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.

 

 

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?

 

 

What’s In YOUR Yogurt?: Weight Loss & Probiotics

A few days ago I was having lunch with a friend of mine and I had brought a bottle of kombucha.  As she looked at the bottle, she commented that “everything has probiotics now!”  It’s true: there are a variety of foods you can get that have the words “live probiotics!” enthusiastically plastered all over the labels.  Pharmacies and health foods have entire aisles devoted to probiotics, prebiotics and combos of both. Obviously there is a huge market for these now, but in reality, probiotic foods have been around for centuries.

Pretty much everyone now knows that yogurt’s live bacterial cultures are actually probiotics.  That’s one of the reasons yogurt is good for you, aside from the calcium and protein in it.  Looking back at some of my most favorite foods, there are a lot of them that are probiotic: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, etc.  Essentially, these are foods which have been fermented in order to make them.  We add some bacteria to milk and let it sit in the right conditions: voila! yogurt or kefir! We do the same thing to cabbage and we end up with either sauerkraut or kimchi, and when we do it to cucumbers, we end up with pickles! Even if we don’t add the bacteria, by leaving it where bacteria can get in, we still end up with the same result.

I am sure there are some of you are thinking “Ewwwww!! Spoiled food!” The truth is that by fermenting the foods, we are preserving them. While the food will eventually spoil, the fermentation not only adds a little shelf life, but it provides some necessary and healthy bacteria.

But in today’s antibacterial world, the idea of bacteria can seem unhygienic.  On the surface it appears ironic: everything is antibacterial but everyone is taking probiotics! Unfortunately, there is more than a little correlation. But first: why is bacteria important to our health instead of bad for it?

The new buzzword for “healthy bacteria” is microbiome.  Our intestines and pretty much the rest of our bodies are covered with bacteria. (There is even a body wash being marketed as ‘good for your skin’s microbiome!’)  However, it’s the bacteria in our intestines which are necessary for our survival.  No exaggeration here: these bacteria break down the food we eat so our intestines can absorb it.  No bacteria= no breakdown= no absorption= no you. It’s that simple! They also protect us from some of the toxins we ingest as well. If our gut bacteria aren’t healthy, we aren’t healthy.  This is why the stores and internet are full of probiotics (healthy bacteria) and prebiotics (food for that healthy bacteria).  Everyone is very concerned with keeping our gut bacteria healthy because unfortunately, so many of us have problems with our gut bacteria aka digestive issues.

Remember: everything is antibacterial these days! Those antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers and antibiotics do not discriminate against “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria.”  If you take something for an ear infection, you are killing not only the bacteria causing your infection, you are killing your gut bacteria too! We don’t seem to realize that when we are ‘waging war’ on bacteria, our healthy bacteria end up being collateral damage, but until we start having issues with our health, we don’t realize that we are also part of that collateral damage!

Some of you may know that many years ago, my sister worked at the law firm where I am now a legal assistant and while my sister was here, one of the assistants had to retire due to inflammatory bowel disease. When I came to work at the same firm years later, I was shocked to see giant bottles of hand sanitizer on practically every flat surface! Each desk, filing cabinet, table, counter and work space had an industrial sized bottle of the stuff. Even the table in our lobby had the giant version and the one pervasive scent in the building was ‘hand sanitizer.’ Once I saw everyone using hand sanitizer almost daily, it made me wonder if that assistant’s IBD had been triggered or aggravated by the constant use of antibacterial hand sanitizer.

I am not against antibiotics or antibacterials.  I have my own small bottle in my purse. I keep it for those situations where something I touched was gross and soap and water weren’t readily available but it still takes me forever to go through it. In fact, I usually lose it or it dries out before I finish off a bottle because I’d rather just wash my hands.  It’s not that I’m a slob or unhygienic but there is an advantage to being exposed to different bacteria.

