Weight Loss: Inside & Out

When we think of weight loss, we tend to focus on our outward appearance. How much thinner do we look? How has our shape changed? How many clothing sizes have we dropped? Our outside appearance is where our focus goes and we believe our emotions will follow along. We assume we will be happier, less stressed, less self-conscious and more confident as our appearance improves.

In some ways that is true: when we feel better physically, we tend to feel better emotionally and mentally.  But that isn’t always the case and this divergence usually causes confusion, anxiety and frustration when we realize that even though we seem to be losing weight or getting fitter, we aren’t any happier, calmer or confident.

For some of us, this unhappiness and lingering lack of confidence comes from our bodies still not living up to our ideal.  We lost thirty pounds but we still have those “thunder thighs,” or now our upper arms look worse because our weight loss has drawn attention to our flabby “bat wings.” We look in the mirror and instead of seeing success, we see more ‘body issues’ due to the weight loss! Instead of being glad about our success and more confident in ourselves, we feel more self-conscious and less self-confident!

For others, we are mystified that, even though we’ve lost weight and gotten to the dress or pant size we’ve dreamed about, we are still unhappy and still feeling anxious.  “Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted? So why am I still so unhappy?” We still feel like we used to feel when we were overweight and we don’t know what’s wrong with us. We conclude that we must be broken somehow since we’ve reached our goal and “nothing has changed inside. I’m still broken!”

In a lot of ways, this frustration and confusion is because our image of ourselves is inside out.  We think that our outside appearance reflects who we are inside.  We’ve probably seen hundreds of examples of this in society and the media, from Shakespeare’s evil twisted hunchback in Richard III to the more modern movie Shallow Hal with actor Jack Black.  How many times have we seen movies where the villain looks slimy or deformed and every viewer knows instantly “he’s the bad guy!” There is a correlation between who we are inside and how we appear, but most of us believe that a beautiful outside will create a beautiful inside.  Instead, it’s the beautiful inside that radiates outward.

A lot of who we are mentally and emotionally shows up in our physical appearance.  This doesn’t mean all overweight people are insecure because there is something wrong emotionally inside but it does mean that fixing the outside isn’t always going to fix the inside. If you were an unhappy person before you lost weight, you will likely still be unhappy when once you’ve lost weight.  This doesn’t mean you are ‘unfixable’ but it does mean you can’t fix the outside without fixing the inside. It can also mean that fixing the inside first makes it easier to fix the outside!

Happy people tend to take better care of themselves, and again, people who feel better tend to feel better emotionally. Elizabeth Benton (Chasing Cupcakes) spends most of her book pointing out this correlation. If you fix what is making you unhappy, anxious and insecure, it can  make it easier to lose weight and ‘fix’ the outside. This is one of the reasons psychotherapy is a major component of Dr. Nowzaradan’s weight loss program on My 600 lb Life.  While he starts his patients with the diet and bariatric surgery in order to get them as healthy as possible as fast as possible, the second and most important step is therapy.  As he points out in nearly every episode, unless the patient deals with the emotional issues leading them to overeat, they will eventually go back to overeating despite the surgery. In fact, some of the patients who come to him have already had bariatric surgery, not dealt with the emotional inside issues and have again reached 500+ pounds. They thought that by fixing the outside (their weight), they would fix the inside (their emotions): in other words, “I’ll be happy once I’ve lost weight!”

This frustration and confusion is common in most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients: “I thought having the surgery would take away my cravings!” We’ve gone through this ourselves when we’ve lost weight but still fight the urge to scarf down a box of donuts or bag of chips. It’s because for most of us the weight is the physical symptom of what’s really bothering us. Most of us would call ourselves emotional eaters but despite knowing our out-of-control emotions lead us to that bag of chips and box of donuts, we try to white-knuckle our way through life! While we may initially lose weight, eventually our emotions overwhelm us and we suddenly find ourselves halfway through the bag of Double-Stuf Oreos without realizing how that happened. The cycle of unhappiness and frustration begins again: “Why did I do this? Why can’t I control myself? What’s wrong with me?” followed by more emotional eating!

Not all of us need therapy in order to fix our inside self. For some of us, it’s as simple as getting away from a toxic person or situation. In my case, a lot of my emotional issues went away once I left a job I hated. While I knew it was a major source of stress in my life, it wasn’t until I got out of that job that I realized how utterly unhappy it had made me, how insecure my boss made me feel and how extremely stressed even when I wasn’t at work.  I would wake up with panic attacks in the middle of the night over that job and my boss would call me while I was driving to give me a list of ‘things to do’ once I got in the office.  It was expected that I would be at work on time (not unreasonable) and stay until my job was done, even if that meant staying until 8:00 p.m., despite her knowing it was a two hour commute for me to get home! When I did get home, no matter the time, I was usually emotionally drained and feeling like a failure. I was constantly asking myself ‘what’s wrong with me?’ about everything in my life! All I wanted to do was forget how unhappy I was and I used food to do that.

This is of course a simplified version of how I dealt with a major source of my emotional issues, but obviously not all of them.  I had been an overweight emotional eater before long before I went to work for The Boss From Hell, and I still feel the urge to distract myself with food when I get extremely stressed now that I work somewhere else. The biggest turning point was leaving the source of such unhappiness and anxiety (The Job From Hell) and the second biggest turning point was realizing that food was a distraction, not a solution. Now when I feel the urge to eat something because I am stressed or upset, I look for a solution instead. Sometimes, it’s as simple as finding a non-food distraction, since not every situation has a real solution, but knowing that eating isn’t going to help is still a step in the right direction.

Dealing with the source of my anxiety and emotional issues was a huge step in getting cravings and over-eating under control. Even if I had a craving or urge to eat, it was easier to find something else that was enjoyable to distract me or just make me feel better about myself overall.  The emotions were better controlled, the eating was better controlled, the weight loss was making progress and instead of that vicious cycle, I was in an ‘improvement cycle.’  The better I felt physically as the weight came off, the better I felt emotionally, which led to my taking better care of myself physically and the cycle continued!

