You Don’t Get a Points for Giving Up: You Are the Author of Your Attitude 

When I tell people that My 600 lb Life is my version of a 12 step meeting, they usually think I’m joking. I’m not. Watching it multiple times a week (I have OnDemand) keeps me connected to my goals and it reinforces my choices. Sometimes it pretty much smacks me upside the head with my own bad behavior or gives me a heads up about where I’m headed.

Recently I was watching Erica’s story and I was reminded that not only are we the only ones who can make the decision to eat healthier, but we can make our weight loss as hard or as easy as we choose. It begins with our attitude and if our attitude sucks, it’s going to be a long hard battle and the odds are stacked against us before we ever begin.

Erica’s family (in my opinion) had a lot to do with her bad attitude. The only supportive members of her family were her mother who passed away and her niece. Her brother was fairly indifferent and her sister was a downright b*tch. Her siblings’ attitude seemed to be that “you ate your way to 661 lbs so it’s your problem. You fix it!” As far as her family was concerned, she’s an embarrassment, ‘mentally ill,’ and a failure: “She’s never succeeded before so I don’t think she’ll succeed this time.” Her dad’s response to her weight gain: “my beautiful little girl went to sleep one night and woke up Godzilla.” In one breath her sister tells her she needs to do something to get better but in the next offers her no help at all and mocks her.

When you’ve been told you’re a waste of space most of your life, it becomes ingrained in your psyche. I’ll never forget my mom telling me what a disappointment I was to her since she’d intended to retire at 50 and live off her children but that wasn’t happening! My only consolation was that my sister (the Chosen One) was also a failure in that regard.  I’ve continued to be a failure by not having children, which was probably the sanest decision I’ve made in my life (I don’t dare trust her with my dog). As a result of my mom’s attitude towards me, I spent a great part of my childhood and adolescence wondering what the hell was wrong with me. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I realized she was the problem, not me. I also realized that if it weren’t for my dad & his side of my family reinforcing the idea that I was okay and she was the one who was screwed up, I might never have come to the realization that there isn’t anything ‘wrong’ with me!

Erica unfortunately never seemed to have anyone other than her mother telling her that she wasn’t a failure and an embarrassment, and this makes her attitude one of her biggest obstacles to weight loss.  Basically, no one expects her to succeed and no one wants to help her so why should she even try if she’s already hopeless?  I think if it weren’t for her own imminent fear of dying from her obesity, she wouldn’t have tried at all.  This feeling of failure- that “I’m a waste of space and everyone would be happier if I weren’t here anymore”- is a huge stumbling block when it comes to motivation and overcoming obstacles. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but truly if you don’t believe in yourself, you aren’t going to make it!

So is it surprising that when faced her sister’s angry condescending attitude (I’m here helping you, aren’t I?!) Erica just gives up?  This is her attitude when she comes up against almost any obstacle: this is too hard; I don’t know if I can do this; some days I really just want to give up!  The fact that she succeeds as well as she does is frankly amazing to me.

The one thing her sister says that I do agree with is when she tells Erica “so you thought this would be easy?”  Changing your eating habits is way harder than people think it’s going to be.  On the surface, it looks easy: switch out the potatoes for Brussels sprouts; don’t eat ice cream; eat more healthy veggies; switch the soda for water.  It really looks as easy as changing your shirt, but when it comes down to making the changes, it’s more problematic.  A spoonful of mashed potatoes won’t hurt; a scoop of ice cream once in a while isn’t that bad; one piece of candy, one soda; I’m tired of vegetables… It’s part of a multi-layered pattern of behavior and when we change one part, we have to change another part whether we like it or not.  Sticking to the changes long enough for them to become part of the new healthy habit is the hardest part.  We like ‘end dates’ and healthy living has no end date.

This is the second biggest obstacle to changing your eating habits.  Actually making those changes is the first, but sticking to them is the second.  We feel like we’re looking down a lifetime of no more cake, no more french fries, no more crackers and see only a lifetime of steamed broccoli and chicken breast ahead of us.  It can be pretty bleak! This is where some of us will manufacture our own obstacles to get out of sticking with the healthy eating habits.  We go looking for an excuse to give up: “I couldn’t do my walking today because it’s raining outside;” “I couldn’t go to my exercise class because I got stuck in traffic;” “There weren’t any healthy options at the buffet, so I had to have the potato salad and chicken nuggets.”

I’m sure this will come as no surprise to most of us but we don’t get points or a pass for giving up. This is another place where our attitude is either our biggest ally or our biggest problem: when we truly encounter a problem, we either fight it, find a way around it or we give up.  Giving up is way easier, or at least it looks like it is. Giving up means you keep living the way you are living, with painful knees and joints, with clothes that don’t fit right, being hungry all the time, having a hard time fitting in chairs, cars, or any public seating, and generally being self-conscious whenever you are out in the public.  And if our attitude is “I’m already a failure so why should I even try since I’m just going to screw this up too?” we are not only fighting whatever obstacle we encounter, we are fighting ourselves as well.

We don’t have to be unrealistically positive in our attitude (“I can do this! I can do anything! Yay!”) but we don’t have to automatically assume we’re going to fall flat on our faces either.  Trying our best, focusing on the solution rather than the problem, and if we can’t make our goal, getting as close as we can are not failures! We do get progress points for trying our best and those points come in the form of experience, confidence and a few lessons learned for next time.

