A Slippery Slope: Weight Loss & Falling Down The Learning Curve

We are an instant society.  We’ve got instant soup, instant pots, instant messages, and even Instagram. Our unofficial motto should be “instant gratification takes too long!” The problem with this Instant Philosophy is that while technology is instant, human beings are not. We can take a long time to absorb new information and learn new habits and procedures, and even if we learn things relatively quickly (as in a few days), we are frustrated with this seeming “delay.”  We want instant results!

Learning anything new or even trying something different is difficult at first.  It gets easier…. eventually.  It’s that holding out until it gets easier that is the hardest part and until we reach that point, it just seems to take longer to do, and when we do it “wrong” we have to do it again, or it just adds to our delay and that’s when we start falling down that learning curve! We ask ourselves if this is really worth it? Is it going to do whatever we want it to do? How long do I have to wait until I know?  Why does everything take so damn long?!

Welcome to the Human Experience! This is why we get so frustrated with ourselves and others when it comes to weight loss.  We all know that– tragically– weight loss isn’t instant. There’s a long list of “isn’ts” when it comes to weight loss: in addition to not being instant, weight loss isn’t linear, it isn’t permanent, it isn’t easy! Weight loss is slow, difficult and full of ups and downs.  That’s why most of us dread weight loss and making almost any kind of change to our eating and exercise.  We go through the process of trying something new, learning a new habit or procedure, then we have to get consistent with this new process and then- only after we’ve been consistent for a reasonable period of time- we get to find out if it actually works! It’s an almost painful process of trial and error! It’s as far removed from Instant as it can get!

But the biggest stumbling block isn’t that our new eating plan is wrong or that our new exercise program is messing up our weight loss: it’s that we give up on the process out of frustration.  There’s a learning curve that comes with making changes and being consistent with those changes.  To be blunt, the Instant mentality is messing us up and until we get that mentality out of our head, we’re going to keep messing up!

This is why fad diets and food replacement programs work so well in the short term.  They seem to give us the instant results we want.  We do something drastic, as in fasting for X amount of days taking only XYZ supplement or ABC diet shakes, or we just switch out our regular meals for the diet food from the Weight Loss Company.  Wow, we lose weight fast! …… At least until we stop with the fasting, the diet shakes, supplements and processed diet food and the weight comes back!

Making long term changes yields long term results, but it also takes a long time for the changes to show up. Making long term changes, even though they aren’t usually difficult, means we have to be consistent with them once we learn them, and that means changing our habits! Enter Frustration- the arch-nemesis of Instant! Let’s say we’re switching to a low carb breakfast, something fairly simple and easy to do! It’s one meal! So instead of having the bagel and cream cheese with a latte, we’re going to have string cheese and coffee with cream (some of us don’t do black!) Seems easy enough, but….. we’ve got to do it….every day… on a long term basis! So we start doing it and before we start seeing results, we start getting frustrated.  For starters, we really really want that bagel and latte! Then, we ‘forgot’ our string cheese so we need to get something else so we get a breakfast burrito (it’s kinda low carb, isn’t it? Umm… NO!)  Then we get tired of the cheese and the coffee: “I want something warm! I want something crunchy! This cheese doesn’t fill me up so I’m still hungry!”

This is why we aren’t losing weight: we aren’t being consistent.  How often did we get tired of the bagel and cream cheese? Did that bagel fill us up? Think about it: we finished our bagel about 9:00 a.m. and then went for a snack around 11:00 a.m. Not really filling if you’re hungry in two hours! There’s a learning curve when it comes to new habits and new procedures.  We not only need to be consistent with these habits in order to get any results but we need to be consistent to learn them! This means being patient! If we keep not-doing them, we’re going to keep not-losing weight and not-learning the new healthier habits!

When we talk ourselves into not doing the new habits, we are talking ourselves into failure again.  We think that we can’t lose weight because weight loss is hard so we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That’s what turns the Learning Curve into a Slippery Slope! We try eating the low carb breakfast but we ‘forget’ and have the bagel or we ‘cheat’ and have a breakfast burrito and after a couple of weeks of ‘kind of’ having the low carb breakfast, we still haven’t lost any weight ( Burrito/Bagel: 8; Low Carb Breakfast: 6) and so we give up. “See? I told you I can’t lose weight!” Or we convinced ourselves that the low carb breakfast (or whatever) doesn’t work for us, because we ‘really tried it’. Really?? Consistently? Every day? “Ummmm…. kinda…?” Kinda doesn’t count!