Our stress and emotions will always be a part of our lives no matter and learning to deal with them is an ongoing struggle no matter how much we weigh. The key is learning to be happy in the skin that we are in now rather than pinning our hopes for happiness on some future goal or achievement. It’s not always easy to look in the mirror and love the person looking back despite the thunder thighs and flabby bat wings. None of us are broken or unfixable just as none of us are perfect. Just accepting that we are all works in progress can be enough of a starting point.

 

 

Working Through The Blues: Weight Loss & Your Attitude

In a recent post I mentioned how my own bad attitude and self-pity got in the way of my making positive changes with my health and eating. The other night at my water aerobics class, I saw another example of how a bad attitude can get in our way.  Two of my classmates were discussing the effect of exercise on our health and one of them confessed that she just didn’t feel motivated or like any of it was doing her any good at all.  Her friend tried hard to motivate her and give her some encouragement but nothing was getting through her negativity. As much as I wanted to encourage her, I didn’t feel quite right about butting into their conversation.  Though, if I could have, I’d have given her some of the benefits that I have seen in my own life.

One of the statements I heard them discussing was the benefits of raising our heart rate and how our water aerobics class didn’t always do that.  I also heard one of them poo-pooing walking as not good for our hearts, unless we are walking at a fast pace.  Raising our heart rate is good but it’s not the only benefit of being active. Most of our class is made up of people who are forties and older, some of them probably in their 80’s.  There are also quite a few who are there because they want to lose weight.  When I started going to the gym regularly, weight loss was a goal, but there were other reasons as well.  Mainly, I wanted to build strength and stamina in addition to burning calories.

I have gained a lot by working out regularly.  I am not sure how it has or has not affected my weight loss, but as far as stamina, strength and balance go, it’s all been positive! Moving is much easier; balance has greatly improved and my muscle tone overall is better. Aside from just having fun, I find I can do more activity with less pain, tiredness or muscle fatigue. We are all familiar with Newton’s First Law of Physics: a body in motion stays in motion. The more you move, the easier it is to keep moving!

Some of the other effects, which may not be so noticeable, are better sleep, more energy and better mood. When I come home from the gym, I am not exhausted, and while I may be hungry, I’m not ‘starving.’  I tend to spend some time taking care of other things around the house, run an errand or two, and spend some quality time with my pets. I just plain feel better, and not just physically!

When it comes to improving our mood, attitude, and mindset, exercise is usually not on the list of possible remedies. We look at things like meditating, journaling, gratitude, or prayer.  We focus on non-physical approaches to fix what are considered ‘non-physical’ issues.  We forget that our minds, attitudes and feelings are all contained within our completely physical bodies. Have you ever tried to be happy, perky or upbeat when you are in pain? Conversely, how much energy do you have when you are sad or depressed? Both our physical and emotional halves are hardwired to each other and what happens with one, for good or bad, affects the other.

We are not surprised that we find it hard to be happy when we’ve got a toothache, or that we feel totally drained when we are emotionally upset, but when it comes to exercise or activity affecting our mood or our attitude, we tend to believe it has little to no effect on how we feel or think. We use exercise to relieve stress but to boost our mindset or attitude? Athletes know the truth: movement, exercise and activity boost your mood through endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters which can improve your mood, your sleep and make you feel better overall (Endorphins & Mood). The effect of endorphins on our brains and bodies is sometimes referred to as the Runner’s High because of how good it can make you feel. In short, regular exercise is good for the body, the mind and the spirit.

However, in order to get the long term benefits of exercise on your mood, you have to take the long term approach. No one expects to lose weight if we only eat better for a week or two, but how many of us have worked out for a few days or weeks and given it up as “not working for me?” We try it for a while and when we don’t see our waistline getting smaller, our muscles getting bigger and especially if we have muscle soreness, we are quick to bail on the exercise regimen.  We know diet, nutrition and exercise are long term investments which means that we have to give them time to yield results, but we get impatient and we quit before we begin to see any positive changes.

This giving up before we see results just confirms our false belief that “exercise doesn’t work for me or my mood.” It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like my water aerobics classmate above, we think ‘we aren’t getting anything out of it,’ so why waste our time? We have to go back to the long term investment approach. Any financial guru will tell you that investments take time to grow and if you want a ‘quick & big’ return, you are a sucker looking for a con artist because any Get Rich Quick Scheme is really a Get Robbed Quick Scam! It happens with money; it happens with weight loss and it happens with exercise? Want real returns? You need to give them time to grow!

Obviously exercise isn’t a cure for a bad attitude any more than it is a cure for obesity, but it is an important component of health nonetheless. Like all investments, good nutrition, healthy eating and exercise build on each other.  The better you fuel your body, the better your eating practices (i.e. not overeating) and the more you move, the healthier your mind and body become. The more you move, the more you want  to move because all that movement stimulates your brain, your bones and your muscles. Our bodies were made to be used and when they languish, they begin to fall apart. Why should our attitudes be any different? People who take care of themselves tend to be happier people and happier people tend to take better care of themselves. It’s that mind-body connection again, but building the momentum to get the cycle started takes faith.If you really want to boost your mood, build some stamina and burn a few calories, then move it! (And don’t stop!)

 

 

 

 

Hard is Relative: Weight Loss & Facing The Difficult Realities

Some of you know that I am a legal secretary at a small personal injury firm.  I enjoy my job very much, although like all jobs, it can be stressful, irritating and sometimes downright crazy. What you might not know is that I got this job when the former secretary (Denise) had a stroke and was unable to return to work. According to other employees who worked with her, she was overweight with uncontrolled diabetes and was not proactive with her diet or exercise. Obviously she had significant health problems and while no one can blame her for those problems, there is a point in our health where our lifestyle plays a part, for good or ill. The few times I met her, I had thought she was in her late 60’s or early 70’s but I found out last week, she was only eight years older than me (I am 53).  I say “was” because, sadly, she passed away last week.

While I don’t know what might have prevented her from being proactive, I do know that judging her helps no one.  I also know from personal experience that my own health got progressively worse the longer I was grossly overweight, sedentary and eating all the foods I liked whether they were bad for my own diabetes or not. For a long time, I let my own bad attitude get in my way of doing anything about it. My health kept getting worse and it was my own fault! When I finally decided to do something about it, changing those few behaviors made huge improvements in my health.  Losing weight, being more active and watching what I ate have transformed my health and my life for the better.