Change is damned hard, and when you’re having to fight yourself along with everything else, you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back. You can be your best ally or your biggest problem. Haven’t we all got more than enough problems to go around without giving ourselves one more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indulgences: The Cost- Benefit Analysis

Brace yourself- the holidays are coming! For most of us, it begins with Halloween and buckets and buckets of candies and other sweets, followed by the Thanksgiving gorging and then a month-plus of Christmas cookies, cakes, and candies and the alcohol-fest that is New Years.  It pretty much has us surrounded until 2018! For me, this Food Fest actually begins in September, when our community has a pastry filled food festival followed by another one between Halloween and Thanksgiving, so once fall gets here, I’m surrounded by food!

I hear a lot of people complaining about all the treats around them and how hard they are to resist.  I see a lot of posts about how family members keep bringing these temptations into the house and how they keep giving in; how the Halloween candy they bought at the beginning of the month has all been eaten; how they went out for coffee with friends and ended up drinking a ginormous sweet drink with a cookie or muffin or scone.  If only people stopped shoving food and treats at them! How can they resist!

I know I ate my fair share of pastries at the food festival in September, and no one put a gun to my head.  I decided to eat them, and my ‘rationale’ was that I wait all year for this festival.  Were they worth it? They were really really delicious and I enjoyed every bite, but as for being ‘worth it?’  That’s still up for debate!

Basically, this is what it comes down to with every food choice we make.  Some of them are more obvious than others: the hamburger combo or the roast turkey with veggies; the iced tea with sweetener or the regular sugar soda; the bowl of berries or the bowl of ice cream.  Which is going to be better for us?  Which will make us feel better about ourselves and will help us reach our goals? Yeah, those are the ground-ball kind of choices!

The hard part comes with the ‘special’ foods, like the pastries we wait for each year, the bags of our favorite candies just lying around the house and the plates full of holiday cookies, etc.  It’s a holiday (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, whatever!) and it’s time to celebrate! Why not indulge? It’s only once a year! For most of us, it is only once a year, but the ‘season’ lasts for about three months! There’s a ‘holiday’ a month for the rest of the year and there are countless opportunities to indulge! It’s not the ‘one cookie’ or the ‘one holiday drink/ coffee’ that is going to be the problem: it’s the pattern of behavior it can create.

I’ve been eating healthier for a couple of years now, and this will be my third ‘healthy holiday season,’ but it still takes practice.  The first year was pretty much an unmitigated disaster: all the ‘holiday indulgences that come once a year’ set me back about three months.  It was beyond disheartening.  Last year was better: I was pickier and indulged less, but the treats still did damage and set me back about a month or so.  This year, I have already noticed that the food festival pastries, while really good, were not worth the setback they always bring with them.  I indulged less (only a certain variety of pastry) and I was rewarded for my discretion: only a minor delay.

Of course, the bulk of the holidays haven’t gotten here yet, but I have noticed that the treats that were always so appealing and irresistible still look and smell appealing, but when the choice presents itself (coffee with cream or pumpkiny coffee drink; cinnamon apple cake or no cake), it’s not as hard as it used to be.  After a couple of holiday seasons of indulging, for me the ‘treat’ isn’t worth the setback and disappointment.  Just dealing with the delay from the September food festival was frustrating enough: the delay and frustration aren’t worth the few moments of eating the pastry, no matter how delicious they might be!

The same thing happened yesterday: while grocery shopping, I bought some Halloween candy, which included some caramels that my friend is fond of (and me too!) I bought them because we are having a get-together this weekend and I planned on bringing them, but I was hungry last night after a busy day and a busier weekend….. and I heard those caramels in the kitchen calling my name about 9:00 p.m. last night.  I actually got up and picked up the bag! Once I looked at it, however, I realized right away that eating even one or two of them- and face it, it wouldn’t be one or two!- they weren’t worth the few minutes of ‘yummy’ since I be disappointed in myself.  Even worse, giving in once or twice opens the door for making a new bad habit! This is where we justify our indulgences: I’ll go back to eating good after the holiday! Except there is always a reason to indulge! It’s a holiday; it’s a special occasion; it’s someone’s birthday! There is ONE reason not to indulge: our health; and there are a million reasons to indulge, but are any of them as important or as valuable as our health?

For me, this is another ground-ball question! I remember not being able to turn the wheel of my car without it rubbing against my belly or being tilted all the way up!  I remember my shoes being so tight my feet looked like they were going to break the straps.  I remember being short of breath just walking around Target- forget going to Costco! For me, there is a clear link between my eating choices and the ginormous improvement in my health already.  For a lot of people, the connection is not as clear or obvious because not a lot of people eat themselves to 400+ lbs.  When you weigh 250 and can still get around and be pretty active and pain-free, the ‘consequences of a cookie’ are less obvious: it’s a cookie! It’s not a bomb! How bad can one cookie be?

It wouldn’t be bad, if it were only one cookie! One cookie leads to another, like the bag of caramels in my cupboard! Making an excuse to indulge once makes it easier to indulge again and again. It leads to a pattern of indulging that gets in between us and our goals.  We trade the treats for our health, even if we don’t end up weighing 400 lbs; the weight of our own recrimination and disappointment are bad enough.  We’ve all been the person who ate a box/ bag/ pack of something we regretted and then beat ourselves up over it! Over time, I’ve learned the hard way to avoid the regret: the treats are not worth the delay, the frustration and the disappointment they really cost me! Even though I was tempted by the caramels last night, as soon as the bag was in my hand, the answer was clear to me: I’m not going to enjoy them, even if I eat them! Put down the candy!

No one is going to tell me not to eat the candy or the scones or the pumpkin loaf. No one except me, and that’s what makes it hard! If we were lighting up a cigarette in a bookstore, a dozen people would jump all over us and throw us out! But if we decide to drink a venti pumpkin latte, have a scone, a cookie and another treat in that same bookstore, no one would tell us “that’s enough calories and sugar! Put a stop to it now!” We have to decide if the indulgences are worth what they really cost us: slow or no progress, maybe a weigh gain, disappointment, increased cravings and all the other baggage they come with.  Only you know what baggage they bring for you and only you can decide if the payoff is worth it.  As for me, the pastries in September were good, but were they worth it? I think the price was a bit higher than I planned on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO WHINING!! (And No Excuses, Either!)