While I didn’t exactly grow up on a farm (like my dad), I did live in the country for several years in addition to visiting my grandparents on their ranch.  The barn and orchards were my playgrounds most of the time and I think that was good for me.  Dr. Josh Axe in his book Eat Dirt [Eat Dirt book ] referenced a study involving Amish children and their non-Amish peers. The Amish children growing up in a mostly rural environment are exposed to all kinds of dirt, manure, plant pollen and animals.  As we all know, the country can be kinda dirty! The Amish children also ate far less processed foods than their non-Amish peers. What many researchers found surprising is that the Amish children had much lower rates of asthma, illness, infection and other diseases compared to their non-Amish peers living in an ‘hygienic’ urban environment and eating a modern diet. The researchers theorized that exposure to a variety of bacteria kept their immune systems healthier than those children whose immune systems have less  exposure and therefore less resistance.

Many ‘gut specialists’ note that bacterial diversity is important when it comes to the bugs in our guts.  The more good bacteria we have, the better! They give more digestive advantage and protective advantage, but because our environment has changed so much, we no longer have the wide diversity that older generations had.  Why? Antibiotics, antibacterials, environment and the change in diet have all taken their toll on our healthy gut bugs!  Foods like artificial sweeteners, pesticides in our foods (hello, Round Up!) and other modern chemicals can be toxic to our healthy gut bacteria.

There are some weight loss programs now touting probiotics as a new tool to help weight loss, but I believe the real weight loss advantage comes not from downing probiotic pills and supplements but in maintaining the health of your microbiome.  This means simple things like eating more fiber which feeds your healthy bacteria, eating more whole foods than the processed foods which can contain chemicals toxic to your bacteria and eating the healthy fermented foods you enjoy, such as yogurt, kombucha and kimchi.  By keeping a healthy microbiome which allows you to get all the vitamins and nutrients from the healthy whole foods you are eating, not only are you healthier overall, you will likely lose more weight! It’s a simple recipe: fewer processed foods, more fiber, less hand sanitizer and a little more exercise outdoors are not only good for your outsides, they’re good for your insides too!

 

Aches, Pains and Indigestion: Are You Listening to What Your Body is Telling You?

Many years ago I had a cat with a bowel blockage. Specifically, she had an intussusception, which is what happens when the bowel tries to push something down the line that isn’t moving, causing the bowel to telescope over itself.  My poor kitty ended up getting surgery to remove that part of her bowel, but the reason I took her to the vet was that she had stopped eating.  She had thrown up for a couple of days and then stopped eating completely because she knew there was something wrong.

Many of us with pets can tell when something is wrong with them even if it’s not something we can see.  Even before our pet begins to lose weight or show other physical symptoms, we can see their behavior change as a result of whatever is troubling them. That sounds like another No-Brainer because it is: our pets know there is something wrong because they listen to their bodies.

However, when was the last time we listened to what our bodies are telling us?  We get a backache so we take Advil; we get heartburn so we take some Tums; we get diarrhea so we take some Pepto.  Whenever our bodies tell us something, we let it go to ‘voicemail’ and take something to counteract whatever message our body sent us. There is a reason we got that message from our bodies!

Many years ago, I saw a South Park episode where Eric Cartman is a fan of Chipotle Mexican Grill, but it gives him terrible diarrhea each time he eats it.  His friends Kyle and Stan are shocked that he still  keeps eating it.  As far as Cartman’s concerned, his problem isn’t that the food gives him diarrhea; it’s that it ruins his underpants! [South Park Chipotlaway ] Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Obviously, if the food makes you sick, STOP EATING IT!

But how many of us do that anyway? Something gives us heartburn or diarrhea and we keep right on eating it. The only concession we make is that we have the Pepto or Tums handy so when that spicy Pad Thai comes back on you, you can counteract it! Problem Solved, a la Cartman! We tend not to think that there’s a problem with what we eat because we’ve gotten used to the remedies that let us eat those ‘problem foods’ without any kind of discomfort.

It’s not just the messages regarding ‘problem foods’ that we ignore either. We ignore the sore joints, the bad backs and the shortness of breath as well.  When our knees, ankles or hips start bothering us, we chalk it up to getting old and start taking supplements, pain pills or buy braces to support those bad joints.  It’s the same for the bad backs and the arthritis that starts popping up places: we’re just getting old but thankfully, there are pills and braces that can help with that.  It’s the same thing when we start huffing and puffing on the stairs or anytime we have to walk any distance: it’s the price of getting old!