This is another one of these No Brainer Moments: “of course, eating better and taking care of yourself improves your health! Hello!” Yeah, we all know that…..but we don’t do it, do we? Remember the last time someone offered you cookies or a glass of wine? Did you say yes? Or did you say no thank you? How about when you were out at the restaurant and there’s the bread basket or chips and guacamole? Did you pass on those or did you help yourself? This is where we usually respond with “it’s so hard to say no!” I hear you! I know it’s hard to say no to foods you love, especially if they are no longer part of your regular menu. Bread is my own personal bête noir It sneaks into my diet way more than I like to admit! But this is where we have to remind ourselves that ‘hard’ is relative: is saying no to the bread, cookies, chips, chocolate harder than huffing and puffing up the stairs because the elevator is out of order? Is making it to the gym regularly harder than limping around the grocery store because your knees and feet ache carrying all that extra weight? Which is harder: not eating a bagel with breakfast every day or constantly sticking your finger to check your blood sugar? How expensive are those test strips compared to munching on breadsticks at dinner?

Last night as walking into the store to pick up a few things, I remembered how much I used to dread going to the store for anything.  I hated having to park the car in the middle of the lot and then having to walk around the store.  I used to lean on the cart to take pressure off my back, knees and feet. I would be out of breath before I even reached the store and I dreaded having to go from one end of the store to the other to get what I came for.  After shifting from one leg to another standing in line, I would limp out to my car and practically fall in out of pain and exhaustion.  It freaking hurt doing “all that walking!” It was hard for me to do anything and I had a list of medications that was beginning to rival an elderly woman.  For the record, I took two medications for my diabetes and three for my blood pressure, plus an anti-inflammatory for my arthritis and one for pain. (I remember shocking my aunt when I let it slip that I had three medications for my blood pressure alone! I was in my mid-forties and about thirty years younger than her.) Now, I take only the anti-inflammatory regularly and the pain medication rarely.

When we think of the kind of life we want to live, we rarely think “I want to be healthy” or “I want to move without pain” until we aren’t healthy anymore and it hurts to move.  In those situations, we sometimes think “how did this happen to me?” For a lot of us, it was simply not paying attention to our health. It was eating too much of the things we like instead of foods that are good for us. It was too many days on the sofa and not enough walking and moving.  But for too many of us, our answer to “why did this happen?” is “arthritis/ heart disease/ hypertension/ diabetes run in my family.” Yes, all those things run in my family too, but I can take steps to minimize how they impact my life! That’s the whole point of giving your doctor your family history; hopefully, those conditions can be avoided with a little effort.

When I was 440 lbs, just living was hard. Standing for more than a few minutes was hard. Sitting was hard. Laying down on my back was difficult because it got hard to breathe at times. Everything was so much harder, from fitting in my car to leaning down to put on my socks! I would get depressed thinking about how hard everything was in my life because of my weight. However, if I was alone and something like bagels, bread or cheeseburgers came on my radar, I rarely if ever said no to them. In retrospect,  saying no to a burger and fries was a whole lot easier than bending over to pick up my pen. Passing on a venti caramel macchiato was a whole lot easier than stretching my seat belt across my big gut without cutting off my oxygen! Instead of making those ‘hard’ changes to improve my health, I bemoaned my terrible situation and felt sorry for myself!

On one level, we all know there are changes we can make to help our situation, whether it’s our health, our activity or anything else in our lives. We tell ourselves that these changes aren’t going to make a big impact or that the changes are simply too hard to make.  The reality is that we don’t want to make them, not because they are too hard or too small to help but because we don’t want to do the work.  Do I miss bagels, garlic bread and nachos? Yes I do.  Do I miss them enough to go back to limping across the parking lot and huffing and puffing up the stairs? Definitely not!

It’s still not super easy to say no to the foods I like, lying on the sofa in front of the tv or bailing on a workout because I don’t feel like it, but now I have a little perspective on what’s really hard and what only feels like it’s hard.  Being too tired, too heavy and in too much pain to enjoy my life is hard; saying no to a croissant only feels like it is!

 

 

The Devil You Know Still Bites: Weight Loss & Old Habits

We all know it is hard changing our habits.  The more ingrained they are, the harder it is.  I have heard experts say that the more we do something the same way, the deeper it becomes entrenched into our brains, which explains how we manage to drive home while we are off in La-La Land thinking about the fight we had with our coworker, the latest news about the government shut-down or the final episode of Game of Thrones waiting for us.  Somehow, we find ourselves safe in our own driveway with no memory of how we got there!

When it comes to driving home, getting ready for work or picking up the kids, that unthinking habit is a good thing, but when it comes to how we eat, how we shop and how active we are, it’s not such a good thing, especially if you are trying to improve those.  One of the reasons it’s hard to make changes to old entrenched habits is that it means we have to stop and think about those changes.  That means it requires our attention and therefore more energy devoted to a task that was formerly on autopilot.

We are all familiar with this scenario: we are out at a restaurant and looking at the menu. There are a lot of items we would normally have chosen depending on what we are ‘hungry for,’ but now we have to stop and look at the calories or the carbs involved. Now instead of looking for something that appeals to us, we are looking for something healthy which also appeals to us! Obviously the Go-To Healthy Option is a salad, “dressing on the side, please!” but having salad every time we go out not only gets old, it makes us feel like we’re wearing a sign that says “HI! I’M DIETING!”

That’s what’s so tempting about giving in ‘now and then.’ It’s easy to look at the salad options, realize we’re just burned out on anything with lettuce and order something else that’s familiar. Or, we use our companions as an excuse: they were all ready to order and I was still trying to figure it out, so I just picked something I liked! I’ll do better tonight/ tomorrow/ next time!

Then there is the “I just forgot” excuse, as in we were out getting lunch, buying groceries and we bought something out of habit because we ‘forgot’ we don’t eat that anymore. We were on autopilot. In short, we weren’t paying attention to what we were doing. I know that can feel like we’re pointing fingers but this is how most of us function in life.  Imagine if we had to think about everything we do all day: what’s that ringing sound? It’s the phone. I need to answer that.  Am I at work ” hello business name” or at home?