One of my favorite professors in graduate school was Dr. Doug Taylor.  He was a poetry scholar, both American and British, specializing in John Milton and Walt Whitman.  I took both classes from him and loved every minute of them.  In fact, after his sudden death in my last year of university, our annual graduate journal that year was dedicated to him: the epigraph included the last lines of the last stanza of Whitman’s Song of Myself.  It was my suggestion, as I can still vividly recall him reading those lines to our class.

If you had met him on campus, you would have thought he was a football coach or maybe something like an engineer.  He looked like a real hands-on kind of guy and in fact, he played football at Rutgers.  He definitely didn’t look like the stereotypical poetry professor (that guy taught Chaucer, which I also took… unfortunately.)  Dr. Taylor was perennially popular, mainly for his no nonsense approach.  Anyone who has been in college knows that as the end of the semester approaches and major assignments start coming due faster and faster, everyone- including the professors- start feeling the pressure.  One of ‘signs of semester end’ for those of us in the English department was Dr. Taylor’s “NO WHINING!” sign on his office door.  As each semester drew to a close, the professors would be closeted in their offices reading and grading and reading and grading and they hated to be interrupted, hence Doug Taylor’s sign.  If you showed up at his office door with an excuse about why your term paper wasn’t done or why you tanked the final or missed so many classes, he wasn’t buying it.  You had all semester to get things done and if you waited to the last week and “something happened,” you could take the class over again, take the D or F or apply for an Incomplete.  See that sign? No Whining! It wasn’t a big sign either, less than a quarter sheet of paper, a few inches really, but it got the job done.  He said it; he meant it!

I think about that sign and Dr. Taylor whenever I start making excuses for why I’m not eating the way I should be or why I can’t make my workout or why I need a pass on whatever it is I’m trying to weasel out of.  See that sign? No Whining!  Am I really too tired/ sick/ sore to make it to my workout? If I had to work late and just plain didn’t make it to the gym until the class was over, then yeah, that’s a legitimate reason.  I was doing my job, but because I’m just not ‘feeling like it’? NO WHINING! The same goes for eating junk food: running around town, doing all kinds of errands and now “it’s late and I don’t want to cook so why not stop and get a burger or fried chicken?” Remember Dr. Taylor’s sign? Yeah, so stop whining! You’ve got a bag of salad and roasted chicken at home so put the salad on a plate and stick the chicken in the microwave.  Getting junk food would actually take LONGER!  Even if I didn’t have those things at home, which has happened recently, it takes no longer to get them at a grocery store than it does to go through a drive-thru. Run in, grab them, run out- healthier dinner in the bag!

I can give you the whole “discipline is important” lecture that lots of guidance counselors, study skills teachers and parents like to give, but I found more students responded better to the “habit explanation.”  Most of us live according to our habits, i.e. ‘Auto Pilot.’  We follow the same patterns every day with the necessary detours and when we ‘suddenly discover’ that we are way overweight, we’re genuinely confused. It doesn’t ‘feel’ like we’re eating badly, but when we shut off the Auto Pilot and take stock of what we are eating and what we are doing during a normal week, it can be surprising.  I know that 90% of what I do every day and every week is because I’m on Auto Pilot, and while changing courses on a real airplane’s Auto Pilot is just punching in a few numbers into the computer, changing a human being’s Auto Pilot is a whole lot harder: we have to reprogram our brains by building new habits.

There’s a boatload of books, podcasts, websites and other programs out there to help you build or change your habits.  I heard one the other day discussing our “lower brain” v our “upper brain.” It was full of a lot of technical hoopla but I don’t think he was wrong (It was On Air with Ella episode 139 with Jim Fortin if you want to hear it for yourself.)  For myself, I know it’s hard to learn/ change my habits because they are so firmly ingrained.  The more we do them, the more firmly they are ingrained, so the key is to stop doing them and do something else, and again, the more we do the ‘new habit,’ the more firmly that one becomes ingrained. This is how I can argue with myself during my two hour commute about how ‘my shoulder hurts,’ ‘I’ve got too much to do,’ etc so I should bail on my workout and then find myself turning into my gym’s parking lot even though I have already ‘decided’ not to go. The habit has been entrenched in the ‘Auto Pilot settings’ in my brain, so no matter what my ‘upper brain’ decided, the Auto Pilot ‘lower brain’ did what it wanted to do anyway.

The hard part is getting the new healthier habit entrenched, which means doing it on a regular basis.  This is what makes me think of Dr. Taylor’s NO WHINING! sign. That interval between changing a habit or building a new one is the dangerous ground.  For me, this is where I can actually talk myself out of going to my workout and finding myself pulling into my driveway instead of the gym. So when I start the whining and fumbling around with flimsy excuses, an image of Dr. Taylor’s sign will pop in my head.  Because really, I AM whining.  Eating healthier isn’t a burden or any more work than eating badly, and eating badly has the added baggage of making me feel crappy emotionally and physically, whereas eating healthier is going to make me feel a whole lot better.  The same goes for working out: am I going to feel better after spending an hour working out, or am I going to feel better after spending an hour scrolling through my social media or watching tv? Which of these actions are actual burdens and drains on my time and energy?  So why am I whining? Because it’s the change that’s hard, not the actual new habits! It’s tough reminding yourself: tomorrow is Wednesday, which is a workout day, so make sure you have the gym bag packed and you take it with you and then you have to remember to drive to the gym instead of going home. It’s the same with my cardio class at another place where I need change for the parking meter, so not only do I have to remember all of the above, but I also have to remind myself to get change before I get there! It means we consciously have to pay attention to what we are doing, which actually requires energy.  It’s why some mindset coaches will tell you to stop arguing with yourself or debating your actions, because it wears out your brain and saps your energy.  Those of you who have kids know this: monitoring them is real work! And so is monitoring ourselves! This is what makes building and changing our habits difficult: we have to be watching our thoughts and actions so we don’t slip into Auto Pilot.  Whining about why we can’t build the new habit is more work than actually doing the new habit.

