The Road To Weight Loss: Who Makes It Rough?

Some of you might know that I commute for my job and on a good day, it’s only about an hour and a half each way.  Most of the time, it’s two and on some really bad days, it’s been three or four.  Usually when I tell people I drive over an hour to work, they groan, make a face or generally comment about how awful that is.  Well….. it can be, but how awful my commute is or isn’t generally depends on me!

Like any journey, there are things which are out of our control. I can’t do anything about the jack-knifed semi and four miles of backed up traffic ahead of me except react to it, but my reaction is completely within my control. I can moan and stress and pull my hair out, or I can call my boss via Bluetooth, tell him I’m stuck behind an accident in Stockton (it’s always Stockton!) and then go back to listening to my book, podcast or playlist.

Occasionally, I run into people who can’t believe I have been commuting like this since 2008 and that I am so laid-back about it.  Believe me, it hasn’t always been this way! For a few years, my commute was the most stressful part of my day, particularly my drive into the office! But over time, I have learned a few things about commuting and– weirdly enough– learning how to handle my commute has taught me a whole lot about weight loss!

The most obvious fact is the hardest one to accept: it’s going to take as long as it takes. Driving 75 miles is going to take some time and traffic can make it worse.  It’s the same when you have to lose weight: you didn’t put it on overnight and it’s going to take some time coming back off.  Yes, it’d be great if it only took a few days or a couple of weeks, and while we’re wishing, I’d like to get to the office in 15 minutes, but we all know that isn’t going to happen! Like I said accepting that your weight loss is going to take as long as it takes is hard to accept, especially if you have some kind of deadline like a wedding or a vacation.  The first thing I learned about commuting and weight loss is that trying to “hurry it along” only makes it harder! We’ve all tried ‘miracle fasts’ and ‘crash diets’ and ‘weight loss pills.’ Did they work? Of course not! But they did make us hope a lot and when they fell through, we were discouraged and sometimes a little sick from trying them. They usually make it harder because we have to skip our regular meals and take the pills/ supplements/ shakes/ etc instead.  Now we’re hungry and discouraged: it feels like we’ve been jumping through all the right hoops but nothing is happening!

That could be because we’ve been stressing ourselves out over trying to rush this weight loss. It could be because we’ve been trying to starve ourselves into losing weight, and yes, there is a difference between Fasting and a Starvation Diet! (see Jason Fung for that info!) Whatever the reason is, trying to rush your weight loss usually doesn’t work any better than my trying to rush my commute! It just increases my stress and my chances of getting into an accident; trying to rush your weight loss also increases your stress and chances of failure.

Another hard to accept fact is that there are situations that are out of our control. Remember that jack-knifed semi and four miles of backed up traffic? That was a real accident, and it added another hour to my commute.  (Thankfully, my boss is pretty flexible about my time.) I learned the hard way that I can stress and fret and get angry about a delay that I can’t control but it doesn’t move the traffic any faster.  However, it does get my blood pressure and stress level up! I can get pretty bent out of shape but all it gets me is bent out of shape!

It isn’t much different when it comes to weight loss.  We’ve all arrived at the conference or buffet where all the food available is food that isn’t on our eating plan! Everything is full of carbs, fats or sugar and here we are getting angry or stressed or panicking because “there’s nothing here I can eat!” Instead of getting angry and frustrated, we just have to make the best of the situation we are in.  I can practically hear everyone rolling their eyes, but other than hopping on your phone and having Grubhub bring you a salad, what else can you do? Well, I suppose you can sulk and complain to everyone about how unhealthy all the food is, but it’s still not going to get you anything to eat! This is one of those times where you have to make the best of a bad situation. Take a look at what is offered: can you choose a sandwich and leave the bread on your plate? If there are vegetables with the pasta entree, maybe you can just have vegetables? Can you discreetly ask a server for extra veggies or veggies that haven’t been mixed into the pasta? How about eating the quiche without the crust? Or if you can, maybe just skip the food, settle for coffee and get something on your own later? If commuting has taught me anything at all it’s that throwing a tantrum is a complete and utterly fruitless waste of energy!

Commuting has also taught me to take what many consider a hardship and turn it into an opportunity. Remember those books, podcasts and playlists I mentioned above? They actually make me look forward to getting in the car and driving for an hour! I can’t do much other than listen while I am driving, so they keep me informed and entertained while I am on my way to work. That long commute actually makes it easier to listen to them since I am not constantly interrupted by the pets or other people while I am running errands.  Most people think of being stuck in a car as a hardship but for me, being in the car has become a real opportunity to learn new information.

When we find ourselves stuck in the break room or at a party surrounded by temptation, this is our opportunity to practice saying no, or practice that self-control we keep complaining we don’t have! It’s easy to say no to brownies when there aren’t any around. Telling ourselves we aren’t going to eat ice cream is easy when we’d have to go out to the store to buy it first! But when the food that tempts us is right in front of us, this is our opportunity to learn how to say no and mean it! It can also teach us that what we used to think of as yummy really isn’t as yummy as we thought.  How many times have we given in to potato chips, chocolate or sugar and regretted it afterwards? (Raising my hand here!) We ‘indulged’ and learned that our indulgence was completely not worth the indulging. That obstacle just became a teaching tool and the next time we are faced with what used to be so tempting isn’t as tempting anymore!

Sooner or later, we all come up against situations we can’t control.  All we can do is choose how we are going to react to them. We can choose to get angry or stressed or we can choose to make the best of what we’ve been given. It’s not always easy to find the opportunity in what looks like a mountain of obstacles, but you know, I bet there’s an awesome view from the top of that mountain!

