Vacation Days?: Weight Loss & the Value of Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaming the System? Weight Loss & Eating Like an Adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resolutions & Reality: Weight Loss & Your Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Directions: Weight Loss & Getting There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Insecurities: Weight Loss & Being Fearless

No one likes talking about their insecurities.  It’s been said that our own insecurities stem from our own judgment of ourselves.  The idea is that we are used to passing judgment on others and assume that they will pass judgment on us, so we are constantly insecure about how we look and how we act. I find it a little ironic that insecurity and passing judgment have become such hot topics right now. One of the more popular movies in theaters now is the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and if anyone ever embodied the word “fearless,” it is Freddie Mercury.  In fact, one of the film’s posters has the legend “Fearless lives Forever.” (Fearless) Obviously, we all have our own insecurities and self-doubt, and I am sure Freddie was no different.  What does make a difference is whether we choose to let these insecurities and self-doubt get in the way of living our lives.

Many of us use our doubt and insecurity to hide from what we want to do and how we want to live.  We are afraid of being judged by others and ourselves for what we do and what we want to do.  Weight loss and dieting are full of judgment and self-doubt! We are constantly being told what we are doing wrong. Just last night I saw a tv commercial telling us that counting calories and cutting carbs is the wrong way to achieve weight loss- it’s our hormones that are the problem! By signing up with this program, we can fix our hormones! What the ad didn’t say is that we can control our hormones by how much we eat and what we eat, including carbs.  While I’m sure this program has had some success, I don’t think the only way we to lose weight is by forking out money to this weight loss guru so he can let us in on his little secret.

But by implying that “we’re doing it wrong,” he and others are playing on our insecurities.  We start doubting ourselves.  We start wondering if everyone else is going to tell us how wrong we are for not following “the right diet.”  Let’s be honest: no one likes being told they’re wrong! No one likes being laughed at or being made to feel stupid either.

Fear of what other people think is one of the biggest reasons people hide the fact that they are trying to lose weight and why so many people don’t go to the gym or even exercise the way they want. Those are valid fears: there are a lot of judgmental people out there in addition to those who will just give you ‘free advice.’  The Judges will flat out tell you what you are doing wrong and how you will never achieve lasting weight loss following “that weight loss plan!”  The Free Advisors will give you all the details about this other weight loss plan they heard of that worked great for their cousin’s boyfriend’s sister.  Some of them may be trying to make you feel insecure about how you are eating or what you are choosing to eat (and not eat), and then there are those who really want to help but don’t realize they are undermining your self-confidence.  We shouldn’t feel like we need to hide how we eat to avoid unwanted criticism!

While some of us can get by at luncheons and restaurants by surreptitiously avoiding the carbs, high fat sauces or starches, it’s harder when it comes to working out.  While weight loss isn’t driven by exercise, being active is an important part of being healthy, and for most of us, once we begin losing weight, we feel the urge to be more active.  However, being insecure about our appearance is one of the primary reasons people avoid the gym.  Who wants to go to a gym full of fit athletic people when we look in the mirror and see a pudgy blob in a t-shirt and sweatpants? News flash: YOU are the one putting that label on YOURSELF! Why are you assuming that’s what other people are going to think about you? Frankly, there are probably a lot of people at the gym who aren’t even going to notice you because they are too busy worrying about what other people (i.e., you!) are thinking about them! Even if they did notice you and say something rude or judgmental, do you really care about a complete stranger’s opinion?

This is where we fight the self-doubt and insecurity by growing a thick skin and some self-confidence. It’s not easy getting used to negative comments or criticism.  My mother was my worst critic for most of my life and I learned at a young age I could either give in to her judgments and change how I lived to suit her, or I could ignore the negativity and live my life the way that suited me. (FYI: my mother hates the music I listen to, including Queen!) For most of us, ignoring a stranger’s obnoxious comment is one thing but ignoring family members and friends is much more difficult.  It takes some courage to say “I am doing this my way” when it’s someone you care about, and it can be harder still when the critic really thinks they are being helpful.  It takes time, practice and a little tact to build up the self-confidence.  Frankly, I was never good at tact: I just ignored the comments and did what I wanted to do!  If there is anything any of us learn when it comes to weight loss it is that what works for one person may not work for you.  Your sister’s boyfriend’s mom may have lost a boatload of weight on Nutrisystem but that’s no guarantee it will work for you, and there is no shame or rudeness in telling them this!  We don’t have to be afraid of trying things our way and doing the things we want to do just because we don’t want to be singled out as “different” or “wrong” or “foolish.”