The recent On Air with Ella podcast with Jim Fortin didn’t really tell me anything about changing habits that I didn’t already know, since I’ve spent the last two-plus years building and changing my habits. His advice is to ‘dismiss the urge’ and change your focus to something else.  What works best for me is telling myself simply NO (in the same tone I use for my pets) and moving forward with the new habit.  When I feel the urge to start making excuses or whining, yep! NO WHINING! Getting whatever it is done is a whole lot easier than trying to get out of it, and a whole lot more rewarding.  Just doing the healthier new habit literally is its own reward because we feel better emotionally and physically and we’ve moved one step closer to programming the new setting into our Auto Pilot.

It can be a real hassle to make a new habit, which is why there is an entire cottage built around it, and honestly, I wish I were better at some of my other bad habits… like leaving the dishes in the sink until they smell funny.  (For some reason, Dr Taylor’s sign doesn’t work so good on that one!) We are all Works in Progress, no matter how old we are.  We all have something we wish we did better or didn’t do at all. Maybe putting a sign up over my sink is an idea: NO WHINING!! And No Excuses Either!!

“If You Were Serious, You’d Make Changes”: How Scary Does It Have to Get?

This statement is actually in the opening of each episode of My 600 lb Life.  Dr. Nowzaradan has said it to many of his patients and it really is the truth.  The problem is that most of us don’t want to hear it because most of us are not serious.  Many of his patients are a minimum of 500 lbs when they show up at his door, and when they first arrive, he always asks them “what was your highest weight?” and they always answer “this is my highest weight.”  I used to wonder why is he asking that? I was thinking, “Duh! Of course this is their highest weight!” Then it finally dawned on me that he was really asking how hard they have tried on their own to lose weight.

The truth is that most of them haven’t tried.  There are some who have tried diets only to regain the weight plus more, just like the rest of us!  But many of them are in the same boat I know I was in for a very long time: I really really want to lose weight, but……. at the same time, I don’t want to do the work. Yes, I know that is so incredibly not-shocking! I’d love to be thin and fit and strong, but I still want to eat cookies and chips and bread by the actual loaf! I want to eat graham crackers and peanut butter and chocolate and cupcakes with mounds of frosting, and I want to be skinny too! Isn’t there some magic procedure that can make me skinny without having to give up all the junk I want to eat?

The other thing that took a while to sink in for me is that almost without fail, the patient shows up and steps on the scale for the first time usually in many months (if not years) and when they see their weight, they are always ‘shocked.’  It’s always higher than they thought it would be and some of them start crying.  They’re scared because their weight is way more out of control than they thought it was, as in 500+; 600+, 700+.  That’s some pretty scary weight, especially since some of the women are about my height and their weight is over 500 lbs (I am 5’4”- almost!)  So I know how heavy they are and I know how hard it was to move and get around at my highest weight (438).  What shocks me is that after consulting with Dr. Now and going over their new eating plan with him, they go home and eat fast food, or junk food, or whatever they want. They make excuses and justifications: “I’m tired of eating healthy stuff”; “I have to have something I enjoy”; or “Not every meal has to be the best choice.”  They are justifying eating what they want to eat because for most of them- and us, too!- they want to do the bare minimum in order to meet what they think is Dr. Now’s arbitrary (and ‘magic’) weight loss number so he will give them the ‘magic surgery’ that will let them eat what they want and be skinny too!

The problem is that obviously there is no ‘magic surgery or procedure’ that lets you eat all the things you want to eat and still be skinny, fit and strong.  When they show up at his office after having ‘tried as hard as I could but I wasn’t a hundred percent,’ they get angry and frustrated because, even though most have lost some weight, they didn’t hit Dr. Now’s goal- a goal they think is arbitrary.

Except it’s not an arbitrary number.  It really isn’t some kind of formula, as in “if the patient weighs 500 lbs, he needs to lose 30 lbs, but if the patient is 600 lbs, he needs to lose 70.”  Whatever the number is, it’s enough weight to show the doctor that the patient can control his or her eating. If they can control their eating enough to lose weight for a sustained period of time, then the surgery will allow them to lose more weight faster while they can get help for whatever issues are driving them to eat.  Bariatric surgery sure isn’t magic, as Dr. Now plainly tells his patients.  While making the stomach smaller and bypassing part of the small intestine, patients are forced to limit the amount of food they eat at one time and fewer calories (and nutrients) are absorbed due to the shortened intestine; however patients can still eat all day long and can still gain weight!  Healthy weight loss is a team effort: both the doctor and the patient have to do their parts otherwise it’s not going to work, and unfortunately, most of the work falls on the patient.  The doctor functions much like the coach: he gives the patient-player the game plan and the patient has to put it into action.  If the patient follows the game plan correctly and it’s not working, then the doctor-coach needs to re-evaluate that plan.

The problem is that the patient-player expects to ‘win the game’ without implementing the game plan. These days, every kid on a team gets a ‘participation medal’ just for showing up, and while it’s a nice idea, it leads to the same kind of thinking.  These patients want their prize medal even though they didn’t win.  They didn’t do the work but they still think they deserve to win.  The problem is that weight loss doesn’t give you a participation medal- it’s an ‘all or nothing’ fight.  You want to win? Then you better fight harder than your cravings.  Think Rocky running up the steps to the Philadelphia museum- it’s freaking hard!!