 

Lie Detectors: Weight Loss & Lying About Your Diet

One of the biggest mistakes we make when we try to lose weight is that we fight our own bodies.  We try to trick our metabolism or somehow think we are going to ‘get around’ our biology by taking XYZ supplements, and the truth is that it rarely works. Just because we are overweight does not mean that our genes have dictated that we will always be fat.  It does mean that we are fighting the rising tide and that odds are we won’t be successful when we try to trick our bodies!

Biology is biology and our bodies are going to follow the rules dictated in their genes; if that means hanging onto fat stores to ensure its survival, that’s what it’s going to do, even if we are starving ourselves to lose that thirty pounds stuck on our butts and thighs. In order to lose that extra weight, instead of fighting with our bodies, we need to convince them that we are on their side, because– really– there are no “sides!” It’s all just Us.  If our bodies give out and die, so do we, so instead of fighting with them, our best course of action is to learn how to work with our bodies.

Humans are great negotiators, especially when it comes to weight loss.  We are fond of telling ourselves that we’ll have this cupcake at work today and we will skip the latte on the way home; then it’s time for the latte and we’re really feeling tired, so we tell ourselves we’ll have the latte and skip the sweet potato fries for dinner; but now it’s dinner time and – you guessed it!– we’re really hungry so we’ll have those fries! “They aren’t that much!”

We try negotiating and blurring the edges by telling ourselves that “we’re working really hard” or “it was a very stressful day” or “I’ve been so good lately.” Whatever we are telling ourselves, unless we are actually eating healthier or being more active or doing what’s best for our health, none of what we tell ourselves matters!

I see this in every episode of My 600 lb Life: patients try bargaining with Dr. Nowzaradan like he is in control of their bodies and it’s his choice whether they are healthy enough for bariatric surgery or not. He tries impressing on them: #1) whatever they decide to put into their mouths is ultimately their own choice; #2) if they choose not to follow his diet and recommendations, it is only a matter of time until their bodies give out and they die.  Even patients who do follow the diet and lose weight are still at risk as one of his patients nearly died on the table.

Obviously, most of us aren’t that close to death because of our weight, but we still try bargaining our way out of doing what’s best for our health.  We are used to eating something sweet after dinner and we just couldn’t resist those cravings! So, here we are having a “small bowl” of ice cream.  We’ve been really good so we decided to treat ourselves to a slice of pizza, or we wanted to try that new sandwich at the deli or whatever excuse we had for eating what we did.  Bottom line: if it’s too much food, or too much sugar or too much whatever it was, our bodies aren’t going to give us a pass on gaining weight or not losing  just because we “really had a craving” or have been “doing really good.”

While most of us aren’t going to die if we don’t lose that thirty pounds of spare tire around our midsection, the health effects show up anyway.  Usually we have stiff joints or arthritis from carrying around that extra weight.  Our blood pressure can go up; our blood glucose goes up and we end up diabetic or pre-diabetic.  We have conditions like acid reflux, heart burn and get a bit breathless when we have to take the stairs or do some prolonged walking.  We tell ourselves “we’re trying” but how hard are we really working on weight loss? Does that A1c go down any? Or our blood pressure? Is taking the stairs any easier?

I know how hard it is to have cravings and how much we really want to indulge in the carbs or the sugar. But at the end of the day, even though we’ve lied to ourselves, we really haven’t lied to our bodies: they know what we ate and how much of it too! We can tell ourselves, our families and our doctors that we’ve been sticking to our healthy eating plan, working really hard and doing good but our bodies know the truth of those statements and they can’t lie.  The A1c shows how much sugar we’ve eaten; our triglycerides show how often you eat refined carbs and that spare tire around your middle is looking well-inflated!

What we don’t realize is that when we do eat healthier, get plenty of rest and activity, our bodies start letting go of the extra weight. We’re not only giving our metabolism plenty of fuel, we are giving it the “good stuff.” That means it doesn’t need to hang onto the spare tire so the extra pounds start to disappear. It means the A1c drops and the blood pressure and there is less acid reflux waking us up in the middle of the night.  It means the stiff achy joints are less stiff and achy. We haven’t beaten our bodies at their own game: the opposite is true. We’ve learned how to play their game by eating more whole foods, less processed foods and eating only when we are hungry instead of according to the clock.

Most of us don’t remember what it felt like when we actually felt ‘good’ instead of just ‘better than yesterday.’  We don’t remember how if felt to wake up feeling rested or to have all kinds of energy at the end of the day.  We hear all those platitudes like “nothing tastes as good as being thin feels!” but they don’t mean anything to us because we don’t remember how if felt being thin (some of us were never thin!) Feeling good, feeling rested, having energy: those are the benefits of not trying to lie to our bodies.  When we learn to listen to our bodies instead of trying to lie to them about what we are or aren’t eating, they reward us.  It’s not a “sweet treat” we get but a healthy feeling that lasts all day instead of just a minute or two. The best thing about listening to your body is that great feeling doesn’t go away: it just keeps going on and on until one day, we don’t remember how bad we felt before. That’s the real truth and all those foods we thought were ‘worth it’? That’s the real lie.

 

 

Little Things, Big Things: Weight Loss & What Matters

We’ve all said it: “this one little thing won’t matter!” In most cases, you are right: that extra bite of the bagel isn’t going to send your diet careening off the cliff, but how many of those “little things” do we eat during the day, or the week?

To put it in perspective, remember the last time you broke a twenty dollar bill to buy something that was only a couple dollars? That left you with $18 in your pocket, probably in ones, a five and a ten.  Later that week, you opened up your wallet to pay for your coffee and discovered there were only three dollars in there: what happened to the rest of my money? It all went to “little things!”  This is why most of hate breaking a large bill: it’s too easy to spend the small change without thinking about it!