The irony is that we want Instant Weight Loss Results but we talk ourselves into Instant Weight Loss Failure, because- again- we want Instant! Let’s face it: Instant is easy.  How much work can there be when it’s instant? Instant oatmeal: just add hot water and it’s five minutes to yum! Old fashioned “quick cooking” oatmeal: heat up the water on the stove, add the oatmeal and stir and stir and stir for about 20 minutes. “You mean I got to wait for the water to boil and then I gotta cook it for 20 minutes? And stir it too?! OMG!! Oh hell no!!” (Let’s not even talk about stove-top pudding vs instant! )

Learning to do something differently takes work and patience. It means dealing with things that are frustrating and making mistakes and above all it means not giving up! I know how frustrating and confusing new processes are.  One of my resolutions for 2018 is money management which means (cue ominous music) making a budget and sticking to it! After weight loss, this is probably the most frustrating, confusing and dreaded task in our lives. Not only am I counting calories now, I’m counting my pennies! After dinner, I sit down and log all my food, drinks and exercise, which is pretty much routine after a couple of years, but then I pull out my Budget Book, grab my iPhone and start going through my expenses, bank balances and any bills that have hit since yesterday **sigh**.  Makes for a thrilling evening though, because my blood pressure and frustration levels definitely go up!! There were so many nights I just wanted to chuck the whole process and go back to living paycheck to paycheck like so many other people do. “It’s not a sin, is it? If I can’t go on vacation, it’s not the end of the world, but what happens when I need to replace my car?”

However-– and this is important– after doing this for a couple of months, I’ve noticed some important things, such as I’m spending more on impulse purchases than I thought I was and by monitoring a few important categories, I’ve managed to save twice as much money as before. (This is not unlike skipping the potato chips, choosing the spinach and losing a few more pounds. Score!) The frustration headaches and evenings spent covered in pencil shavings and eraser dust have actually paid off and I’m getting some positive results. It’s not magic (although looking at my bank balance really feels like it is!): it was consistency and hard work and climbing back up that learning curve.  The end result is that if I hadn’t put in the hard work, all my frustration would have been for nothing and I’d be back to scraping up my change to get an Americano instead of watching my savings account get bigger.  Or to put it in weight loss terminology: I’d be eating the bagels every morning, getting hungry before noon and wondering why weight loss is so hard for me.

[FYI: I chose the book You Need A Budget by Jesse Mecham; they have a  free podcast, and a website, software and an app, which are not free, but they offer a free 30 day trial. I found they paid for themselves in a couple of months.]













Feeling Comfortable? That’s Bad! Weight Loss and Getting Uncomfortable

When most people think about being uncomfortable and being overweight, they obviously think about all the ways their size makes them physically uncomfortable or how they feel emotionally uncomfortable or embarrassed by their size. Pretty much anyone reading this blog has been there: squeezing into a restaurant booth and having the edge of the table jammed into your belly; sitting in a tiny little chair with your thighs pushing hard against the arms of the chair; sitting in an office chair and having it sink all the way to the floor, or going to a stylist/ barber and being too heavy for the chair to pump you up high enough.  And these are just the ones that don’t involve ‘wardrobe malfunctions!’

When you are extremely overweight, it often seems like it’s one long series of uncomfortable episodes with chairs, with cars, with seatbelts, with clothing, with elevators/ escalators, etc.  If you are looking for sympathy and commiseration over being uncomfortable with your weight, you are at the wrong location.  In my opinion, the point of being uncomfortable is that it is impetus to change!  Growth and change begin by being uncomfortable in some way.  Remember when you tried out for the basketball team or the soccer team or track or dance or whatever, and you weren’t good enough?  Didn’t that feeling of ‘not making the cut’ make you want to practice?  It doesn’t have to be something physical: the same thing happens when we learn a new song on the piano or learn a new language or even a video game.  We try, we aren’t as good as we want to be so we work to be better!

Unfortunately, when it comes to being overweight or making poor food choices, we focus on finding our comfort zone.  We choose restaurants that have booths with adjustable tables or chairs without arms. We like baggy/ loose clothes so that our butt, hips, belly, etc aren’t obviously visible.  We don’t like being reminded that we are ‘plus sized’ so we learn to avoid those things that make us feel either physically or emotionally uncomfortable.  We don’t realize that by staying comfortable, we are encouraging ourselves to stay where we are with our weight and our bad eating habits.