We can be afraid of going to the gym and being laughed at.  We can be afraid of being criticized for choosing the weight loss plan that we like.  We can be afraid of working out the way we want because others think it’s not good enough.  We can live our lives being afraid or we can learn to be fearless of criticism and judgment.  Being fearless doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes but it’s our right to make them and hopefully we’ll learn from them. If we really want to be the best versions of ourselves, we need to keep moving forward despite the judgment of others.  I really think that is why artists like Freddie Mercury appeal so much to me: I want to be fearless too. (Champions)

 

 

Knocking on the Door: Weight Loss & Trying Something New

One of the things I have in common with many of my friends is that we like to try new things.  That doesn’t mean we jump on any bandwagon that comes along or that we are always running out to buy the latest and greatest of something, but it does mean when an opportunity to try something new comes along, we are more willing to give it a shot than other people.  We try to keep an open mind about things.  One of my personal ‘rules’ is that I will usually try something new at least twice, just in the case the first time was a fluke, as in the new barista at the Starbucks made your coffee incorrectly or the obnoxious instructor at the gym was a sub the first time you showed up.

Another one of my personal rules is “if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be ‘no.'”  Shortly after I started working for my boss, we had a situation where we needed to get a trial date continued and he was reluctant to ask opposing counsel to agree to a continuance.  I commented, “it doesn’t hurt to ask because he may say yes and if he doesn’t, you’re right where you are now.” The look on his face told me he’d never thought of it that way and we ended up getting the continuance.  What I didn’t tell him is that I learned this little mantra after constantly going through “worst case scenarios” most of my life, which seems a little backward.  By constantly looking at the negative side of things, I learned to be optimistic, i.e. I am already in the ‘worst case situation’ so if they tell me no, I haven’t lost anything and I might gain something if the answer is yes!

This philosophy works pretty well with trying new things. I remember when I first started at my gym: I was afraid to try the Water Aerobics class.  I didn’t know what it was and the class description wasn’t very descriptive. I didn’t want to show up only to be told I couldn’t participate or that it was too much for me to do blah blah blah excuse excuse.  Eventually, I showed up at the pool in the middle of one of the classes by mistake and it looked like the members were having a lot of fun but I sat on the sidelines. Then the instructor asked me if I wanted to join them so I did. Now I realize that my only obstacles to joining the class were my own fear and doubt. The only thing holding me back was me!

Trying new things does require a little bravery and an open mind. You have to be willing to take a chance.  You also have to be willing to take a little criticism, both constructive and sometimes simply rude.  I got a lot of both when I started following Paleo, but I’ve not regretted it one bit. (Okay, so I do miss bread!) The truth is I tried it and it works for me and I like it a lot.  Whatever criticism I’ve gotten hasn’t been enough to change my mind, especially given all the benefits of Paleo for me.

However, we have to be a bit judicious about trying new things.  Jumping on every bandwagon that comes along isn’t a good idea.  Just because something is “new” doesn’t mean it’s great or even good, or that it will work for you.  Keto is one of the newest trends in weight loss.  I have tried it, but frankly, I like veggies too much to stay in ketosis.  A big part of my meals is usually a big salad or bowl of Brussels sprouts.  Another big trend is ‘fat bombs,’ especially for keto devotees. These are usually cream cheese or butter mixed with stevia and coco or another calorie free flavoring.  The idea is that you get a treat that won’t take you out of ketosis. They aren’t a bad idea, but they don’t work for me.  While they are keto-friendly, they are also full of calories (way more than Brussels sprouts!) and they don’t satisfy my hunger.  I can have two or three and still feel hungry but those two or three fat bombs have more calories than the big salad or bowl of coleslaw that will take me out of ketosis.

Kale is another one of these hot new ideas. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable which is being touted as a ‘superfood.’ Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and are typically nutrient dense, high in fiber and low in starch.  They are also some of my favorite veggies, so I decided to try kale! I’d had in soup a few times but I learned that’s pretty much my limit for kale! Kale salads, creamed kale, sauteed kale are all a huge NO for me! I knocked on that door and now I’ve pad-locked it closed!