We do this with time also: it’s not that we spend hours and hours on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, but we spend 15 minutes here; 20 minutes there and then a few more minutes at lunch and then while we are at the gym or waiting in line for coffee, and by the end of the week, your phone tells you that you spent 12 hours online that week– and that is just your phone! How much time are you spending on the tablet or the laptop?

It never feels like we spend 12 hours a week online or that we spend $50 on coffee a week, but when we look at the actual numbers, that’s what it comes out to.  My phone adds up how much time I spend online, my bank statement shows me how much I spent on coffee but each time, it feels like “these few minutes won’t matter” and “it’s just one grande latte– it won’t matter!”

Yes, they DO matter! Our time gets wasted in minutes; our money gets wasted dollar by dollar and our weight loss gets eroded bite by seemingly inconsequential bite! That’s the bad news; the good news isn’t that we have to turn into Diet Nazis and never eat anything that isn’t 100% in line with our weight loss goals. We just need to make sure our habit isn’t telling ourselves “this one thing won’t matter!”

It sounds simple but it’s that mindset that lures us into the “Doesn’t Matter” habit.  We try hard not to be that Diet Nazi but then we lean too far the other way.  It’s that same pattern that leads us to spending all our loose change and all those extra minutes online. We need to keep our focus: what are we spending our money on? where are we spending our time? what are we eating and drinking?

One simple way to keep track is to whip out that phone and take a picture. We do it for Instagram or Facebook so why not do it for ourselves? We don’t have to keep them forever, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty good reminder of how many of those ‘little things’ we actually ate. It can be surprising! There was one woman who started putting all those ‘little things’ she would normally eat at work into a gallon sized ziplock bag and at the end of the day, the bag was nearly full! She hadn’t eaten an entire cake or box of cookies: the just the calorie equivalent in little bites!

Instead of telling ourselves that “one little thing doesn’t matter,” we need to start asking ourselves “what else have I had today?” Even better, we can just tell ourselves “not today.” We don’t need to track everything we eat and drink, although that’s not a bad idea, but getting into the habit of pausing before we give ourselves permission is a great way to start! It works with money and time too! Instead of just reaching into your pocket or clicking on the app, pause for a moment. Take a look at the money in your wallet or put your phone in a drawer: it’s amazing how much money, time and calories you can save when we take stock. Besides, when you finally sit down to enjoy that online time, shopping or special treat, you can focus on how much you really enjoy it!

 

Recovery Time: Weight Loss & Rest

Many of us are used to hearing about “recovery time” or “rest day” when it comes to working out and exercise.  We’ve all heard that our muscles need time to recover from the exercise we put them through. The idea that our quads or our trapezius muscles need time to repair themselves after we spent a couple hours in the gym in Spin class or doing deadlifts makes total sense to us: we want healthy strong muscles, so we take care of them. All those lifts and hours on the bike aren’t going to do us any good if we don’t let our muscles recover! Bit of a No Brainer, right?

So why don’t we do the same thing with the rest of our body, including our brain? Somehow everything else connected to those muscles gets overlooked when it comes to rest and recovery time. It’s pretty basic: we give our muscles time to rest, but we don’t think of giving our brains or bodies time to rest.  Yes, I mean things like sleep and relaxation! This is where many of us roll our eyes and check out again, but sleep, rest and stress management are not only key pillars of our overall health, they are key pillars for our quality of life! Why are we working so hard to lose weight and build muscle if we spend our days stressed, exhausted and fuzzy headed? Trust me, when you feel like you’ve been run over, beaten up or are so stressed you shriek when your dog starts barking, how much protein you are getting on your keto meal plan doesn’t really matter. If you feel like crap, you are going to look like crap about 90% of the time and no one is going to compliment you on your weight loss. Instead, they will probably want to know if you’ve seen your doctor lately since you look like crap, sound like crap and obviously aren’t feeling your best! Not quite the response we were hoping for with all that nutrition and exercise!

We all want to look and feel our best. We want to be healthy so we can get the most out of our lives and spend it doing the things we enjoy with those we love the most.  That’s why we go to the gym, check out the supplements aisle and eat all that healthy organic food. Is it so odd to think that part of feeling and looking great means going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting the best quality sleep that we can? What advantage is there is not getting enough rest? We get in another hour of tv, social media, exercise or gaming?

We hear little expressions like ‘we have to suffer to look beautiful’ and the ever-popular ‘no pain, no gain,’ but like everything else, we’ve taken it to the extreme. There is a difference between the pinch involved with plucking your eye brows, delayed muscle soreness and being so exhausted you pour your morning coffee into your overnight oatmeal instead of your travel mug!

Aside from the physical exhaustion, there is the mental exhaustion that goes with not getting enough rest and relaxation.  How can you feel your best when you can’t think straight? Being tired and fuzzy headed just doesn’t screw up your overnight oatmeal: it can lead to serious problems, such as falling asleep at the wheel.  (As a paralegal at a personal injury firm, I see the collision reports regarding drowsy drivers.) Getting enough rest alone can go along way to relieving stress and we all know stress kills your weight loss. Letting stress take over your life means you are fighting your own body when it comes to trying to lose weight. FYI: when you fight with your body, your body wins, even if it means hanging onto those twenty pounds you want to lose!