I am sure all of you have heard the expression ‘fat pants.’ My fat pants are the ones I wear when I’m either feeling fat or I put on a few pounds: they are a size larger than my ‘regular pants.’ Rather than put on a pair of regular pants and feel the uncomfortable reminder that I had too much fruitcake and mochas over the holidays and also feel encouraged to make some healthier choices in the new year, each January I just put on my fat pants and absently think “I should do something about that.”  And then it happens: my ‘fat pants’ turn into my ‘regular pants’! OMG!! How did I let this happen?! “I really should do something about that!”

This is why I think being uncomfortable is a good thing: the discomfort is a constant reminder that you need to make changes! I’m not talking about physical pain or any kind of humiliation: I’m talking about that little bit of discomfort that comes from you knowing that you could do better.  When we stay in our comfort zone, we never move forward.  If we don’t grow, we become complacent and eventually stagnate.  Stagnation is a synonym for ‘decomposing,’ FYI.

I admit that I really really love my comfort zone.  It’s where I feel secure and safe and I know my way around.  Being outside that zone makes me nervous; it’s confusing and it’s just plain work! It means that I have to learn something new and I’ll probably get a few things wrong and- yikes!- I’ll probably be embarrassed and look like a fool! Yay! Wow! Sign me up for that- NOT! But by staying where I feel secure and can be a bit of a Know-It-All, I’m missing out on learning something new and maybe even something I could learn to enjoy, even if I’m not good at it.

Some of you may recall that last spring, I took a belly dancing class at my local community college. I’m a 50-ish fat woman with two left feet and no coordination at all, and frankly, that class not only confirmed all of the above, it taught me that I really really suck at dancing (as if I didn’t already know that!) I also loved the class even though I was pretty much one of the worst if not the worst dancer in the class! I signed up for the class because I wanted something ‘active,’ but it also taught me balance and coordination and how to be more graceful, aside from just having a good time.  I was sorry when the class concluded and even sorrier that it’s been rescheduled for a time when I can’t take it again (although I will try!)

The same is true for our eating habits: when we eat the same way and same foods over and over again, we miss out not only on trying something we might really enjoy, but we are missing out on nutrition. How much nutrition is there in a fast food burger or even the same rotisserie chicken and broccoli? While one probably has more vitamins than the other, if all we eat is chicken and broccoli, do you think we’re going to get a diverse range of vitamins and minerals? Trying different ways of eating or even just different foods keeps us from getting too comfortable and also from just getting plain bored with what we are doing and eating.  No one wants to show up to a workout class where we’ve done it so many times we can do it in our sleep, just like no one wants to eat the same old same old bland boring meal every day.  This is when we get tempted to eat the forbidden junk food or skip the workout and go shopping.  We like variety- as long as it’s in our comfort zone!

One of the things my best friend and I like to do is try new restaurants or even just new dishes at an old favorite.  Sometimes it’s a dud, of course.  The food isn’t good or the service is bad or it’s just too expensive. But usually, it’s worth the experience even if all we learn is that it’s not for us.  There’s nothing wrong with having a safe secure comfort zone, as long as we get out once in a while!

Portion Distortion: The Weight Loss Landmine

We’ve all heard about portion distortion when it comes to weight loss.  We go out to eat and look at the food on our plate and even though we know “this is more than one serving,” we usually don’t know how many servings are really there in front of us.  But it’s not just restaurants that do it to us: almost everything we buy has bigger than normal servings now.

At the risk of sounding like my grandma, when I was a kid, we’d buy frozen bagels at the grocery store (fresh bagels weren’t in stores or even bakeries).  The bagel was about the size of an English muffin, maybe a little thicker. Now, a bagel is literally twice the size of those frozen 1970’s bagels! One half of today’s bagel is the size of one of those frozen Lender’s bagels I got as a kid.  When you read the nutrition label on most of these, one serving is half a bagel!

The problem is that most of us don’t really pay attention to the serving size: one bagel = one serving, right? That makes sense, doesn’t it? It does, but that’s not what we’re getting.  Recently, standing in line at the grocery store, I looked at the wrapper on a King Size Payday bar: 150 calories a serving.  Logically, since it was a King Size bar, I thought there were two servings in this bar, but nope! It’s three!  It’s not 300 calories I was holding in my hand; it was 450!

