier and the weight isn’t coming back!

This is what makes instant gratification so insidious and so tempting: we don’t have to wait for the results.  We fool ourselves into thinking that ‘this diet is the right diet,’ and that the temporary fix really isn’t temporary ‘this time.’ But unless the changes you are making to your eating and activity are permanent changes, odds are the results will also not be permanent. These ‘instant result’ diets have still more fallout: disappointment and the toll that takes on your self-esteem.  Remember the last time you tried one and how happy you were to see yourself losing weight? Now remember how crushed you felt when you realized you’d gained it all back, and maybe more? That crushing sense of failure and disappointment also weigh on you. Truly it does, because it makes us feel hopeless, like we are failures, like we are destined to be fat forever, that there is something inherently wrong with us either physically, mentally, or morally because we “just can’t lose weight!”  Are we broken or are we just gluttons? How many times have we cried ourselves to sleep because another instant result diet wore off as soon as we stopped following their unsustainable program?

Slow and sustainable isn’t definitely isn’t glamorous.  You aren’t going to meet your friend for lunch after a two week absence and have them oohing and ahhing over your dramatic weight loss.  Heavens knows that’s always fun! You will probably have to wait a couple of months before they notice you’ve lost a little weight, but the great part is that four months down the line and six months down the line and longer still, they will notice that the weight has not come back and that you are looking, feeling and acting so much happier and healthier! The instant gratification will be instantaneous but it will only last an instant.  If you want real success, it’s going to take a little longer, and it will last forever!