Getting enough sleep and relaxation can seem pretty basic and there are a lot of us who think we are getting enough, but ask yourself these few simple questions: do you need your alarm to wake you up in the morning? If you regularly wake up with the alarm blaring in your ear, you are likely not getting enough sleep.  When you do wake up, do you feel alert or do you feel groggy? Do you find yourself getting sleepy in the afternoon or when you sit down to read something? Do you fall asleep in front of the tv at home? Do you sleep all day on your days off? All cues that your body needs more rest!

Some of us have problems sleeping because of the stress involved with our lives. There are some simple relaxation techniques and apps that can help with that; it’s just a matter of finding those that appeal to you.  There are also many over the counter sleep aids that aren’t habit forming which can also help.  Some simple tricks are keeping devices out of the bedroom, putting down your devices about an hour before bedtime and keeping a regular bedtime each night.  Keeping a cool dark room helps and for me, a noise machine blocks out distracting sounds (FYI: the ‘noise machine’ is an oscillating fan.)

Sleep and rest tend to get overlooked because a lot of us take them for granted. Sleep is what happens each night and rest becomes anything that’s not work-related, but in reality, that’s not true. If sleep came easily to us, we wouldn’t have all the ads for special pillows, beds and those sleep aids I mentioned above. The same thing with rest: it usually means putting down your phone or device and doing something that lets you relax instead of fretting over not getting enough Likes! Stress isn’t always about work and just because it’s not “work stress” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause damage to us.

In reality, sleep and relaxation can require just as much practice and effort as weight loss and exercise. It can mean setting a reminder to go to bed on time or to turn off those devices and the tv.  It can mean scheduling time away from the things that stress you out like the phone or the computer. It means taking the time to develop new habits.  It took us some time to develop the gym habit and we’ve learned to enjoy going; in time, we might be surprised to find that we like our after dinner walk without the phone and don’t be shocked but we might even find yourself smiling while we do it!

 

The Insidious Snack: Weight Loss, What You Eat & WHEN You Eat

In his book The Obesity Code, Dr. Jason Fung refers to “the insidious snack” in chapter 11.  As a nephrologist (kidney doctor), most of Dr. Fung’s patients are diabetics and usually obese, which sparked his research and subsequent books on the subjects of obesity and diabetes.  After indepth research and years of treating his patients, Dr. Fung has come to a few conclusions: the major cause of obesity, diabetes and weight gain is insulin resistance and the two driving forces behind insulin resistance are diet and meal timing.

Insulin resistance is what happens when we always have insulin (a storage hormone) in our blood stream. We eat something; our digestive tract turns the food into glucose, amino acids and fatty acids which flood our blood stream and our body releases insulin to put the glucose into storage as fat.  When we are insulin resistant, our cells are resistant to letting in the insulin with its attached glucose for storage, so our body has to release more insulin to do the same job as before. The more insulin we have in our blood stream, the more we need to release to keep doing the same job and the longer it takes to clear the glucose and insulin from our blood. Say you are sweeping up a handful of sand from the floor.  If your broom has tight bristles, it only takes a few sweeps to get up the sand, but if your broom has gaps in the bristles or they are frayed and loose, it will take twice as many sweeps to get up that same handful of sand.  It takes longer and isn’t as effective, so you keep sweeping up what was missed.  This is what happens with glucose and insulin when we are insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance happens over time and it isn’t something that ‘happens’ to us like an illness or an accident: we make ourselves insulin resistant through our food choices and eating habits. In the last fifty-plus years, we’ve been encouraged to eat more ‘healthy whole grains’ and processed foods and we’ve been encouraged to eat more often.  These are the two chief causes of insulin resistance and its metabolic companions, obesity and diabetes. Refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereals and other grains, along with sugar, are the major offenders when it comes to blood sugar and insulin.  Eating a bagel for breakfast will cause a bigger spike in our blood glucose which means more insulin is released into our blood stream than if we had eaten scrambled eggs instead. That means it takes longer to clear the glucose and insulin and return to fasting (non-eating) levels.

Refined carbohydrates aren’t a new invention but snack foods are. In the past, snacking between meals was discouraged and there certainly wasn’t a class of food made just for snacking! In the late 1970’s, food companies started encouraging people (and kids especially) to eat between meals.  Snack cakes, snack crackers, snack packs of pudding and other snack foods fill up grocery store aisles and most gas station mini-marts are dedicated almost entirely to these snack items. Most of these foods are sugar-rich or made up of refined carbohydrates but what’s worse is that we are encouraged to eat them at any time of day!

Some health care professionals promote eating every two to three hours to “boost our metabolism.” In short, eating more often supposedly ‘revs up’ our metabolism so we lose more weight. So, ‘Eat More, Lose Weight’? Not likely! While eating briefly speeds up our metabolism to digest the food we ate, the increase is negligible compared to the extra calories and the insulin resistance which results from the continued snacking! All those times we told ourselves that this one little snack won’t hurt us? Wrong!

Remember when I said insulin is a storage hormone? That means you can’t burn fat (lose weight) while insulin is in the blood and every time we eat, we release insulin so the insulin never has a chance to clear because we are always eating! When we are insulin resistant, it takes even longer to clear, so if we eat every two to three hours, when are we able to burn fat? That would be never! So we keep on gaining weight and becoming more and more insulin resistant until we become diabetic and our metabolic problems continue to multiply.

Before the obesity epidemic arose in the early 1980’s, people ate refined carbs and cereals but other than lower sugar consumption, this idea of snacking is the biggest change in eating habits. People ate breakfast, lunch and dinner and nothing in between.  That meant that for several hours in between meals and during the night, insulin wasn’t circulating in their blood stream.  They ate meals, including refined carbs, and then they stopped eating for hours until the next meal.  That meant insulin was released, cleared the glucose and went away until the next meal. They didn’t become insulin resistant because they weren’t constantly exposed to insulin even when they did eat sugar or refined carbs.