Most of us really hate having to weigh and measure what we eat.  It’s one of the reasons so many of us give up on weight loss (it’s a major hassle) or we’re frustrated because our diet ‘isn’t working’ (because we aren’t weighing/ measuring). We also get lazy when it comes to reading the labels on packaging (another hassle!)  It’s bad enough to read them for calories or fat/ carb content, but then we buy the small package of cottage cheese and assume it’s one serving because it’s so small! But once we look at the amount per serving and number of servings per package, we realize that we just ate two servings of cottage cheese: really?! a half cup is a single serving?! it’s such a small amount!!

It is small to us now, but that’s part of the Portion Distortion landmine.  We know that what we are getting served either in a package or a restaurant is more than one serving: it’s pretty much common knowledge now.  What most of us don’t realize is how many servings there actually are in that package! (Think back to my Payday bar!) So while we acknowledge we’re walking in a mine field, we don’t know how many landmines are actually surrounding us! We think we know how much is a serving (it’s one cup of yogurt, right?) but our inner food scale has been miscalibrated by years of eating more than one serving at each sitting.  We eat the small container of cottage cheese or the whole bagel (or the whole package of M&Ms) and we think it’s one serving, because that’s what we’ve always eaten.  When we go out to restaurant and order a steak with fries and a salad with the salad dressing already on it, we think “okay, that’s more than a serving of steak and probably the fries too, but the salad is probably okay.” Depending on the size of the steak, it might be three servings (it’s 4 oz for steak) so it’s an 8 oz steak, it’s two, but if it’s a 12 oz steak (it’s a better bargain), that’s three.  As for the fries, it can easily be three servings depending on how generous the restaurant is (or if they have ‘bottomless’ fries!) As for the salad, again the serving size might be okay but what’s on it? Cheese? Croutons? Egg? and a serving of salad dressing is 2 tbs and most restaurants put closer to three or four.  FYI: that little cup of dressing for those of us who order it ‘on the side?’ Four!  The only advantage is that we can choose to use only half of it!

Somehow over the last forty-some years, the packages and portions have slowly increased and most of us have lazily gotten used to eating a whole package or close to it. I noticed it first with potato chips.  The ‘small’ bag kept getting bigger, and either we didn’t notice or we didn’t care.  The size of soft drink cups also increased and we kept right on ordering the ‘small’ even though it went from 8 oz to 12 to 16.  About ten years ago I went to the movies with my sister and a friend and we split an extra large soda between the three of us.  No problem because it was- no kidding- a bucket of soda! As in two quarts!!

Because we’re used to eating an entire package or restaurant ‘serving’ at one time, we are conditioned to think it’s okay.  There’s something a little off about saving half a package for later (it doesn’t stay fresh!) and bringing home leftovers from the restaurant is a hassle (the boxes leak!) and as for splitting a plate with a friend at the restaurant? (Please! That’s being cheap!) So rather than ‘be wasteful’ and leave food on the plate or throw it in the trash, we eat it all and feel stuffed…. until we get used to eating it all and then that oversized portion becomes the ‘normal amount.’  This is how one cup of cottage cheese has become a ‘serving’ and an 8 oz steak has become a ‘serving’ and the bagel the size of our face has become a ‘serving!’ Our bellies, our appetites, and- even worse- our perception have all become as distorted as the portions in front of us.

Going back to eating one normal-sized serving feels like we’re cheating ourselves since that ‘normal’ amount feels more like half of what is normally on our plate. It takes some time to adjust our perceptions, bellies and appetites again, but eventually, we get there.  We also don’t have to go from the 12 oz steak straight to the 4 oz either.  There’s no harm in going from 12 to 8 or 6- since it’s still progress! We also need to get used to the idea of either sharing what we’re eating (as in splitting a plate or a sandwich or wrap) or bringing something home. The same goes for only eating a serving and putting the rest in the fridge or pantry (that’s why they make baggies!) FYI: in a lot of places, the ‘child sized’ portion is still pretty close to normal! After years of ordering the ‘medium’ frozen yogurt (a pint!), the child size (4 oz) seemed paltry… until I was with a friend who ordered the medium and OMG! it’s huge! I’m fairly lucky in that I have pets, and I have no qualms with sharing my food with them, provided it’s safe for them.  I’ve also noticed that my pets have better food sense than I do: they don’t eat when they’re not hungry and one of my dogs will fight me for my salad and leave my frozen yogurt alone!