I’m not being trying to be facetious here. Our brains cover all that in about two seconds after we first hear the phone and we answer it automatically without jumping through all those hoops.  It might be a couple more seconds if we’re in the middle of something and we decide not to answer it, but this is where autopilot kicks in, saving us time and trouble.  But when we are trying to change our habits, we need to remind ourselves to pay attention in certain situations.  It feels like a huge hassle because what used to take a couple minutes now takes ten or fifteen. “Really?? It’s just cooking oil! It’s not that big a deal!”

We also use the “Confused” excuse: I was looking at the labels and I had no idea what any of this meant, so I bought what I normally buy instead! We have probably seen others at the supermarket with that baffled expression on their faces as they are reading and comparing labels. We have probably been that person, reading labels until our eyes glaze over and we just throw something into the cart! Again, “it’s not that big a deal!”

Except all those “little deals” add up! I recently downloaded one of those apps that lets you squirrel away the change from your purchases into a savings account.  After a week, I checked my account as usual and noticed there was a deduction for five dollars and change, then a few days later, it was nine dollars and change, and by the end of the month, it was about thirty dollars deducted from my account that month.  And it was all leftover change! Of course, it had all gone into my savings account, but it was a bigger deduction than I had thought it would be because individually they were “no big deal!”

It’s the same thing when we are trying to make improvements to how we eat and how active we are. Each time we tell ourselves, “it’s no big deal,” we are dropping a few coins into that Old Habit jar and if we kept track of how many times we did that, we wouldn’t be surprised when we realize it’s already April and we haven’t lost any weight, we are still having a bagel with breakfast and the ice cream in the freezer is still being replenished on a regular basis! Why? Because we haven’t done the work to change our habits! All those times we got confused or forgot or didn’t have the time and told ourselves “no big deal” added up to no changes being made and that is a big deal: it’s your life!

We all know the expression: caught between the devil you know and the devil you don’t.  Most of us opt for that old familiar devil just because it is familiar. Choosing between the chicken fajitas and the beef enchiladas? “I’ve had the enchiladas but I don’t know how spicy the fajitas are, so I’m sticking with the enchiladas!” Wondering if you should join that gym near your house? “I don’t know how to use those machines and Doug at the office hurt his shoulder at the gym last month, and I don’t want to get hurt. Maybe I should keep working out at home…” but how much are you really working out at home? Fifteen minutes of dumb bell curls while you’re watching tv? I know, because I’ve done that and called it ‘working out!’

We all know that change takes time and effort and while we all want the benefits of the change, we are less enthusiastic about doing the work to get us there.  We try to make changes, realize it’s confusing, it’s a little scary and just plain uncomfortable.  So we end up keeping company with that devil we know. The most important thing we don’t realize about that devil? He’s still a devil and he still bites! It may feel safe and comfortable to have the chicken enchiladas and work out in front of the tv but remember why you wanted to change back when you started this? You wanted to be able to keep up with your kids/ grandkids at the park. The dress you wanted to wear at your anniversary party was a little snug. You picked up your tool box and could barely lift it.  Whatever your reason, health or vanity, you wanted to feel better, look better and be stronger, but that devil you don’t know scared you off with confusing labels, intimidating work out equipment and just plain uncomfortable situations. This is the Unknown, after all!  Who knows what can happen to us? But that’s the point: who knows what improvements we can make if we try? We might enjoy the gym and even make some friends! We can discover that stir fried veggies are not only healthy but taste delicious! We might learn we love cooking and making our own recipes! We might even learn that we feel so much better when we eat better, which can lead to a whole host of other side effects, like sleeping better, having more energy and being happier in general! This is the Unknown, after all!

Vacation Days?: Weight Loss & the Value of Rest

Some of you may remember the tv show Frasier from the ’90’s with Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney and Jane Leeves.  One episode that stayed with me involved Daphne’s quandary over where to go on her vacation: home to family in England or fun in the sun in Acapulco. Considering her dilemma, Frasier flashes back to when he moved home to Seattle and his becoming reacquainted with his dad Martin and brother Niles. Obviously the segment is fraught with complications and frustrations, and in the end, Frasier decides to give Daphne two vacations, telling her that family is important and worth the frustration but spending time with family usually means you need another vacation.

Too often we think that “rest and relaxation” is the same thing as “not being at work.”  Ask any stay-at-home parent about that and you will get an earful, I’m sure! There is a very real difference between doing something restful or relaxing and being busy, whether it’s at home, at work or with your family. I know I have spent more than a few weekends running errands for the pets, the car, the house and even for myself.  Just because it’s a “weekend” and it’s not “work related errands” doesn’t mean I don’t feel tired, frazzled and stressed when I get home! My boss has three young boys with busy sports schedules: some of his weekends are driving here and there, coaching this team and the other team. Come Monday morning, he’s probably more exhausted than when he left on Friday!

We tend to forget that rest and relaxation means we are conserving our energy or doing something that makes us feel rested or at least relieves stress.  Taking the car to be serviced doesn’t count as being “restful” unless, like me, I put my phone on Silent and spend the time listening to music, an audio book or a podcast. I made the car’s appointments a “stress reliever” by purposely being out of touch while I am there. While I am waiting around for the car, I am not scrolling through emails, making lists of things to get done or anything else that can be considered stressful.  I know that while I am there, it’s my time for myself.  

When we feel stressed, our bodies recognize it.  Whether it’s emotional or physical, our bodies react the same way, releasing hormones to deal with whatever danger or trouble we are experiencing.  Those hormones, primarily cortisol, cause the body to release glucose into the blood stream, which jacks your energy level way up. This can cause you to feel anxious, nervous or jittery, but it’s always followed by an energy crash, which leaves you tired, irritable and hungry. Chronic stress can impact your metabolism, leading the body to store calories because of whatever ‘danger’ you are facing.  Besides making it harder to lose weight, the anxiety, depression and fatigue can lead to emotional eating and cravings.  When our blood sugar is low, that’s when we feel the urge to grab crackers, a donut or a soft drink to boost the low glucose in the blood, which starts the roller coaster again: high blood sugar followed by the crash and the cravings.  This vicious cycle is one of the chief contributors to stress-induced weight gain!

When most people think of stress, they think of work and all the other problems and tasks in their lives that eat up their time, but we can feel stressed simply by not getting enough sleep.  Feeling tired all the time is a stressor since your body is not getting enough recuperative time.