In several of his books, including The Obesity Code and The Diabetes Code, Dr. Fung recommends fasting to counteract insulin resistance.  He also deals with some of the misconceptions that come with the idea of going without food for a prolonged period of time in his book The Complete Guide to Fasting. This doesn’t mean that you have to starve yourself for days or weeks to lose weight. It does mean that we should stop eating between meals and if you aren’t hungry at breakfast or lunchtime, then don’t eat. Skipping a few meals if we aren’t hungry or are too busy to eat isn’t going to hurt us and will improve our insulin resistance and for goodness’ sake, put down that insidious snack!

Moving Forward or Spinning Your Wheels?: Weight Loss & Action

“Vision without action is daydream; action without vision  is nightmare”~ Japanese proverb

We all know people who seem to be constantly busy but also seem to get nothing accomplished.  My former boss was one of those people: she was always ‘overwhelmed with work’ but at the end of the day, not much was completed! She really believed she was working hard but in reality, she wasn’t making progress or moving forward: she was just spinning her wheels.

Pretty much anyone who has ever tried to lose weight is familiar with this feeling. It feels like we are working so hard but we’d never know it by our progress! It’s a hard reality to face.  We believe we are following the rules, making the right choices, checking all the boxes but when we get on the scale, whip out the tape measure or put on the special outfit we’ve been trying to get into, we come face to face with our disappointing lack of progress! It’s a confusing and frustrating situation. “What am I doing wrong? What am I missing?”

Unfortunately, sometimes we get so frustrated we give up and other times, we convince ourselves that eventually we’ll make progress “if we just keep moving!” It’s a tempting idea: if we keep working, something positive should happen eventually! Ummm… not always. Action for the sake of action alone usually doesn’t go anywhere, but we are so afraid of not moving that we convince ourselves that any action is better than none.

Many times, we are so eager to make progress as fast as we possibly can that  we try to do as much as possible, believing that if ‘one is good, more must be better!’ Most of the time, we know that isn’t always the case, but when we are desperate to make progress, common sense goes out the window. All we are thinking of is how fast can I lose weight or build muscle? And this is usually where we trip over our own feet and hurt ourselves!

I see a lot of this frustration and frantic activity at my gym. Some of it comes from people in my water aerobics class or people who want to join the class.  They want to know if they will lose weight or inches fast with the class and sometimes they want to know if there’s a diet to go with it.  There are usually people in or around the sauna and steam room asking other members similar questions about their own work out programs and a lot of these have bottles full of smoothies or protein shakes.  Then there are the questions about supplements and other diet aids!

Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle or develop more strength, it all takes some time and direction.  We all know what happens around New Year’s and it also happens right before summer too: everyone wants to lose weight and look their best as fast as possible, so instead of making one or two healthy changes to our routines, we make five or six! Instead of just deciding to eat out less and eat more vegetables overall, we decide we aren’t eating out, we are eating more veggies, we are working out three times a week, drinking eight glasses of water, taking vitamin supplements, and walking 10,000 steps a day! More is better, right? I should be dropping pounds and building muscle like crazy, right?

Likely you would if you managed to keep pace with all those positive changes, but what happens with a lot of us is that we are making so many fundamental changes at once that we get overwhelmed. Keeping up with fundamental changes like these requires a lot of physical and mental work.  Reminding yourself to drink the water, take the vitamins, walk as often as possible, scheduling the workouts and the meal prep can feel almost as draining as actually doing all of that on a regular basis. It feels like we are moving at a breakneck pace, so obviously we feel frustrated when we aren’t seeing the results that we expect to see, or worse, we start feeling some negative side effects.

Digestive upset isn’t uncommon when we make radical changes to our daily diet. We’ve stopped eating the foods our digestive tract is used to getting and we’ve added in some foods that are new to us, but if we’ve also started drinking protein shakes or smoothies, or taking new supplements, how do we know what’s causing our problems? It’s the same issue with muscle soreness: the workouts, the walking, or is it something else? Then there is the whole consistency issue: how can we make progress if we aren’t consistent and doing too much at once can be a key issue in staying consistent. We all know about over-restriction and deprivation! (It’s usually what happens right before we binge a whole box of cookies!)

Progress requires action, yes, but it also requires planning and consistency.  Prioritize your goals and make a plan to get there.  You don’t have to achieve one goal before you make plans for the next, but you should be consistent with your plan of action before you start working on the next one.  If you want to lose weight and you’ve decided to add more veggies to your meals, wait until you’ve been doing it a few weeks before you move on to building more muscle by going to the gym more often. It lets you get used to your new routine before you change it again.  On the surface, it looks slow but in reality, it removes a lot of the stress, allows you to be consistent and in reality, you make progress faster! It’s the difference between moving forward or spinning your wheels.  Why dig yourself a bigger hole when you can move forward instead?

 

 

Focus: What Do You Really Want Weight Loss to Do For You?

I remember hearing a story about a woman who went to a new hair stylist and the stylist had a sign next to her station: “A hair cut won’t make you lose 10 pounds.” I am sure most hair stylists and other aestheticians are used to clients coming in and looking for something to make them thinner, younger and in my case, taller! While a good hair style, a facial or another kind of makeover can make you look younger and more attractive, when it comes to losing weight, we just have to do the work ourselves.