I don’t mean that we have to view food and treats as the enemy, but when your health is so bad that you can hardly move, when walking to the car makes you sweat, and when you can’t stand for more than five minutes without leaning on something to support your weight, it’s an ‘all or nothing’ situation.  Even when your weight isn’t over 400 or 300 lbs, it it’s affecting your life in a negative way, how bad does it have to get before you change how you think about what you eat? Most people think of ‘life-threatening weight’ as 300+ lbs, but it doesn’t have to be.  These are what’s called ‘diseases of life style’ now and super obesity is only one symptom.  There are a lot of skinny people who have super high blood pressure or blood sugar or other metabolic problems that threaten their lives.  When how you eat or how little you move threatens your life, how scary does it have to get before you start making changes?  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) frames it like this: “Do I want $5 now or do I want $50 next week?” Rationally, most of us think it’s a no brainer, but when it’s “do I want those chips now or do I want to lose 2 lbs next week?” most of us opt for the chips, even though it’s the same bargain: I can feel good for five minutes now or I can feel better for longer next week.

When I watch Dr. Now’s patients eat the donuts or the fries or whatever junk food they decided on, I hear Dr. Now’s voice in my head: “if you were serious, you’d make changes.” If you really want to lose weight or eat healthier or get more activity, you’d make the changes.  No one promised that it would be easy; the only promise anyone or anything can give you is that if you do the work- consistently- you will see the results, and if you don’t, then- and only then- you can go back to your doctor and ask them to change the game plan.

I think this is on my mind lately because I wasn’t doing the work.  I knew I wouldn’t get the results I wanted because I hadn’t followed the game plan: I was eating junk and I wasn’t going to my work outs.  I had reasons, and they were legitimate ones (I was taking care of my mom after her surgery), but weight loss doesn’t give out participation medals.  So, once I was able to get back to my regular life, I had been away from the game long enough to want bread again, and cookies, and other junk.  Walking through the stores, I could see the stuff I wanted on the shelves and looking at it, feeling the temptation (it’s just one!), I could hear Dr. Now’s voice in my head:”if you were serious, you’d make changes.”  I realized that yeah, I’m serious! Put me in, coach! I’m ready to get back in this game!

Mindset: A Healthy Body Starts in Your Head

Mindset has become one of the new buzzwords in social media, and while I’m usually not a fan of following a trend, in this case they are right.  Mindset is an incredibly important part of achieving any goal and it’s usually the part that is discounted or overlooked, mainly because we are in a hurry to get to our goal.

I admit I am someone who rushes.  I’m one of those “don’t give me that ‘positive reinforcement’ crap! Just tell me how to do it!” people.  Over the years, this philosophy had NOT served me well. (Big shock, I know!)  I’ve learned the hard way that rushing to my goal without watching where I am going or how to get there is a recipe for disaster.  Remember the last time you went to make cookies (or lasagna or whatever)?  You pull out the recipe and check to make sure you have all the ingredients and tools you need before you start; otherwise it’s mix the flour, the salt, the baking soda and then cream the butter, brown sugar, white sugar and the vanilla.  Ooops!! No vanilla! And the brown sugar is hard as a rock too!!  Let’s go to the store.  Now once we’ve mixed the wet and the dry ingredients, we need to add the chocolate chips.  Ooops!! Forgot we used those last week!! Back to the store!! Now we add the nuts…?? Do we have nuts??

Frankly, no one over twelve years old makes cookies that way, and usually we only have to go through that once before we learn to read the recipe first.  It’s common sense, but when it comes to getting to our goals, we have a tendency to throw common sense out the window.  After all, our goals aren’t Nestle Toll House Cookies!  We don’t need baking soda, flour and butter to get there!

But what we do need is equally important.  Just like we need flour as a basis for those cookies, we need the proper mindset to reach our goals.  Everything else depends on that mindset, just like making those cookies with everything BUT the flour would be a complete mess! No flour – no cookies; no mindset – no goals!

Mindset is what everything else is built on and what holds it all together as we progress to our goals.  How we think about ourselves is the biggest part of reaching our goals, and this is what I mean when I say mindset is overlooked.  On the simplest, most basic level, it is our confidence in ourselves: if I believe I can do this, I will do this!

I recently saw a Mysteries at the Museum episode that included Niagara Falls and Nik Wallenda.  As a member of the iconic Flying Wallendas family, already known for death-defying stunts, in 2012 he decided he was going to be the first person to walk a high wire across the widest part of Niagara Falls (the Horseshoe Falls).  At night, no less! Let’s think about this: I’m going to walk 1800 feet on a slippery two inch diameter cable across Niagara Falls (windy, wet and misty) in the dark where one missed step is Certain Death.  As he stepped out onto that wire with only a thin cable attached to a ‘safety harness,’ do you think he was telling himself, “I got a good chance at getting this right”? That’s a pretty stupid question, but how many times have we tried to reach our goals telling ourselves that very same phrase? (FYI: you can see his walk on Youtube!)

We undermine our confidence in little ways and by giving ourselves little escape hatches.  These are thoughts like ‘it’s okay to eat dessert when I’m out with friends,’ or ‘I always eat too much on the weekends.’ These are self-fulfilling prophecies: you thought it was going to happen, so you made it happen, whether you consciously thought about it or not! Giving yourself to permission to overeat  (even if it’s ‘healthy foods’) or eat when you’re not hungry is one way that we set ourselves up to fall short of our goals.  We don’t have to be super-strict or hyper-vigilant or drag ourselves to the gym even though we’ve got a hacking cough, but we need to keep our goals in focus by keeping our thoughts focused on reaching them.