Taking time for yourself to do things that you enjoy is hard for a lot of us.  It feels like we are wasting time or not being productive or just plain goofing off.  What we don’t realize is that when we are chronically stressed and/ or constantly rushing and not getting enough rest, we are setting ourselves up not only for weight gain but for illness as well.  We see it happen in offices everywhere: people are rushed, always busy, always tired and then –bam!– they get sick! Even worse, they come to the office to work despite being ill and give it to everyone else! (FYI: when you don’t take the time to rest when you are ill, it takes you longer to get over it on top of giving it to everyone around you!)

One of the easiest ways to combat stress is to give yourself a certain amount of time on a regular basis to do something you enjoy without interruption.  This can be dinner time or evenings with your family.  It can be walking your dog, or it can simply be taking lunch with your phone on Silent. You can also designate one day or part of a day each week as “your day” when you do only the things you enjoy. For me, I usually take Saturday night as my night and during the week, I use my long commute to listen to music, books, etc. or chat with friends.  It may be a long drive but I make it as stress-free as I can.

Another easy way to relieve stress is simply going to bed at a reasonable time each night.  There are a lot of experts who tell you to optimize your sleep experience by sleeping in a completely dark cool room without distractions (people & pets) and to avoid electronic devices at least thirty minutes or more before going to bed.  Those are great ideas if they work for you, but if they don’t, don’t stress about it! For some of us, sleeping alone isn’t an option, so don’t feel you have to kick your partner out of the bed! (Talk about a stressful situation!) The same is true if cool rooms, or no lights or no devices also doesn’t work for you.  It may be that none of those factors is what’s causing your restless sleep: it could be you have too much on your mind! Try making positive changes to your nightly routine, such as doing something relaxing before bedtime and then setting up an environment that works for you. If you feel more or less rested the next morning, make a note and then make the appropriate changes.

The same goes for your Me Time: if one option doesn’t work, try making some adjustments.  If meditating or listening to calming music doesn’t work for you after you’ve given it a real chance, don’t push it! That causes more stress! There is no one way to reduce stress for everyone. We are all individuals and with a little thought, we can find methods that work for us.  I remember as a new college student, I was told to study in a quiet area, preferably a library, and I tried it but it was simply too distracting for me: every sound caught my attention and pulled me away from my reading! My solution: I studied in the student union with all the shouting, music and video games where I could block out all the noise and really concentrate. (Some of my friends had to pound on the table to get my attention!)

When it comes to stress and getting enough rest and relaxation, we need to find a method that works for us, whether that’s hanging out at the gym, relaxing with a book, walking the dog or just putting in earbuds with the music loud.  The most important thing to remember is making time for yourself to relax, even if it is in the middle of traffic!

No Offense, But Serenity Sucks! Weight Loss & Not Giving In to the “Inevitable”

We’ve all heard of the Serenity Prayer, and while I try hard not to roll my eyes whenever anyone mentions it, I admit that in some instances, you really do have to accept the things you cannot change and hope you can recognize what those things are.

However, how many times have we looked at a situation and just decided “I guess that’s just something I can’t change so I’m just have to accept it.” Is this really something we can’t change or are we just giving up? That’s what I mean when I say serenity sucks! How many times do we lump a situation in with other “I can’t change these” situations just because they are really hard? I”m not going to give you the old Edison ‘50,000 ways not to make a light bulb’ story but I am going to toss out of his best quotes: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Yes, change is hard. Yes, you may fail many times before you finally succeed. Does that mean you should just give up because it’s hard? No! It means we need to keep trying. I know we’ve all heard horror stories about someone who “just kept trying” and ended up spending their entire life struggling with something they could never achieve.  [The 19th Century Computer Genius] Sometimes we end up doing the best we can and still not hit the goal, but, at the risk of becoming existential, is the ‘goal’ really the point, or is it really the journey itself?

I have struggled with my weight since I was in 5th grade. Throughout my teenage and adult life, I’ve lived with the “Fat” label attached to everything I’ve done. In college, one of my managers told me I’d never rise any farther in the company because I was fat, and later as an adult, I had another boss send me to a bariatric surgeon. I’ve come home to find the latest diet books on my doorstep courtesy of my mother, who’s also offered all kinds of bribes from new wardrobes to European vacations as incentives to lose weight.  “Weight Loss” has always been the shining sparkly magical goal always out of reach during my life.  I’ve been told that everything in my life will be better “once you lose weight!”

I’m not going to lie: after losing 130-plus pounds, there are a whole lot of things in my life that really are better! Walking, moving, sleeping, being active: all of these are much better having lost that much weight. Physically, I feel better overall.  Emotionally? I still feel like the Fat Woman, mainly because I still need to lose probably another 100 lbs.  Does that mean I still haven’t hit my Weight Loss Goal? Does that mean I will never hit my Goal? Should I just accept that I can’t change this and accept that I will always be fat? I’ve been trying to do this since I was 11 years old and I’ve still only achieved partial success.

Struggling with my weight, trying not to gain, trying to lose pounds and failing over and over has taught me a lot over my lifetime, because at one time, I did just give up. In my forties, I just accepted  “I will always be fat and I should just learn to live with it.” What happened? I wasn’t any happier having “accepted being fat.” Telling myself that I didn’t have to try to lose weight or look at new diets or say no to chips because “hey, I can’t change being fat!” did not stop my wanting to be thinner and healthier or hating the fact that everything hurt and was harder for me at my weight.

Having achieved a measure of success, I have learned that it really isn’t the Goal that matters: it’s the Getting-There that is the point. The struggle to lose weight has truly been overwhelming at some points but having struggled, having failed, having given up and having returned to the fight, I have learned that it is the struggle that gives you strength.  I don’t have to hit a certain magical Weight Loss Goal to be happy.  I don’t have to look the way everyone else thinks I should look.  I can be smart, attractive, and professional at any weight. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself.  Even if there are things about myself that I want to change but never can, am I going to feel proud of myself for giving up and accepting that I can’t change this, or am I going to feel proud of myself for continuing to try?

I am sure there are people who think I should just accept that I will always be obese, especially at this point in my life.  I am also sure there are people who think I am trying to lose weight “the wrong way.” There are always people who are happy to tell you what you should do and how you should do it and what you are doing wrong.  A lifetime of fighting my weight has definitely taught me that! But giving up? Never again!