The problem is that those messages from our bodies are less about how old we are and more about how active or overweight we are.  Most of us are conditioned to believe that weight gain, bad joints and shortness of breath are as much a part of getting older as gray hair and wrinkles. We forget that pain is the body’s way of saying “something is wrong here.” If we’ve sprained our back, we learn to give our back time to recover.  That means we don’t go lifting weights with a sprained back, nor do we volunteer to help a friend move some furniture.  It’s common sense! But when we find ourselves huffing and puffing going up the stairs, instead of thinking “hmmm… I might want to do a little more exercise and watch what I eat,” we think “where’s the stupid elevator?” It’s the same thing when our back starts to ache: instead of thinking “I might want to take some weight off my back,” we think “does my insurance cover a back brace?” or “maybe my doctor can give me something for this back pain.”

Many times on My 600 lb Life, a patient who is barely mobile or actually bed-bound comes to Dr. Nowzaradan complaining that they can barely get around or can no longer stand up for any length of time.  His reply is generally along the lines of “rather than lose weight, you just kept eating the way you always have?” It seems simple enough: when it hurts to walk because of your weight, the answer isn’t to sit in bed and have others bring you food.  The answer is to lose weight.  Sitting in bed is the same as Cartman’s continuing to eat the Chipotle that makes him sick! The answer isn’t getting a scooter or getting someone else to bring you your fast food; it’s that you need to stop eating the fast food!

We are so conditioned to look for answers that let us keep doing the bad behavior that we no longer see what we are doing as bad behavior.  Recently, I was at a friend’s house where we had those fun Game of Thrones Oreos (she’s a big fan). Before her party, I honestly could not recall the last time I’d had an Oreo, so I had some. Everything else at our party were foods I eat on a regular basis: roast beef, salad, fruit, coffee and flavored water.  That night I woke up with terrible heartburn. It was so bad, I tried sleeping sitting up and I went through my medicine cabinet looking for Tums, but I didn’t have any.  I went back to bed, telling myself to buy some the next day.  However, as I was getting back in bed with that terrible burning in my throat, I realized that the answer wasn’t getting Tums: it was not eating anymore Oreos! Apparently, Oreos are now on the list of foods that don’t agree with me, such as orange juice and most fast foods.  Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with taking the Advil, Tums or Pepto when you get the heartburn, diarrhea or pain, but when we keep taking them over and over without changing our behavior, that’s where there is a problem!

We are so used to deleting the messages we get from our bodies that we don’t even realize it anymore, then we wonder why we end up at the doctor for arthritic knees, herniated discs and gastric ulcers and reflux.  It’s because when our body tells us we weigh too much, don’t move enough and eat the wrong foods, we just pop a pill and delete the message.  Trust me: listening to your body is cheaper than buying the endless boxes of Zantac!

 

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!

 

Dropping the Hammer: Weight Loss, Choices and Consequences

“Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today”~ James Dean

Admittedly, that sounds a little bit grim but how many of us go through our lives putting off our dreams until tomorrow? Why are we waiting? That’s not an easy question to answer. We have lots of excuses but, really, not any reasons.

Yesterday at the gym, another member asked me about our water aerobics class. She had been sitting in the therapy spa watching us and wanted to know how often we had class and what kinds of exercises we did. Then she proceeded to tell me that she had a problem with her leg and her doctor had advised her to lose about 40 lbs. From there she went on to tell me how hard it was to lose weight and how she had been trying for months. I did try to tell her she needed to eat more vegetables than starches but she right away began giving me ‘reasons’ why that was hard too!

I know it’s hard to make changes. I know it’s hard to motivate yourself and stay motivated. Being consistent is damned hard work, but seriously, what choice do we have? Every episode of My 600 lb Life begins with the same sentiment: “I hate my life. I hate my body.” So why don’t they change how they are living and eating? They will-  and do-  tell us how hard it is to change, but we already know that. We are trying to make the same changes too!

There’s a parable about a man hitting himself in the head with a hammer as he is complaining about his head hurting.  Obviously, we know the answer, but we don’t realize that in our lives, we are that man! We are hurting ourselves, we want the hurt to stop but somehow, we don’t make the connection between our ‘hammers’ and our pain. Why don’t we make the changes we need to make? Why doesn’t that guy stop whacking his head with the hammer? I don’t know why either.