Remember the last time you went for a job interview and you paid attention to the little details, like making sure your hair wasn’t shaggy and out of control; you didn’t have tuna-breath or spinach in your teeth; your suit was pressed; your shoes were shined; your briefcase/ purse didn’t look like it was going to explode, etc? It’s that kind of thinking: because you never know what an interviewer is going to notice and what might be a deal-breaker, you try to control for all possibilities.

For weight loss or fitness, it’s changing around your thinking from “I can eat dessert when I’m out with friends” to “I’ll only eat half my dessert” or even “I choose not to eat dessert.” It’s telling yourself “I’m going to stick to my eating plan this weekend” or “I’m being more mindful of my eating choices” or “I’m only eating when I am truly hungry.” It’s noticing the details that we normally gloss over when it comes to food and eating and making our workouts. When we look at ourselves in the mirror before we leave for the job interview, the details are what we are looking for.  When we go out the door to hit the mall or the grocery store, do we even look in the mirror beyond yeah, I’m dressed?

When something or someone is important to us, it shows in our lives. We do little things for our family or spouse/ partner because they really matter to us.  We put in our best efforts at our job because we take pride in our work. When we make the decision to think about our goals with the same kind of positive mindfulness that we take to something else like our jobs, our families or our finances, the investment shows in our progress.  We work for what we value, and when we tell ourselves that eating the whole sleeve of Oreos isn’t a big deal, we aren’t only not valuing our goal, we aren’t valuing ourselves! We wake up feeling cruddy because we ate badly the day before and we didn’t get enough sleep, even though eating better and getting more sleep are two of our goals. We put them on the back burner because the drive-thru was convenient and the cheesecake was available and then we stayed up past midnight because we were scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, and shopping online.  It’s spend now, pay later mentality.  I’m eating what I want and doing what I want now and I’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow, but soon enough tomorrow is today and we wake up feeling bloated, tired and achy: “I’ve gotta do something about this! I’m going to do better today!” but then the drive-thru is convenient and there’s donuts in the break room and Starz is showing Alien: Convenant at 11:00 p.m. ‘Doing something’ and ‘Being better’ starts with being mindful about tomorrow today: “if I eat these donuts and stay up to 2:30 a.m., how am I going to feel when the alarm goes off at 6?” An even better question is “what can I do today to make me feel awesome tomorrow?”

When we keep those thoughts in our head, they eventually become second nature: they become habit.  It can be a bit awkward at first but it gets easier with practice just like everything else. Earlier this year, California passed a shopping bag law: all grocery stores now charge for disposable bags and many stores posted signs on their front entrances reminding customers about their reusable bags. The first few weeks it was normal to hear someone get to the register: “I forgot my bags!” Now, months later, although the reminders are still on the doors, you see everyone crossing the parking lot with bags in hand.  It became a habit: got my keys, got my purse, got my bags!

When it comes to food choices and fitness, it’s as simple as thinking before eating or before skipping the workout: “am I skipping this for a legitimate reason (working late; really sick; unexpected occurrence) or am I blowing it off?”; “Am I eating this because I’m honestly hungry, or because I’m bored or I ‘really want it’?”; “Am I up late because I need to finish this project for tomorrow or because I just want to stay up?” (Really, that last one is one of my hardest. I like being up late and I hate getting up in early!)

It really is like an investment: when we value our goals by being more mindful, we start seeing the progress in our health and weight loss. Our actions follow our thoughts: when we are confident in ourselves, we are confident in our actions and when we know our actions deliver, our confidence continues to grow.  That’s where success starts: not in our actions but in our thoughts.

 

 

 

Accounting 101: Keeping the Books!

In some ways, I am very lucky when it comes to eating healthy.  I live alone, aside from some really picky pets who most days don’t care what I am eating.  For most people, they would think that is completely awesome- no one else is complaining about “mom’s healthy food kick” or “dad’s eating organic again!”  Plus, the chances of my dog or cats dragging bags of potato chips or blueberry muffins into the house are practically nil (although the dog might try with the muffins!) Living alone means I don’t have to tailor what I want to eat around what everyone else wants to eat, so no “making two dinners” or dealing with a junk food junkie.  When it comes to deciding what to eat, my decision is the only one that counts: I can eat whatever I want, because I am accountable only to myself.

It also means that if I want to scarf a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in front of NCIS, there’s no one to see me do it.  There’s no hiding the empty carton in the trash can or even stuffing the new pint in the back of the freezer. The same goes for Pop Tarts, chips, or cupcakes. No one else is going to go through the groceries, the fridge, freezer or the cabinets: I can eat whatever I want, because I am accountable only to myself.

And therein lies the problem! I can fill my cart with fresh veggies, grass fed meats and free range eggs, or I can fill it with ice cream, crackers and boxes of processed foods. It’s all up to me: no one is going to look in the cabinet and say: “I didn’t know Cheez Its were on your diet!” No one is going to shame me into behaving myself and no one is going give me disapproving look if I decide to eat a whole box of fried chicken.  It’s all my call what I eat or don’t eat, or if I work out or don’t work out.  I am the one who’s keeping track.

This is why so many people like to have a diet buddy or as they call it now, an ‘accountabili-buddy.’  This is usually someone who meets you to go work out, but even then, if you live alone, you can still go home and eat your way through a box of donuts.  Many diet and fitness apps (like My Fitness Pal) do their best to hold you accountable, but again, it requires your being honest about what you are actually putting in your mouth and how much you move your body. Being accountable only to yourself means that no one else is going to push you to get up on Saturdays to take your run through the park or check that you made your work out class on your way home from the office.  No one is keeping count but you.