The problem is that some of us don’t want to do the work or we want it really fast but there are other issues that get overlooked with weight loss.  These are issues like being unhappy or unsatisfied with yourself or your life.  Rather than fixing the real issue, we try to fixing other parts of our lives or ourselves.  One of the most common examples is the couple who is desperately trying to get pregnant in an effort to save their marriage.  Those of us on the outside know that if the relationship isn’t good before there’s a child, having a child is not likely to help matters! The same thing happens if you are not happy with yourself or your life: losing weight, getting a new hair style or wardrobe or a makeover isn’t going to make you a happy person.  If you are unhappy that you are overweight or you hate your hair or think your makeup isn’t attractive, then yes, that will solve your problem, but if you are unhappy because you hate your job, you want a career change or your true passion is on a back burner because of everything else going on in your life, then how is a new hair style going to fix that? It’s the same with weight loss: it might make you feel better physically and even mentally, but it’s not going to change your dissatisfaction with your job and career.

There are so many of us who believe that “I’ll be happy when I lose the weight! Losing the weight will make me more confident!” Ummmm…..maybe…. but maybe not!  When we lose weight, we generally feel better physically which can also make us feel better mentally.  In my case, losing weight meant that I was no longer in pain all day so it helped my mood tremendously. Knowing I was healthier and able to do more physically was a huge mood booster, but at the same time, my weight was a major factor in my being unhappy.  The other major factor in my unhappiness was my horrible job: losing or not losing weight was not going to fix my unhappiness with my work situation.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of Emotional Eating: we get upset, we get stressed, we get anxious, so we eat! It’s a form of self-medicating, whether we are trying to relieve our anxiety with cookies, trying to fix our marriage with a pregnancy or trying to fix our unhappiness with weight loss. The self-medicating doesn’t fix our real issue: it just masks it so we forget about it for a while. Losing weight will make us feel better about ourselves for a while: we’ll probably get some compliments and feel more attractive, healthier and probably more confident, but eventually the real issue will rise to the surface again, just like our anxiety always comes back once the cookies are gone.

I’m not here to tell you to give up on losing weight or working towards your goals, but I am going to ask you what you really want out of your goals.  If your goal is being healthier, fitting in your clothes better, being able to move easier, then weight loss will definitely help with that! But if there is an ulterior motive, such as having more self-esteem or getting someone’s attention, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your goals.

Many times we blame our weight for things that have nothing to do with how much we weigh. Again, it can be things like “once I lose weight, my spouse will love me more,” or “once I lose weight, I will be more confident so I can ask for a raise, or get a new job or start dating more, etc.” We’ve all heard that before anyone else can love us, we have to love ourselves.  I know we tend to roll our eyes at that little platitude, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.  I like to phrase it in terms of value: if you don’t value who you are and what you are worth, then no one else is going to do it either. In short, if you don’t stand up for yourself, don’t be surprised when others walk all over you.  Your value has nothing to do with how much you do or don’t weigh.  Even though we live in our physical bodies, we are more than just flesh and blood.  Our minds and our bodies are connected: improving one sometimes means we need to work on the other half also.  Our ultimate goals should be to look as good as we feel and feel as good as we look!

 

Getting Away With Nothing!: Weight Loss & Fooling Yourself

We’ve all lied to ourselves when it comes to our weight and what we are eating. We tell ourselves that having another dinner roll isn’t going to be the end of the diet. We convince ourselves that we really deserve a treat for being so good.  My personal favorite is “I’ll be better tomorrow so I can have the bagel today!” Except tomorrow, there is something else that looks really good, so…… ‘tomorrow’ again?

We really want to believe what we tell ourselves when we say we will be better tomorrow because we really do mean it, but along with ‘meaning it,’ there is also that little voice that says our excuse is just that: an excuse to get what we want! Do we need that piece of bread and butter? No, we don’t but we really really want it! Did we have to buy those Girl Scout cookies? Of course not! We could have just made a donation and walked away without them except that we really really wanted them! It’s the same process when we come up with excuses to bail on our workouts or anything else we don’t want to do! Even if we don’t really believe our own lies, we think we are fooling others and getting away with something. Nope! The truth is we aren’t fooling anyone, let alone ourselves!

The biggest lie we tell ourselves has to do with changing our eating habits. How we eat has everything to do with weight loss and our health, and if we aren’t going to make the necessary changes, we are wasting our time. The dinner roll, the bagel, the brownie, the ‘being better tomorrow’: all of those habits and excuses need to change for anything positive to happen!

You can call it a Pity Party or Crocodile Tears, but it’s all the same: “poor pitiful me!” At one time or another, almost all of us have used our diets or our weight as an excuse to get what we want.  In a recent episode of My 600 lb Life, Dr. Nowzaradan’s patient Maja was very good at crying on command to try getting pity from others.  When she falls in the parking garage, once she is back on her feet, she immediately starts crying. When her boyfriend asks why, she says “Because that was really hard and embarrassing!” When she returns to the rental car counter, she explains about her fall and starts crying again.  When Dr. Nowzaradan calls her on her weight gain, she turns on the tears right away.  He points out later that her tears are analogous to a child getting caught at the cookie jar: she’s sorry that she got caught, not that she ate the cookies!

We aren’t sorry we ate the cookies either, or the dinner roll or the bagel: what we are sorry about is that those extra calories and carbs are going to get in the way of our weight loss! We ate them; we liked them and we aren’t sorry! However, we try fooling ourselves and others by saying we were really hungry or we’d been very good or that ‘one’ won’t make a big difference. That’s true: one won’t make a difference, but it isn’t just one, is it?