It’s a lot like getting new glasses: the first few days, it feels you’re walking on the rolling deck of a ship, and then one day, you wake up and it’s all normal again. Once we realize that we’ve been seeing isn’t what we think it is, it’s easier to recognize not only that we’re standing on a portion distortion landmine, but how big a bomb it really is!

Ladies and Gentlemen: Start Your Engines! Beginning Weight Loss Basics

Beginning your  new healthy eating lifestyle can be a double edged sword. Too many of us get lost in the planning and information stage. It’s easier to keep “gathering information” rather than actually taking action. But planning and gathering information is meant to be just a foundation. It’s a lot like getting directions off google: it gives you a way to go- a plan of action- but then you’ve got to get on the road! Sometimes when you get on the highway, you find there’s road work or detours. That means you’ve got to do some ‘recalculating.’ For some people, ‘recalculating’ or a change of plans is seen as failure. I prefer to think of it as ‘refining the process,’ because that’s exactly what it is. 

Brace yourself: we’re all different! That means whatever weight loss plan has worked great for you might not work great for me. Several months ago, my sister started eating low carb and she went pretty much straight from vegetarianism to keto in a few days with very little trouble. She was a little tired and low energy for a few days but other than that, she had very little difficulty with the transition. For me, transitioning from Paleo (low carb) to keto (low carb high fat) is a lot harder. The logistics are more complicated for me and the physical side effects take longer to work through. That doesn’t mean that keto won’t work for me or that somehow her body handles ketosis better than mine: it simply means we’re different. 

People are more than just their bodies: we’re made up of habits and  preferences in addition to the physical elements. We like different foods, have different goals, hobbies and habits. Some of us handle stress better than others and some of us are naturally more active than others. Some of us also have very real physical limitations, and we all start from different starting points! 

This is extremely important, even though it sounds like obvious common sense information. How many times have you compared your weight loss or workouts with someone else’s and felt like you’re ‘falling behind’? They’re doing so much better than you are and you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, but you must be doing something wrong because they’re ‘winning’ and you aren’t. So, like most of us, you start ‘re-evaluating’ your plan: what are they doing that you aren’t? 

Like I said earlier: double edged sword. If your only reason for changing your plan is Liz or Eddie is losing more weight or gaining more muscle faster than you are, that’s probably the wrong reason to make changes. If you are losing weight or building muscle and they’re just ‘faster’ at it than you are, you’re still winning! Remember- different bodies, different starting points, etc.? But, if your plan isn’t working, and by this I mean not losing weight, not building muscle or making progress towards your goals, then re-evaluation is legitimately warranted.

This is where the information gathering comes in, tempered by your habits, preferences and the rest of your unique qualities. Example: when I started eating Paleo, I had no problems adding in more cruciferous vegetables. I like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, but the ‘kale craze’? Leave me out! The same with eggs: Paleo recipes love them as much as they love kale! So when I started, I modified most of the recipes to replace the stuff I don’t like for stuff I like better. Eventually, I opted for real eggs at breakfast instead of the substitutes (lots of hot sauce to kill the egg taste) but kale still isn’t on my menu. 

This means if your best friend’s menu plan is full of yogurt and you’re lactose intolerant, or just plain don’t like yogurt, then that may not be the diet for you, or you’ll need to make some major changes to follow it. This is where information gathering pays off. If you’re lactose intolerant, you may be able to switch from cow’s milk yogurt to sheep or goat milk. If you just don’t like yogurt, you may be able to make other swaps, or you can try researching other diets/ eating plans, if what you’re doing now isn’t working. 

There’s nothing wrong with starting your weight loss plan by gathering information and there’s nothing wrong with refining your plan once you get started. But you can’t keep doing the ‘refining’ your plan without putting it into action. Seriously, I tried a hundred different salad veggie combinations before I decided on one that I really like, and the same with salad dressings, but until I got on the road and actually ate the salads, it was all academic. You have to take action and try out your plan before you’ll know what works for you and what doesn’t. Another example: I tried a few different brands and flavors of protein powders before I settled on ones I liked; then I experimented with almond milk, coconut milk and some blends. Then, I came to the conclusion that protein shakes worked best for me on an occasional basis. That doesn’t mean all my ‘refining’ was a waste: it means I learned that real foods are better for my weight loss and my body. Protein shakes aren’t bad for me, but on a daily basis, I’m better off sticking with whole foods. 

Making a plan is a great place to start but don’t be afraid of change and don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s a learning curve but don’t forget we’re all individuals and our plan needs to reflect our individuality.