Some new ideas I don’t need to try out because I already know the answer, such as bulletproof coffee.  I like butter and I like coffee but I don’t need to try buttered coffee to know it doesn’t work for me.  An even worse suggestion is substituting coconut oil for the butter: I don’t like coconut flavored coffees. That doesn’t mean that they won’t work for someone else, and it doesn’t mean I won’t try them out later. I may find out that this is another instance where I am getting in my own way!

When I was in college, I took a German Short Fiction class and we spent a lot of time on Kafka, who is notoriously difficult.  One of the stories we read is called “Before The Law.”  It’s about a man who waits all his life for entry into the Law and never enters. Shortly before he dies, he asks the gatekeeper why no one else ever came to this door and he is told that “this doorway was made only for you.” This concept has stayed with me ever since.  If you don’t ask, the answer is always no and if you don’t knock, the door is always closed.  Something great may be waiting for you, but if you don’t even try, you will never know!

One Thing: Weight Loss, Patience & Progress

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my dad who has always been a fan of Westerns.  By the time I was in middle school, I was not only familiar with the Duke but also the large cast of cowboy regulars, including (among others) Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Richard Boone, and Jack Palance.

Jack Palance is probably best remembered in the Under-50 crowd for his last movie, City Slickers, for which he won a Best Supporting Oscar in 1992.  (It’s also the one where he did one-handed pushups on the stage!) For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, it’s about a burnt-out executive and his friends (Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern) who go on a modern day cattle drive as a vacation.  They are going to play Cowboys and Jack Palance’s Curly, the real deal, offers Crystal some advice about the meaning of life: to paraphrase, it’s one thing. You find your ‘one thing’ and stick to it.  Everything else doesn’t mean crap (Curly’s Law- One Thing).

While cowboys, cattle drives and crusty old actors might not seem relevant to weight loss, Curly’s Law has a lot to do with it! Most of us– me included– want to get to our goal weight RIGHT NOW! Yesterday is not soon enough for us! All of us have been guilty of trying to rush this but weight loss, health, fitness, whatever your goal is, cannot be rushed. Our bodies need time to burn fat, to build muscle or to repair the damage caused by a lifetime of poor eating and lack of activity. It doesn’t happen overnight or even over the course of a couple of weeks! So, in an effort to ‘speed things up,’ we try doing everything we can to lose as much weight as we can in the shortest amount of time. In short, we try to do everything at once!

Before we go loading up on all the supplements, protein shakes and filling our fridge with the latest superfoods, remember one thing, and that is One… Thing.  Find the one thing you want to start with and that’s what you focus on! Before you start making excuses about how if doing one thing is good, then more things must be better and faster, it’s also harder! If your plan is waking up a half hour earlier so you can spend that time on the treadmill before you jump in the shower and go to work and you opt to have a protein shake for breakfast and then walk during lunch time and then prepare a healthy dinner in the evening, meditate for twenty minutes and turn off the tv or tablet an hour before going to bed along with drinking 8 glasses of water all day and journaling before you fall asleep, that really sounds like a great routine! I know a lot of people who would approve a healthy plan like that, focused on good nutrition, lots of exercise followed by quality rest and relaxation!

If you also think it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is a whole lot of work! It also sounds really healthy so there are probably more than a few of us who are busy drawing up similar schedules to start on bright and early on Monday morning or even for January 1st.  The problem is that after a few short weeks, whenever you start, you’ll find yourself falling behind on your new Healthy Routine.  It’s not that you lack willpower or stamina or are lazy.  It’s that Real Life gets in the way! Because you are starting so many new routines at once (even if you call it ‘one’), you haven’t had the chance to build them up into regular habits.

What happens to your Healthy Routine when you get stuck running an errand during your ‘meditation time’? What happens when you have to work through your ‘lunchtime walking’ to finish a project that goes to the client by mid-afternoon? What do you do when you sleep through your alarm or have to work late into the evening or anything else that happens unexpectedly in our lives? When we get knocked off balance and start missing our new goals, it’s easier to forget to get back on track or worse, we get discouraged and give up on them.  No one likes to hear this either, but it takes time to develop a new habit, just like it takes time to lose weight and build muscle! Remember: One Thing.