The irony is that when we make excuses about how hard it is to stick to a diet, to build new habits or to exercise more, those statements aren’t lies. When we start out on a diet, healthy habits or being more active, it is hard– at first! Eating healthier takes a little practice and it’s easy to slip back into our comfort zone full of mac & cheese and garlic bread. It’s easy to forget to go to the gym, to turn off the phone and go to bed, to drink more water.  It’s hard because we are still learning the habit, but the only way to learn a new habit (or new anything) is to practice it! That means, those excuses really are excuses even though it really is hard! The fact that it’s hard just means we have to keep trying harder.

Not practicing your new habit is a self-fulfilling prophecy: eating healthy is hard so I don’t eat healthy, so it continues to be hard, so I continue not eating healthy because it’s still so hard and so on and so on until you wake up one day and wonder how you got to be 440 lbs! The fact that it is hard is true, but it’s NOT an excuse! Yes, it is hard work but –not a news flash here– the more we do it, the easier it gets! As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) points out often, ‘easy is earned.’ You want your healthy new diet to be easy? Then practice it! You want to make it to the gym regularly? Then you need to make a practice of getting to the gym regularly! What we do often tends to be easy but until then, it takes work and work, especially if it’s hard, can be a real hassle. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, though!

For most of us, we like to frame our new habits as positive statements.  We write them down and put them where we can see them to remind ourselves of the things we should be doing now, such as “I am eating healthier!” and “I go to the gym regularly!” These perky positive mantras work for a lot of people but have you ever tried phrasing these ideas in the negative? Such as “I don’t eat junk food,” or “I don’t blow off the gym”? Those statements can be just as effective or maybe more so.  Eating three cookies is healthier than eating the whole box, but if your statement is “I don’t eat sugar,” then you just caught yourself in a lie. If you keep” postponing” your workout, aren’t you really blowing off the gym? That is using the truth to kick your mental butt into gear instead of using the truth to let you slide some more!

Telling yourself that ‘it’s hard to give up junk food’ isn’t a reason to eat junk food: it’s an excuse to eat the Taco Bell you really want.  We trick ourselves into believing we are doing better when we are really just making it tougher. Yes, it is hard to change your habits and it is easier to eat the foods we always have, but excuses like “it’s hard” aren’t fooling anyone.  Until we are sorry we ate the cookies, it’s going to stay hard and all the crocodile tears in the world aren’t going to change that fact.

Going It Alone?: Weight Loss & The Support Group

There are a lot of people who roll their eyes when you ask them if they get any support when it comes to weight loss. There is a spectrum when it comes to the idea of Support: one extreme feels support is for ninnies and the other are those who are desperate for the support.  There are people who are perfectly okay with eating differently than everyone else in the house and won’t have any trouble saying no thanks to tortilla chips, and then there are those who prefer not to have temptation staring them in the face each time they open the pantry door.

Most of us know where our weak spots are: they are the little holes in the bucket where the water drips through.  Admittedly, for some of us it’s hard to admit that we need support or help and the flip-side is that others are so desperate for help, it’s almost like they need training wheels! Wherever you fall on the spectrum, there are only two basic things you need to remember: 1) there is nothing wrong with asking for help; and 2) no one else can do it for you.

At one point or another, we all need help and support, even if it’s just “hey, I found this great recipe for garlic shrimp!” It’s also a great feeling to know that other people also have intense cravings for sugary treats or balk at giving up the cream in their coffee.  You are not the only who finds it hard to say no and in my case, complaining about it makes me feel a whole lot better! Support, like motivation, is personal and changes with your journey and your goals. What worked for you when you began likely isn’t going to work for you after a year or so.

Weight loss, unfortunately, is dependent on our habits, and we all know developing a new habit is a monumental pain in the butt! This is why so many of us, even if we aren’t fans of support groups and structure, tend to rely heavily on both when we get started.  Remember what I said above about training wheels? Like learning to ride a bike, we need to find our balance when it comes to eating healthy and being more active: what is too much compared with what isn’t enough. Once we get find that balance, the training wheels just tend to get in the way.

Too many people reject the idea of support because they are thinking in terms of “support groups” such as Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous.  In reality, all we really need is a supportive community.  That can be something as simple as family members, friends,  a Diet or Exercise Buddy or even an online group such as My Fitness Pal or the Primal Potential Facebook Group (both free and open to all).  Depending on the level of commitment you want, your community can be as intense or laid-back as you need! The point is that when you need that support, whether it’s just advice or to vent or commiseration, that group is there to provide the help you’re looking for.  It doesn’t even have to be a two-way street: when I started, I listened to a lot of podcasts that gave me information, helpful advice and different perspectives on weight loss, exercise and how to eat healthier.  Although I tuned in to them often, when it came to ‘talking back’ to them, it was only when I needed it.

I also have a supportive community through My Fitness Pal, where I am more interactive.  It’s also online, so it’s on my own schedule again, but it’s a great place to get advice, ask questions or even get some important feedback.  Recently I posted about a change I’d made to my eating habits but after doing so, I was very tired and low energy.  Even though I was making more of a statement rather than asking for advice, one of my fitness friends pointed out that I’d essentially changed my diet to a keto diet (unintentionally) and what I was feeling was likely ‘keto flu.’ Bingo! Problem solved! After a few more modifications, I am feeling much better.

Obviously, my support community has changed as my weight loss journey has progressed and it even changes from week to week. Some days we feel we need more support than others, but the most important part is that the support is there when I need it!  I also find being more supportive of others helps keep my own goals in focus. As I pointed out above, there is nothing wrong in asking for help, advice or even just a different point of view, especially if you are starting a new process or habit.  Trying to go it alone is often a recipe for disaster!