Gaming the System? Weight Loss & Eating Like an Adult

When most people think of “gaming the system,” weight loss and dieting are usually not the first things that spring to mind– unless of course you are one of those ‘perennial dieters.’  Unfortunately, most of us (me included!) fall into this category: we are always trying to lose weight! And since we are always in a hurry to lose as much weight as we can as fast as possible, we’ve gotten pretty good at “gaming the weight loss system.”

Gaming the system means that we jump at the quick fix option instead of trying to make lasting changes.  Obviously we tend to see quick results with the quick fix, but we forget that ‘quick’ usually isn’t lasting, and let’s face it, while we want quick, lasting is what we are really after! No one likes losing those stubborn twenty pounds only to gain it back (and usually a couple more) and have to lose it all over again.

The problem is that ‘lasting’ takes too long and we get tired of waiting and frankly, tired of doing the work without seeing real results.  It doesn’t make us irresponsible or lazy or mean that we have no will power– it simply means that we’re human. Enter the quick fix with those quick results! But those quick fixes are usually something more drastic than the lasting change option, which is why we see those results so fast.

One of my mom’s famous quick fixes was meal replacement bars and shakes.  Instead of having breakfast and lunch, you have the shake/ bar and then a ‘healthy dinner.’  (Sound familiar, anyone?) We end up cutting out a lot of calories, so we lose weight fast, which makes us really happy for a while. Have you ever lasted on that program for more than a few weeks? I know I can barely manage one week because the shakes and bars taste so awful to me! We all know what happens as soon as you stop with the bars and shakes: Hello, weight gain!

The same thing happens with ‘diet food’ programs: once we stop eating the packaged low-cal meals, we begin to gain back whatever we lost while eating them. If all you want is to lose a few pounds so you look fabulous at the wedding or special event, that’s fine.  There’s an end date to the quick fix and if you gain it back, you are okay with that.  Seriously, though, there aren’t very many of us who are eating the bars, shakes and diet food just because we want a temporary weight loss! We’d rather lose weight permanently so we can look and feel great all the time.

When we opt for the long term lasting change method, the weight comes off slowly and steadily because we are learning as we go. We learn what healthy foods we enjoy and help us lose weight.  We learn how to eat when we’re hungry and how to stop when we’re no longer hungry. That may sound pretty simplistic, but think about it: ‘feeling full’ is not the same as ‘not being hungry!’ Most of us eat until we feel full, which usually means we’ve over-eaten, and many of us also sit down to eat without asking ourselves “am I even hungry?”

Making lasting changes means a lot of us have to change how we think about food and hunger, and that can feel pretty embarrassing to some of us.  Do we really need to learn how to monitor our hunger?  Do we really need to be told to stop eating when we’re not hungry anymore? For a lot of people, yes! Growing up, many of us were made to eat whatever our parents served us and if we didn’t eat “enough,” we were punished for it! I saw plenty of my cousins who had to force down food they didn’t want, either because they didn’t like it or weren’t hungry, just to make their parents happy.  This is what many of us were taught to do as children and many of us (like my cousins’ parents) grew up to force our own children to eat as well.  It was “meal time,” so we “have to eat!” The whole idea of not being hungry isn’t part of that equation, so is it any surprise that many of us sit down to eat at the appointed times and that we eat all or most of what is served to us?  This is what we were taught to do!

For me, this is a big part of what makes those quick fix meal and/ or meal replacement programs such a quagmire: we aren’t learning how to change our thinking about food, meals or hunger.  We are simply substituting one prescribed ‘meal’ for another! Instead of having a real food breakfast, we’re having a shake.  Instead of eating a real food lunch, we’re eating a bar.  Instead of eating a real food dinner, we’re microwaving a packaged meal.  No wonder many of us do so well on the meal replacement systems only to stumble when we try eating real food again: instead of learning what’s good for us and how much of it satisfies our hunger, we are eating what someone else decided was good for us, just like we did when we were kids! When we start eating real food again, we really are like little kids not knowing what to eat or how much of it. As parents, we know we don’t let the kids choose they want to eat all the time because we know it’ll be something like cereal three times a day or fast food for dinner each night.  We accept that children don’t know how to eat well-balanced meals but how many of those ‘kid meals’ sound like something we eat on a semi-regular basis? How many of us come home from work and rather than fix something nutritious, we settle for cereal eaten at the kitchen sink? Or we hit the drive thru for the third time because we’re late getting home again?

We know it’s not healthy for us and we tell ourselves that it’s not our “normal” way of eating, but at the same time, it’s our fall-back meal.  No time to heat something up? Cereal time! Or toaster pastries or granola bars etc.  The same thing happens when we come home late, or are too tired to cook or just don’t want what we’ve got at home: we get drive thru or take out or microwave a packaged meal. Is it any wonder that we have problems with our weight and our health when we eat like kids?

Changing how we think about eating isn’t fast and it takes a fair bit of practice but when we stop opting for the quick fix we end up making some real lasting progress with out health and our weight loss.  We only really win the game when we stop playing with our food!

Resolutions & Reality: Weight Loss & Your Goals

It’s that time of year again! You know what I mean: the grocery stores are full of people looking for healthy veggies, the tv is full of ads for programs designed to help you “look better and feel great!,” and the gym is packed full of newbies who can’t find the locker room.  That’s because everyone wants to start the New Year off right by keeping their health and weight loss resolutions, so they– and we– are jumping into 2019 with both feet!

That’s not a bad thing to do! I know I have made some changes and spent my New Year’s Day setting up some financial and fitness goals too! The problem is that when we make “resolutions” we tend to classify them as “things I have to do” and they end up on a mental list with tasks like Cleaning Out the Garage; Digging the Flowerbed; Getting the Tax Software Downloaded; and Hanging New Curtain Rods. In other words, these are the tasks that no one wants to do so they keep getting shoved to the bottom of the list.  We all know what happens with those tasks: we dread doing them, hate it when we actually do them and usually do them poorly if we do them at all!