One thing is easier to do than two or three or five.  One thing is easier to keep track of than two or four, and when you focus on one thing, you can do your best with it instead of giving it a few minutes of your attention every day.  When you are already in the habit of eating healthy, it’s easier to adjust when you are faced with non-healthy choices.  When you are in the habit of waking up a half hour earlier, it’s harder to oversleep and easier to get back into your routine.  When all of these new behaviors aren’t new anymore and are part of your normal routine, there is actually less to remember and much less work.

Think about it: you don’t make a list of things you need to do when you get up every morning, like shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, find your keys, find your phone, grab your purse/ briefcase, grab your coat, etc.  Likewise, you don’t use GPS to find your way home from work every day either.  In fact, these are the kinds of things most of us do on Auto Pilot because we have done them repeatedly. This is our goal with our Healthy Routine!

This is actually how I knew that my gym routine had become a habit: not only did I pack my gym bag in the morning on gym days without a reminder, I also drove to the gym without thinking about it! Yes, it took time to develop this habit, but once it became a part of my routine I had to remind myself not to bring my gym bag on holidays when the gym closed early! The gym is one less thing for me to focus on, which means I can focus my attention on something else I want to work on in my Healthy Routine, like going to bed on time!

There is a bonus once we remember to do One Thing and that is we keep making progress even if we aren’t doing everything we want on our Healthy Routine.  While we may be struggling with the work outs or the meditation, once we’ve got the lunch time walking and the healthy dinners down pat, those habits are still moving us towards our goals! We are still making progress and the more we build on a strong foundation, the faster we progress to our goals.  We just need to be patient and remember: One Thing.

 

 

Deja Vu All Over Again?: Weight Loss & Motivation

There are a lot of technical definitions and explanations for deja vu.  Essentially, you feel like this situation or scene is familiar to you when it shouldn’t be.  In weight loss, this usually shows up when we’ve gone off the rails and gone back to our old eating habits.  We all know– or should know– what happens then: we feel like we used to feel! Depending on how long it’s been since we’ve put ourselves in that situation, we may or may not feel a little deja vu.

When I weighed almost 440 lbs, I felt pretty terrible.  My knees hurt, my back hurt, and just standing was painful. These aches I knew were definitely weight-related but I was also up all night in the bathroom, I had terrible headaches when I woke up and a lot of times, I felt like I was getting hot flashes at night.  Since I am near the right age for hot flashes, I pretty much chalked those up to menopause.  It wasn’t until I changed what I ate that I realized my headaches, hot flashes and overall cruddy feeling were also tied to my weight and bad eating habits.

This past weekend, I experienced a major bout of deja vu and it was not a fun trip down Memory Lane! I spent a major portion of the long weekend hanging out with friends which meant I did a lot more indulging than I intended to do, mainly because I wasn’t paying attention half the time although the other half was intentional. Since I wasn’t paying attention, I did not realize until much later that I had had too much of pretty much everything! I know I can make excuses or blame my friends but the sad fact is I am responsible for my food choices.  It also doesn’t change what I chose to eat and drink, but the consequences were a literal wake up call to pay more attention to my choices!

Not too long ago I wrote about perspective and how we don’t know how good we can really feel because our idea of “feeling good” is a lot closer to “not feeling as bad as I normally do.”  The difference is that once we truly begin to feel great, we realize how awful we had been feeling before.  For me, some of the first positive effects were I no longer had terrible headaches in the morning and the ‘hot flashes’ went away as well as being up all night in the bathroom.  What I came to learn was that those were due to my over-consumption of quick carbohydrates, especially at night. The fewer of these quick carbs that I ate, the better I felt.  My joints began to feel better and I no longer felt like a stiff creaky old lady.  My energy leveled out instead of bouncing up and down and I stopped getting headaches and feeling mentally exhausted all the time. My legs, back and knees also stopped aching the more weight I lost, but I had expected those changes.  These other improvements were a complete surprise to me!

Like most of us, I had accepted the headaches, fake ‘hot flashes’ and being up all night as the “natural effects of aging,” even though I was still under 50 at the time.  The fact that these issues were driven by what I ate had never occurred to me.  It was obvious that my painful knees and back were due to carrying around 440 lbs, but just changing what I ate made a powerful improvement to my overall sense of well-being.  I was vividly reminded this past weekend of how powerful– and how delicate– this improvement really is!