Short answer? Change is hard because it’s scary. Where do I start? What if I’m wrong? How can anything I do make any difference? When we look at ourselves as a Project, we feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter if it’s losing 20 lbs or losing 120 lbs: it feels like we’re buried before we even begin. We can listen to the ‘experts’ telling us to give up processed foods or sugar or carbs and we can almost hear the excuses forming in our brains. There is always something getting in our way of making changes, of making progress and that something is US. More accurately, it’s our fear. What if I can’t do it?

I’ve got a better question: what if you never try? If you never change your habits and your choices, then nothing ever changes! You will be stuck living the life you don’t want FOREVER. Look at that picture of yourself that you really hate. (We all have one!)  For me, it’s one where my face is so broad and bloated I almost look like it’s been flattened. I’m a little sweaty because I had to walk in across the parking lot and when you weigh as much as I did (440 lbs), walking is never easy. Remember what I said about every single episode of My 600 lb Life? That’s pretty much what I was telling myself every day: “I hate being this fat.” I wanted to change but I didn’t make any changes because “insert every excuse in the book here!”

I finally made changes because I was pushed to the wall.  My biggest excuse was my Job From Hell: I worked late every day; there was too much stress; blah blah blah. I had friends, family and coworkers telling me to get out of that job before it killed me and one morning, I realized they were right. I asked myself why I was staying at a job I hated and the answer was because of the benefits. Then, like the guy with the hammer, I realized that the benefits weren’t really ‘benefits’ if I died. I put down the hammer and began making changes. Part of those changes were to my horrible eating habits: since I wasn’t getting home at 8:00 p.m. every night, I stopped eating the horrible fast food which was a staple in my diet. Voila! I lost 40 lbs without really trying!

That’s when I started looking at my life and I literally began seeing ‘hammers’ everywhere! Making changes was still scary and still overwhelming, but I realized that if I don’t change, I will be hating my life forever. Like those patients on My 600 lbs Life, I’d be ‘waiting for my life to start’ until my life was over. It came down to one simple question: which is scarier– living a life I hate? or making the changes that scare me? That question I asked earlier: “What if I can’t do it?” I already know the answer.  It’s that fat ugly photo of my old life. There is honestly nothing in my life that is more frightening than living that life again.

Take a good look at that photo you hate and ask yourself this question: Is that a picture of the rest of your life or is that a picture of your life as it used to be? You can make one positive change today to make your life better than yesterday, and then tomorrow, do it again. One positive change every day is all it takes. Use that photo in your hand as your hammer but this time use it to build yourself a better life!

 

 

 

Turn Off the Food Faucet!: Weight Loss & Five Simple Steps

We hear expressions like this one almost daily: “Stuck in a hole? Then stop digging!” You would think it’s common sense, but sometimes we get so caught up in what’s going on in front of our faces that we miss what’s really behind the problem. Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has an analogy I really like: you’re in a boat with a hole in the bottom so you start bailing out water as fast as you can, but bailing doesn’t fix the problem. You have to fix that hole to fix your problem!

Of course a hole in the bottom of your rowboat is pretty noticeable but when it comes to weight loss, figuring out why you are not losing weight, or gaining- even worse- can be more of a problem! There are millions of books, infomercials, websites, podcasts, pdfs and blogs about how to lose weight because finding the problem is so damned hard. Solving the weight loss problem a billion dollar industry and everyone wants a piece of that pie! (yeah, it’s a pun!)

It took me nearly 45 years to figure out a few simple truths that started my weight loss and have kept me from gaining it back. Whether they are the legitimate Answer to the Weight Loss Problem or not, they work and they aren’t rocket science (good thing ’cause I suck at math & physics!)  You don’t need to follow them in any order but when you do all five, in my experience, you lose weight and you don’t gain it back!

First Step: Eat whole foods.