The point of any goal is to improve the quality of your life, not make your life miserable because you have to give up pasta and candy bars, but that’s what happens when we focus on the “resolution” mindset.  It’s not that different from the “dieting” mindset that many of us fall into when we want to lose weight.  We make working towards our goals one of those “hate-to-do-it” tasks instead of an activity to make your life better.  That kind of attitude is why my gym will be packed tonight but back to normal come the first week in March. New members will be burnt out with “having to go to the gym” and will give it up as something that’s too much trouble to keep doing.

When you mentally put your new healthy resolution on the same level as Getting My Teeth Drilled, you are setting yourself up to fail.  It doesn’t matter if it’s drinking more water, going to the gym or giving up your after-dinner ice cream: when you are doing something you dread or hate doing, it’s not something that is going to last, which means it’s another failure to add to your list and those failures can be pretty debilitating.  Those failures are why we keep making the same resolutions year after year to eat healthier and lose those same 20 lbs we’ve been trying to lose for the last 20 years.  The goals are good goals well worth achieving, but year after year we’re just going about it the hard way.

Our resolutions are intended to build healthy habits that make us feel better about ourselves. If we want our healthy New Year’s resolutions to become lasting habits that get us to our goals (and that improved quality of life!), we have to set ourselves up to succeed.  That means if you don’t like going to the gym for a Spin class or to do circuit training, find something else at the gym that you do enjoy doing! It may be that the gym isn’t the right place for you to be.  That doesn’t mean you trash your resolution to be more active: it means you find an activity that you really enjoy! It may be that taking a walk outdoors is something you like much better than walking on the treadmill.  It can be that you’d rather be riding a bike outside rather than sitting in a Spin class listening to pop-rock on the gym’s PA.

We need to frame our resolutions in a way to keep us making progress.  The end goal isn’t “Going to the Gym”: the goal is to feel better physically! It’s to be able to move without hurting or to become stronger.  That goal is what we want and if the gym isn’t going to get us there, we need to find something that is!

It’s the same thing with eating healthier. We don’t have to start eating foods we hate in order to get more nutrition or lose weight.  Believe me, if a requirement for eating healthy meant having kale every day, I’d never do it! I have a friend who feels the same way about Brussels sprouts: those little bowling balls never hit her plate! However, there is usually a fair amount of just-as-healthy broccoli and cabbage on both of our plates. One of our little jokes is that neither of us never met a cabbage we didn’t like! We can all eat lots of healthy nutritious vegetables without having to eat things we don’t like. Trying to choke down a kale salad day every day might be healthy but if you are going to give it up after a couple of weeks, it’s not going to move the needle with your health and weight loss.

Sooner or later, we all have to do things that we’d rather not do.  We do them grudgingly because we know they are ultimately required, whether it’s getting a root canal or doing our taxes. Our resolutions shouldn’t be on the same level as a task we’d rather avoid. Remember the goals behind the resolution: Feeling better? Not puffing when we climb the stairs? Being able to run around with your kids or grandkids? Those are goals worth reaching and getting there should not be a chore! How you choose to get there is up to you. Wouldn’t it be great if it was also something that improved the quality of your life? Imagine doing something you enjoyed that was actually helping you feel better about yourself! That sounds like a resolution worth keeping to me!

You Do You & I’ll Do Me: Following Your Own Weight Loss Plan

This time of year, there is always someone ready to tell you that you are “doing it wrong.” We are bombarded by fitness and weight loss programs and meal delivery systems designed to help us lose weight, eat healthier and maximize our nutrition. Of course, all of them come with a price tag, and some of those are pretty hefty too! (Maybe they need a slimming regimen!)

The truth is that all of us are individuals which means we all have different needs and preferences.  I remember when the Cabbage Diet was popular.  I don’t know how effective it was but I do remember hearing people complain that they’d try that diet except “I hate cabbage!” I am sure there were some people who choked it down just so they could lose weight but that’s the problem with following someone else’s regimen: it may not work for you.  I am sure all there were quite a few non-cabbage-loving dieters who gained back whatever weight they lost on that Cabbage Diet because they stopped following the diet once they either 1) lost weight, or 2) gave up on it.

The reason we follow diets we hate is because we somehow got the idea that weight loss is supposed to be an unhappy unpleasant experience.  We’ve all heard the joke about the World’s Easiest Diet: “if it tastes good, spit it out!” A lot of us think that’s the way diets are supposed to be, full of awful-tasting, ‘healthy’ food that we’d never eat normally.  We suffer through eating foods we hate until we lose the weight we want or we just can’t take eating that awful stuff anymore.  Either way, we go back to eating the foods that led to us gaining the weight and while we may like what we’re eating, we’re completely unhappy with how we look and feel.

Too many of us have a Dieting Mentality where we change how we eat long enough to lose a few pounds and then we go back to “eating normal food.” If we want our weight loss to last, we have to change how we eat permanently and it’s hard to do if we are stuck eating foods we really don’t like! If someone told me all I’d have to do to lose fifty pounds is follow a Kidney Bean Diet, I’d never last, no matter how ‘easy’ it was supposed to be! I was one of those kids who picked out the kidney beans from my Three Bean Salad.  I’d leave them behind from any dish they were in. In fact, there are very few beans or legumes I like, so no matter how healthy and nutritious they are, I’ve never eaten much of them. Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are another story: I eat a lot of those on a regular basis and always have.

It seems like common sense, but when it comes to weight loss, too many of us will try anything! You want me to eat grapefruit twice a day? Got it!  You want me to drink nasty horrible-tasting protein shakes twice a day? No problem! Choke down kale with every meal? Sure thing! Those plans will probably work as far as losing weight initially, but when it comes to long-term? How long before you start justifying donuts or pizza? Or even just skipping the morning protein shake in favor of something you actually enjoy eating?

Bottom line: if you want your weight loss to last, you need to eat healthy foods that you actually enjoy eating on a regular basis, not just until you’ve lost ten or twenty pounds.  Unfortunately, that means whatever weight loss diet you might start off with, you’ve got to personalize it for you.  If you don’t like eggs, then don’t eat them even if the diet says to eat them as your protein source! Any diet that limits what you eat to a small number of selections is probably not going to work long term for anyone.  There should be a fair number of suggested foods to allow you to choose healthy alternatives that you enjoy eating.