I once heard integrity defined as “how one behaves when no one else is watching,” and that’s what it comes down to in this case especially.  I was having a really stressful day recently (there’s been a lot of those lately!) and I had stopped at the pharmacy to pick up some cough medicine.  I was tired, stressed, feeling sick and while I was waiting in line with my bottle of cough syrup and my bag of sugar free cough drops, the woman ahead of me was arguing over her coupons the cashier couldn’t take. Right below the counter in front of me were racks and racks of candy, including many of my favorites (pretty much anything with peanut butter!) and the more I looked at them, the more I thought “I can pick one. Or two. Two wouldn’t be bad.” There was no one to know that I ate them or even how many I had.  No one was going to check my trash for candy wrappers and when I logged my food in my journal and in my MFP app, I could just leave them out so it would look like I ate really good that day.  No one would know…. but me.  When I finally left the pharmacy, I had my cough syrup and my cough drops and the candy stayed at the store.

It wasn’t really a case of white-knuckling it past the candy or having an iron will: it was a combination of things actually.  1) I would know I ate the candy, no matter what I put in my journal or app. 2) Eating the candy would not help my weight loss and could lead to sugar cravings later on.  The biggest factor was- honestly- number 3: the last time I had candy, it didn’t taste very good!  After running through all those in my head, the candy wasn’t worth it.  It’d be a lot of calories, a lot of sugar but not a lot of enjoyment. This is where people like me, living alone, need to develop our own accountability system, and it comes not from white-knuckling it or having an iron will, but from habits and learning from mistakes.  I’ve had candy not so long ago: it was a similar situation and the candy was a complete impulse buy.  It was on the counter and rung up before I really thought about it, so once I got home, you bet I ate it!  And yep! wasn’t very good and yep! I regretted eating it! This is where the Learning From Mistakes part comes in.  When faced with a similar choice, I remembered that it wasn’t yummy or worth the calories and so it was easier to leave it behind.

The Habit part takes more work, because it means that you have to build a new or different habit over time, and we only do that by making the same decisions over and over again.  For me, this was things like keeping my hand out of the bread basket at restaurants, and not going by the bakery in the grocery store, and staying away from the chips aisle too! This is where a lot of us give in, mainly because we approach it the wrong way.  I know it’s been the downfall of a lot of my diets: I go cold-turkey and give up everything I love to eat all at once. I go from eating my “regular diet” to “steamed broccoli and skinless chicken breast” overnight and usually after a couple of weeks (if that long!), I give in and devour a whole box of Stove Top Stuffing.  This time I took the time to build my habits: I gave up one or two things at a time (like bread and pasta) until I didn’t have to sit on my hands to keep from putting them on my plate.  Then I moved on to another food and another food until I had built a healthy habit around eating whole foods that are low in carbs and high in nutrition (this is just my own healthy eating plan). By the time I had reached that point, things like automatically eating bread or putting a couple bags of Peanut Butter M&Ms in my cart were no longer ‘automatic.’  I didn’t crave them anymore, and I also discovered the reason that Snickers bar didn’t taste great: I had lost my taste for those kinds of foods.

This is the heart of holding yourself accountable: you know the return on your investment is there, but you have to put in the work to get it.  Staying the course to build your new habit is the hardest and most important part because it requires integrity.  You have to hold true to your goals even though no one else is watching.

You have to be your own accountabili-buddy and figure out what motivates you to stay on track to your goals.  There are a lot of people who use their Why to keep focused: Why do I want to be healthier? I have a spouse and kids;” or “I want to be healthy enough to have a long and active retirement!”  Other people focus on the goals themselves: “If I eat that or skip my workouts, I’ll fail to achieve my goal!” (This is the one that works for me!)

Whether you have a family or live alone like me, finding ways to hold ourselves accountable can be a bit tricky.  I know I am as good as talking myself into eating a cupcake as I am at talking myself out of it! We have to work to build the habits that will get us where we want to go and remember the mistakes that took us off track. We need to keep our own account and keep the books honest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Problems: White-Knuckling, Deadlines & Ultimatums with Weight Loss

For many years, I worked at a bankruptcy law firm aka The Job From Hell.  The job was great, but the boss was ‘Insert Expletives Here.’  One of the things I learned at that job was that most of our clients’ problems were problems they had made themselves.  I used to quip “our clients make their own problems, and they are good at what they do!”  It helped me realize that, yep! I’m also good at making my own troubles!

When it comes to fitness and weight loss- especially- we need to face this reality: most of our problems are problems we made.  Part of it really is our own manufacturing and I think part of it is problem-solving mentality.  We’ve all heard the expression “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” and I’d like to change that to “if you’re focusing on the problem, you’re not looking for the solution.”  I was talking to another legal assistant recently whose boss was on his way back from a cross-country flight.  Part of their practice requires that they publish legal notices and, short version, they need to pick up the court filing in one city (not where their office is) and submit it in yet another city, none of which are close to their home office, so the assistant was saying: “that will be an entire day on the road right after he’s back from his trip and he has a court appearance that morning.”  I asked him about sending a messenger. (Court runners/ messengers are an entire industry for just that very reason.)  “Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea!”  The assistant was so focused on the problem that he was missing a very obvious solution (anyone not so involved would have suggested a runner.)