To be blunt, I spent this past weekend on a carb binge! Things like popcorn, sugar, pastry and bread made their way into my diet and while there were some that I purposely chose to indulge in, there were a great many others that I dismissed since “they can’t really hurt me.” In short, I stopped paying attention to how many of these carb-heavy and sugar-rich foods I was eating.  That’s when I learned that yes, these foods can hurt me!

After a few short days of eating some of the things I used to eat on a regular basis, I went back to feeling the way I used to feel.  After not feeling like that for nearly four years, I had forgotten how truly awful it was. The morning-after headache was akin to a migraine and it lasted most of the night.  I was awake most of that night to feel it because I was running back and forth to the bathroom and when I wasn’t, I was lying awake with the covers thrown off because they were too hot. In fact, I had to turn down the thermostat because I felt too warm!  Even before I got that bad, I started feeling stiff and achy again: I was back to being the creaky old lady who was tired all the time. Being stiff, achy and tired again was bad enough without the additional effects! By the time I got up to go to work on Monday morning, I was truly and painfully regretting my choices over the weekend.

The result of this ‘deja vu all over again’ was that I was extremely motivated to go back to making healthy choices again! We all tell ourselves that eating low carb, nutrient dense whole foods is good for us, but sometimes we forget the consequences of not eating what’s best for us.  We tell ourselves that this is a permanent change to our lifestyle but it’s easy to recite the platitudes and slogans without making the real changes. Many of us lament the weight or water gain when we slip and I know I have done it, but it wasn’t until I revisited my old life that I discovered a new motivation.  I want to eat healthier not only to lose weight and feel good: I want to eat healthier so I never feel that horrible again!

We spend a lot of time looking for motivation and trying to keep the momentum going. Motivation tends to be short-lived.  Once it cools off, we start feeling cravings and begin making excuses for eating unhealthy foods.  I found new motivation the hard way:  if you really want to know why you started this weight loss journey, just take a short trip back to your old life.  Once you’ve lived a few days the way you did before, you’ll have all the motivation you need to get back on the road to living healthy!

 

Burning Calories?: Weight Loss & Exercise

I hear a lot of talk at the gym about “burning off the holiday calories.”  While some of us are joking about it, I know there are a lot of people whose primary purpose in going to the gym and working out is to burn calories and lose weight. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to burn off the pumpkin pie or the Halloween candy by working out.

We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” Most weight loss professionals will tell you that what you eat and how much you eat is far more important than how much you work out. There are myths about exercising out there and people will use them to justify either what they are eating or why they are or aren’t working out. One of my favorites is “I don’t want to build muscle because it weighs more than fat and I want to lose weight!”

While I am certainly not a weight loss professional, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the importance of regular exercise.  I work out generally three times a week and it’s not to lose weight. What I eat has nothing to do with how much or how hard I work out and vice versa.  Eating more carbs than normal doesn’t change whether I decide to add or skip a workout, nor do I eat more because it was an extra tough workout.

For me, the chief benefits of regular exercise has more to do with simply staying active.  We’ve all heard the expression “use it or lose it” and it’s true with just about everything about the human body.  If we don’t keep using it (whatever It is), our body stops maintaining it.  As the Baby Boomers began aging, geriatric professionals began noticing certain trends such as decreased muscle mass, increased osteoporosis and more cognitive degeneration in the aging population.  Because the Baby Boomers are such a large demographic, they were able to reach a few conclusions that pretty much confirmed the Use it or Lose it philosophy.  If we don’t use our muscles, they atrophy and we are more likely to develop osteoporosis. The same is true of our brains: if we don’t regularly stimulate our senses and our minds, our brains will turn to mush!

When we choose not to exercise out of fear of falling, we start on a vicious cycle that can really hurt us because one of the chief benefits of exercising is flexibility. We all know what it’s like when we’ve been sitting still in a plane or a car for several hours: we get up and we’re stiff.  Imagine how stiff you would be if you haven’t moved very much in several years! For a lot of us, that’s what has happened to us: we do the same four or five movements over and over again. We stand up, we sit down, we bend down from a sitting position, we lay down and get up from a sitting position. When was the last time you got up from the floor? When was the last time you bent down and touched your toes from a standing position? When was the last time you stretched up over your head or twisted around at the waist? Have you squatted down lately? All of these are important movements that keep those joint, muscles, bones and tendons in good working order.  Calories are not the point of exercising but being able to move is!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about falling myself.  I am rapidly approaching that “falling is dangerous” age: I’m a fifty-something female nearing menopause.  I’ve already had hardware installed due a fall about fifteen years ago.  I have screws in my leg along with a plate holding my wrist together.  If anyone should be afraid of falling, it’s me! As it happened recently, I got up in the middle of the night and as I was walking around the bed, I stepped on the dogs’ tennis ball, lost my balance and ended up sitting down hard on the bed.  This is where those three nights a week in the pool paid off for me: instead of falling over onto the bed (or worse, the dresser!), I twisted when I felt myself losing my balance.  It was a natural reflexive reaction: not balanced– move! Instead of landing on my side, which could have bruised some ribs or sprained my arm, I landed on my well-padded butt.  The next day, aside from feeling a little foolish, I had a couple sore muscles from twisting rather hard and fast, but otherwise, I was fine.