I admit, I am someone who likes to figure things out on my own.  This is not always a great practice and it’s one of the reasons just about every other attempt to lose weight remained an ‘attempt to lose weight!’ It’s like learning a new language: how do you know if you are understanding and being understood if you are talking in a vacuum? Trying to lose weight without any support is just making it harder on yourself and increasing your chances of giving up.

The other end of the spectrum isn’t productive either: having a supportive community is a great help, but all that heavy lifting is your job and yours alone.  Back to the language analogy, a study-buddy is great but you’ve got to be able to talk the talk yourself! Whether it’s taking a test for a class or finding yourself alone in Barcelona, si tu no hablas la lengua, tienes un grande problema! (if you don’t speak the language, you’ve got a big problem!) Leaning too much on others doesn’t get you very far and can lead to ‘excuse abuse.’  We’ve all been guilty of that: my family wants pizza, so I have to have pizza; it’s my wife’s birthday so I have to eat cake; or my favorite catch-all excuse: ‘no one is supporting me!’

Whether your family decides to make healthy eating choices or not, what you choose to eat or not eat is ultimately up to you. Too often, I see and hear complaints about how family members or coworkers keep bringing ‘forbidden foods’ into the home or office, so it’s easy to blame them for ‘not being supportive enough.’ I admit, having that safety zone is great: when I go home, the only temptations are the ones that I brought into the house myself; but the office or my friends’ homes are very different situations.  Even with all the support possible at home, going out into the real world means there’s going to be lots of opportunities to eat those forbidden foods! When we are learning to find our balance, it’s nice to be able to stay safely at home, but sooner or later, we need to take those training wheels off and ride on our own.  No one else can do that for us, no matter how supportive they are, but still it’s nice to know that someone else is riding along next to you.

 

 

Motivation: Keeping The Motor Running

Motivation is definitely one of the most asked questions when it comes to weight loss, eating healthy and exercising.  Everyone wants to know how to stay motivated! All kind of health and exercise professionals yammer on about “building consistency” and “staying motivated,” but seriously, when you work late, have a lot of tasks still on your plate for the evening, you’re already drained emotionally and physically, it’s a helluva lot harder to do what you know you should do vs. what would be easiest for you. Sometimes the easy thing is what you should do, i.e. “the healthy thing,” but more than often, it isn’t.

This is the stumbling block that gets all of us at one time or another and to be honest, it gets really easy to be irritated at some professional who gives us The Lecture about how we all get tired; how stress is just part of life; and this is where ‘the tough get going,’ blah blah blah.  We can hear it in our heads as we are stuck in traffic on our way to yet another errand on our long list before we can even think about getting home to cold leftovers or nothing available for dinner at all.

So what’s our motivation for finding the energy to make something healthy or make it to the gym or say no to the fast food on the way back from the bank or the pharmacy? This is the where all those platitudes and lectures go right out the window– and I don’t mean in a bad “I stuffed my face with junk food, so now I feel like a giant slug” kind of way! That’s because what keeps you motivated– what keeps your motor running– is entirely up to YOU! This is your life, your goal and your choice and listening to some guru’s lecture on ‘fueling your body fabulously’ is probably just going to irritate you. (I know they irritate ME!)

One of the things that works for me is keeping quick healthy foods available. There have been days when I get home too tired or too late to make a real dinner, so I settle for some scrambled eggs. They’re fast, they’re healthy and I won’t feel like crap afterwards.  Believe it or not, not feeling like a giant slug is a huge motivator for me. I’ve given in to the fast food and frankly, it makes me feel sick later on, so even though it’s right there, it is off my list!

I do have some Go-To’s that are a close second place, and those are usually something from the supermarket, either a rotisserie chicken, a bag of salad, a deli wrap (not the best but sometimes there isn’t any chicken left!) or even just some hummus and veggies.  My only ‘rules’ are it has to be something I can feel good about that won’t make me feel like a slug afterwards! FYI: there is nothing wrong with some plain yogurt and heading to bed for some well-needed rest!

As for getting to the gym when I don’t feel like it? Another personal motivator is asking myself “how will I feel about bailing on it later on?” If I am making excuses to myself for not going, then I really need to go! It also helps that I have friends at my gym and my not-going means I miss out on time with friends. For some of the classes, I bring the workout soundtrack and equipment, so my not-going means the rest of the class is disappointed. While I don’t have an actual obligation (as in I won’t get booted from the class), there is a sense of commitment which is pretty important to me.  Not disappointing the class or friends is usually more important to me than being tired or feeling stressed– ironic, but true!

That’s why listening to some guru blather on about breaking promises I made to myself typically falls on deaf ears with me. I know my schedule and I know how I feel, so if dinner ends up being a deli wrap, I am not going to sweat breaking a promise to myself about ‘fueling my body fabulously!’ Motivation is completely personal and that’s what makes it so hard. We keep looking for motivation outside of ourselves but in the end, it comes down to what works for us.

The other problem with motivation is that, when we are unmotivated or we give in to something like fast food, we tend to beat ourselves up and go running back to the Motivational Mantras we find online.  There is nothing wrong with those mantras if you like them, but we need to remember that while these professionals might have good advice, they are also not living your life. One of the mantras I like to keep in mind? “Make the best choice you can in this situation.” If that ‘best choice’ is a deli wrap, I am not going to apologize for it, nor am I going to apologize if I skip my workout to go home and fall into bed! We all need to learn our limits, when to push and when to back off. Finding our own motivators takes a little work but once we find them, they are kind of hard to ignore. It didn’t take long for the ‘no fast food’ or the ‘bailing on the workout’ motivators to kick in. They make it easier for me to keep the engine running on making the right choices for me, but they probably make others just roll their eyes! Only you know what works for you: after all, it’s your motor you’re revving up!