This is pretty basic: whole foods tend to have more fiber and nutrients than processed foods, which are usually carb-rich and nutrient-poor. In short, whole foods, like eggs, raw fruits and veggies, cheeses and meats, fill you up faster and keep you filled up longer than processed foods. This is because they take longer to digest than processed foods. Also, foods like eggs and meat are mostly healthy fats and proteins. Your body has receptors which signal when you’ve eaten enough of these, so you get the “I’m full” feeling. With carbs, there are no receptors so we eat and eat and eat until stomach discomforts signals we’re full! That’s how we get full on a small steak but can binge a whole bag of potato chips!

 

Second Step: Only eat when you are hungry.

This should also be pretty basic, except we’ve been trained to eat according to a schedule! How many times have you seen kids who aren’t hungry out at a restaurant being told they “have to eat”? We also encourage our kids to eat everything on their plate too! Then the kids grow up and turn into us: eating according to a clock and eating everything (usually) on the plate! For some of us, we can’t really tell if we are actually hungry or if our stomach is expecting to be fed at a certain time each day! Believe it or not, if you think you are hungry and you wait about twenty minutes or so, you might be surprised to find that you really aren’t hungry anymore! Skipping a couple of meals or at least holding off on them will give you a pretty good sense of what real hunger feels like instead of ‘meal memory’!

The second part of this is to stop eating when before you feel full! By that time, you have likely eaten too much, so eat slowly and when you realize you are no longer hungry, stop eating.  Again, this is connected to the “clean your plate” mentality we learned as kids!

Third Step: No snacking.

Snacking is something most of us grew up with.  When I was a kid, we were always told that snacks ruin our dinner or if we had a snack, we wouldn’t be hungry at meal time. Then sometime in the 1970’s, some food manufacturer came up with the idea of “snack foods,” which has turned into an entire industry! We can buy “snack-sized” foods and “snack packs” at the store so we don’t have worry about fainting from hunger in the middle of the day.  In my opinion, snacking is why so many of us are overweight. We’ve been told that snacks are good for our metabolism and we should eat every two hours.  Both Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life, TLC) and Dr. Jason Fung (The Obesity Code; The Diabetes Code) emphatically state that there is no such thing as a healthy snack! Why? Hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin) is why we gain weight: it’s a storage hormone. It’s what takes glucose out of the blood into the cells where it gets turned into FAT! All foods, not just carbs, trigger insulin, so that healthy snack of cheese or an apple or carrot sticks still triggers insulin. We burn fat when there is no insulin in our blood but if we are eating every two hours, when does that happen? Ummm… never? Bingo! Listen to grandma: no snacking!

Fourth Step: Pause before eating.

This step and the next seem like they don’t have much to do with weight loss, but these two steps really do help.  Remember the last time you had a craving or when you got really anxious about something going on and felt that urge to grab anything to eat? This is when that pause gets between you and the bag of Oreos! It is kind of an offshoot of Step Two: checking to see if you are really hungry.  Odds are that you aren’t really hungry: you either saw/ smelled/ or heard of something you really wanted or you are trying to distract yourself from your problem by eating something. I know whenever I get anxious, it’s my first reaction! Pausing before you reach for the chocolate or starting prowling through the fridge lets you redirect that urge. It gives you time to realize that you really don’t want the chips, you just want to feel better or that the only reason you want to eat is that you can smell the garlic bread someone had for lunch! It gives you time to take control away from the craving and the emotional eating. Take a walk; meditate; turn on some music: they can all help and they don’t involve eating!

Fifth Step: Rest and relaxation.

We’ve all been told that stress and lack of sleep don’t help with weight loss, and a lot of us just roll our eyes and flip the page.  Going back to the flooding rowboat analogy, imagine that hole in your boat is stuck somewhere you can’t see it. You know that water is coming in but you don’t know where it’s coming from so you can’t fix it. Stress and lack of sleep take their toll on your body. Your body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) which triggers your body to release glucose for quick energy, which means- you guessed it! Insulin! Because most of our stress (including the sleep deprivation) is chronic and not associated with physical activity anymore (like running away from a bear), that means our body is always triggering cortisol, glucose and insulin! Your stress is that hidden hole in your boat that keeps letting water flood in! Learning to relax such as meditating, taking a walk, listening to music, playing with kids or pets, reading or hey, here’s an idea- taking a NAP: all of these can help with stress and getting your body to calm down some. You will be surprised at how much better you’ll feel physically and mentally! Even better, you’ll lose some weight!