You can lose weight and you can keep it off long term, but you have to stop focusing on what other people are doing or what other people want you to do, unless it’s a routine that you can follow long term.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t ever have pizza or donuts again, but it shouldn’t mean you are stuck eating grapefruit, kale or protein bars for the rest of your life either.  Remember, the reason you want to lose weight is so you can enjoy your life more and for me, an enjoyable life has as little kale as possible!

Changing Directions: Weight Loss & Getting There

We’ve all heard the expression “dieting doesn’t work.” We know it’s a temporary solution to a permanent situation but that still doesn’t help much.  We know we shouldn’t eat the entire giant burrito at lunch, but we do anyway.  We know that eggnog latte we sucked down this morning was at least 500 calories so we really don’t need another this afternoon, but here we are ordering one! The solution to weight loss is simple: permanently change what we eat and how much.  But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy!

Professionals debate whether Food Addiction is a real addiction or not, and there are the inevitable comparisons to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Overeaters Anonymous takes the ‘Twelve Step’ approach to weight loss and while I am not a member of such a program, I do have family members who are. One of the first things they did when they started their recovery is to change their environment. Specifically, if all your friends drink or do drugs, you need some new friends! When it comes to drugs and alcohol, we expect that. We recognize that we can’t expect recovering alcoholics to hang out at the bar not drinking with their friends who are any more than we can expect drug addicts to hang out with their friends who are always getting high.  There’s simply too much temptation to fall back into the addiction they’re trying to break!

So what do we do about weight loss?  As Food Addiction believers like to point out: you can live without alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but sooner or later, we all need to eat! It’s not like we can hang out without people who don’t eat! It gets even harder when there is a holiday or celebration, since nearly all cultures celebrate with special foods! How are we supposed to deal with our addiction when we have to go back to it to survive?

Whatever you believe about Food Addiction, anyone who wants to lose weight without gaining it back has to accept making some permanent lifestyle changes, not unlike the recovering alcoholic or addict. You may not need to ditch those ‘food-eating friends,’ but you will probably need to change how you interact with them! It doesn’t even have to be major changes but we all know that if you are going to San Francisco, you don’t enter a San Diego address into your GPS! If you want to change your destination, you have to change your route.  Doing things the way you did before is only going to get you somewhere you don’t want to be!

Easier said than done! If only it were as easy as plugging in a new address into Google Maps! Unfortunately, a lot of weight loss gurus like to tell us that it really isn’t too difficult. I always wonder how many of them had weight problems, because they usually look really fit and thin! I know that does many a great disservice, but all of us who struggle with our weight know how hard and painful it can be.  Watching a spokesperson with a chiseled six-pack tell us that we can lose 15 lbs in 6 weeks by making ‘5 easy changes!’ makes me want to kick in my tv! Or scarf a whole pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk…. Either way, it’s not a good feeling.

Psychologists like to call this behavior modification and we have all used it and had it used on us before.  Remember when your parents grounded you for getting home late? Remember when you scolded your puppy for wetting on the floor? Those are some simple examples: you do X and Y happens to you, so if you don’t want X to happen to you again, then don’t do Y! With weight loss, the X we are trying to avoid is gaining weight but it’s more complicated than that.  We are not only trying to avoid weight gain, we want to go in the opposite direction!

We not only need to figure out what Y we need to avoid, we need to map an entirely new route for somewhere else. For a lot of us, this feels like trying to climb Everest with only a windbreaker and some walking shoes– totally impossible! The truth is that it’s not impossible if we know what we’re looking for and that skinny six-pack guy on the infomercial with his 5 easy changes is more interested in your money than helping you find the answers.

One of the easiest ways to find out what changes you need to make in order to make your weight loss permanent is to track what you eat.  I know everyone hates doing it, but we all need a starting point, especially if we want to measure how much progress we’ve made.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.  You can use any notebook or pocket diary and there are a lot of free popular apps on available. It’s up to you how detailed you want to be with your food descriptions but you do need to be consistent.  After a couple of weeks of writing down everything you eat and drink, you’ll have a realistic idea of how much and what foods are typical for you.  Then, you can start making changes!

Most of us eat more than we think we do and we have unrealistic ideas of portion size and calorie count.  You don’t need to weigh everything but if the hamburger for lunch was two patties bigger than the palm of your hand, you need to write that down.  Also, if there were three parts to the bun and two slices of cheese, those need to be written down!  So when we start to make changes, we shouldn’t plan sweeping global changes to our food. Telling yourself “I’m starting keto on Monday” or “I’m going Paleo tomorrow” is going to make you feel like you’re back on Everest in that windbreaker!

The best approach is a little like Google Maps: you know how the app shows you both the whole route with the next turn highlighted at the top? That’s the way you need to do this! You know what your ultimate goal is but your focus needs to be on your next turn, not that freeway offramp by your destination! You’re not even on the freeway yet! Focus on getting to the onramp first!

Start with a small step.  Elizabeth Benton suggests starting with breakfast (a good idea!) but it can be something as simple as cutting out the sweets or giving up soda.  It can also be something like cutting your portion sizes in half.  Once you’ve gotten the first step under control, whatever you’ve chosen, then you can move on to the next step.  This can be working on a better lunch, cutting out more carbs, or replacing more processed foods with whole foods. However you choose to eat (keto, Paleo, Whole 30, etc), most of us are in a hurry to get there but rushing is another bad step.  To use the Google Maps analogy, when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, it’s easier to get lost because you aren’t focused on following the directions.  You want to take shortcuts that don’t always work. Our bodies don’t change overnight so any changes we make won’t show results overnight either!

Remember back to that Twelve Step program I mentioned earlier? Another important point is “one day at a time.” You can’t go from getting drunk on Friday to being sober four years on Monday! You have to earn those four years one day at a time! By being patient, dealing with situations as they come up and learning from mistakes, we eventually figure out what triggers our cravings, what our weaknesses are and how we need to avoid them.  It’s the same, whether we’re trying to stay sober or lose 50 lbs.

By being patient and learning what we are doing now that’s not healthy for us, we learn how to make positive changes to our eating and our behavior.  Our focus needs to be on making positive changes and taking positive steps. We can look at the distance we have to travel and wish it didn’t take so long, but wishing isn’t going to get us to our goal weight.  The only thing that will is making those changes and making them day after day after day.  It’s not a quick trip but the best part about it is that once you get there, it’s for good! Welcome to the neighborhood!