We do the same thing: we focus on the problem to the point that we can’t see any solutions that present themselves. Some people will do it out of a need for drama.  They like being frantic or being the center of attention: look at me! I have so many problems! Just FYI: no one gets points for being a drama queen/ king! In order to find a solution, you have to step back from Drama Mode and start looking at ways around or through the problem. Sometimes it really is hard, because the problems can cause anxiety (the cause of the drama) and it’s hard to remain objective. This is where you might want to talk to someone who isn’t emotionally invested in the problem and get some objective opinions (like my fellow legal assistant did).  Sometimes it’s embarrassing to admit your problem to someone else (“Every time I fight with my mom, I eat a pint of ice cream or all the cookies or anything that’s left in the house.”) No one likes sharing dirty laundry but if you really want a solution to the problem that you are too close to, then you need to get an objective opinion from someone who is: 1) not going to point fingers; 2) not emotionally invested; 3) can offer a reasonable solution.  If your spouse is tired of listening to you complain about fighting with your mom or your eating everything in sight or is just going to tell you to ‘deal with it,’ then do not ask your spouse.  This might be one of those problems that you post on My Fitness Pal or you ask a level-headed friend about.

Then there are the Problems We Make Ourselves.  (I’m not including mom in here because ’emotional eating due to mom’ is kind of a reaction that we can learn to get a handle on once we’re feeling more confident.)  The Problems We Make Ourselves are things like white-knuckling it or creating deadlines and ultimatums. These largely come from Dieting Mentality aka tunnel-vision.  Dieting Mentality is thinking along the lines of “I just need to get to X date or X goal, and then I’m done!”  I see this a lot on My 600 lb Life, but we’ve all done it: “I only have to hang on until I lose 20 lbs and then I’m good!”  In the case of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients on the show, prior to scheduling them for weight loss surgery, he always has his patients lose a certain amount of weight to prove they can control their eating habit.  Many times the patients fall right into Dieting Mentality: I only need to control myself long enough to get the surgery and then the surgery will solve everything!  NOT SO! and Dr. Nowzaradan is the first to tell them that the surgery will only limit the amount of food they can eat at one time; they can still eat all day and still gain weight after the surgery! Dieting Mentality is pretty much the default mentality for a lot of us when it comes to losing weight or changing our eating habits.  It’s natural, and not just for weight loss.  We do the same thing when it comes to money also: I can’t buy anything until after payday, and then I can go shopping!  But weight loss, fitness or money, it’s all the same thinking and it’s that thinking that gets us into trouble with eating, going to the gym and draining the bank account.

Dieting Mentality has a deadline attached to it: this current way of eating ‘ends’ either on this date or when you reach this weight, so we just need to white-knuckle it until we ‘get there.’  This tunnel-vision thinking keeps us from looking at our situation any other way, which keeps us in the same vicious cycle: “I need to lose 20 lbs for Special Occasion, so I’m going to white-knuckle it until I reach Deadline and then I’m done!  I have to make my Goal or I’ve failed!” With Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, it’s much more drastic, since they need to lose hundreds of pounds because their health is at serious risk, and I think it contributes to much of their Dieting Mentality, but 20 lbs or 220 lbs, when we approach weight loss, working out and better nutrition, we all tend to have the same focus on an End Point, whether a Goal Weight or a Date. We go into the process thinking that I only have to ‘be good’ until the End Point, and then I can go back to eating the way I like to eat.

Our thoughts and our focus are creating these problems.  If we don’t approach weight loss, good nutrition and fitness with a Dieting Mentality, how much easier would it be? How does not having an End Point change our thinking about losing weight, eating better and being more active? For some of us, it is pure panic: “Aack!! I have to eat like this forever?!?”  Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m telling you, and that’s why I’m also telling you- as several much more educated health professionals will also tell you- that diets don’t work for this very reason!  If you only want to lose enough weight to fit into an outfit you’re going to wear once at the aforementioned Special Occasion, then follow the diet.  But, if you want to improve your health overall by losing weight, being more active and getting better nutrition, a diet may get you there temporarily.  Staying there means sticking to the diet forever.  The problem is that most diets- as we all know- are pretty extreme, which makes them impossible to stick with long term.  This is why Dieting Mentality is the curse that keeps us trapped in the vicious cycle of constant dieting: we lose the weight, gain it back off the diet, go back on the diet, lose the weight, gain it back, ad infinitum. 

Try looking at it this way: we didn’t gain that 60 lbs because we went to Disneyland and ate all the treats or we went on that cruise and at two desserts every night.  Those probably contributed a few pounds to the 60, but the real cause of those 60 lbs on our butt and thighs is eating a bag of Cheetos during The Walking Dead each week and half a bag of Oreos during Survivor, and grabbing a donut in the break room each Friday and scrolling through Facebook and Instagram all day on the weekends. Those 60 lbs are the product of a LIFESTYLE, not an event like a Queen of the South binge with pizza and beer.  Dieting Mentality is focused on the ‘events;’ real permanent change comes with a lifestyle. If we approach weight loss, fitness and nutrition like a new lifestyle (as in smaller healthy changes that are permanent), then we don’t have to worry about white-knuckling it, deadlines or any ultimatums, because there are none!  How many of us beat ourselves up when we get emotional (as in ‘fight with mom’) and eat all the Cheez-its? (Me, raising my hand here!) Same goes for the donuts in the break room on Friday or going to a friend’s for a Game of Thrones binge with burgers and beer. We don’t have to white-knuckle it and bring our veggie coconut wrap and lime-infused water so we can ‘be good.’ (I’m also not saying eat five double cheeseburgers and finish off a six-pack!)  But if we approach this as a lifestyle of choosing healthier foods and activities that is on-going rather than an extreme race with a finish line, then we can have a burger and a beer and maybe even some chips without beating ourselves up.  We can have half a donut or even a whole one and we can enjoy a scoop of ice cream as we’re watching zombies get blown away.  The biggest problem with weight loss and good nutrition isn’t what to eat or how much to eat; it’s the problems we make ourselves by putting a deadline on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.