In fact, since that little accident, I have fallen again.  This time I was loading my duffel bag in the car and I tripped on the dangling strap.  Since I was outside, falling on the pavement could have resulted in more injuries, but I fell on the duffel, knee first and rolled into the flower bed. Again, the shoulder and knee that took the brunt of the fall were a bit sore but no bruises and no sprains.  And in my opinion, it’s because I make a point of exercising three times a week: I was able to move when I fell and not be stiff as a board.

People think that “working out” means you have to lift heavy weights, run hard or use a treadmill for hours at a time.  You can do that if you want to and it would probably be good exercise for you, but to keep your bones and muscles in good working order, all you need to do is use them on a regular basis, and as we get older, this is more important.  We’ve all heard that as we age, we begin losing muscle mass and bone density, and then when we add in the Use it or Lose it effect, not exercising regularly is a recipe for disaster.

We all know older people who are afraid of falling or have fallen and seriously injured themselves.  This is one of the chief excuses older people use for not exercising: “I’m afraid of falling or hurting myself.”  It’s a valid fear, especially if you’ve not worked out in a long time (or never) and if you have balance or health issues.  For me, balance was a big issue and in some instances, it still is.  That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t exercise or work out; it just means I should take a few precautions when I do. For me, one of those precautions is working out in a pool. My workout of choice is water aerobics: I get to exercise without being afraid of hurting myself by falling, and for those of people who think water aerobics isn’t a real workout, I dare you to try it!

I’ve been told by one of my trainers that most older people fall because they lose their flexibility in their core.  Essentially, they stiffen up between their shoulders and their knees, so when they lose their balance, they come crashing down like a tree in the forest.  This happened last year to my mom: she tripped on a throw rug and landed on her side, breaking her hip.  When our bodies are used to bending and twisting, it’s easier for us to protect ourselves and instead of hitting the floor on our side (there’s the cause of a lot of broken hips!), we can twist to land on our butts.  Or better yet, we can prevent ourselves from falling!

I have two small dogs along with a couple of cats, all of which increase my chances of either tripping over a toy (like the aforementioned tennis ball) or the actual pet.  One of my dogs is habitually within two feet of my two feet! I never turn around or step back anymore without looking! Still, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gone to step over, around or next to a toy or a pet and found myself grabbing a door jamb, the wall or furniture to steady myself. I was reminded yesterday as I stepped over a moving Cockapoo that not only has the exercise increased my mobility and flexibility, it’s also improved my balance!

After three years of regular workouts, I have better balance and flexibility as a 50+ year old than I ever did in my 40’s.  It shows in my ability to walk longer and farther in addition to being able to bend, lift, squat and get up off the floor without using a chair to help myself up. When I got to my feet after falling in the flower bed, I was reminded of the last time I fell outside.  I had stepped back into a hole and landed flat on my back on the lawn.  At the time, I was in my mid-forties and went over like the proverbial tree in the woods. Although I didn’t injure myself, mainly because the lawn was soaking wet after weeks of rain, I had to use the lamp post near the walkway to help myself up simply because I couldn’t do it on my own! This time, although the wall of the house was right there, I was able to stand up in the flower bed without really thinking about it: I was more concerned if I’d cut myself on the bush I nearly hit.

Even though exercise isn’t a major factor in my weight loss, it remains one of my primary goals. Working out regularly has taught me a lot about the importance of staying active and staying flexible besides saving me from my own clumsiness. Until I had regained my balance and flexibility, I honestly had not realized how much I had truly lost and I don’t ever want to lose that again!