As Perfect As We Need to Be: Weight Loss & Perfection

Many of us are familiar with the idea of “progress, not perfection.” In fact it is one of the slogans at my gym and I think it’s the right idea.  The problem with slogans however is that too many of us spout them and repeat them to others without stopping to think about what they really mean. One example from my own life (sooo embarrassing!): when I was learning to drive, an older experienced driver told me that before I pull out into traffic, no matter which way I am turning, look left right before I pull out because those are the drivers that will hit me first. I followed his advice, although I never really thought about it and years later when I was teaching my cousin to drive, I repeated the advice to her. Her face lit up: “Oh yeah! That’s smart advice!”  Me –thinking: “It is?? Why?? [pause] Oh, yeahhhh….” Translation: “Duhhhhhh!”

It is smart advice and it’s too bad I’d never considered it until my younger cousin made me think about what it meant! But this is how ideas can be passed around and not put into practice, despite being repeated on a regular basis. Too many of us see pithy slogans, repeat them to ourselves and others and then go on our merry way doing things the way we’ve always done them, and if that’s not the way that works for us, we get frustrated.  “Why does X work for everyone else but me?!”  Umm.. are you sure that it’s right for you??

There are a lot of us who fall into the “I can’t do XYZ” category.  As in, “I can’t eat Primal/ Paleo because I need a certain amount of carbs each day or my blood sugar drops too low;” or “I can’t be keto because my doctor wants me to limit my fat.”  Whatever your doctor told you, listen to your doctor! But when you use the ‘doctor’s orders’ for your excuse for not losing weight, there’s a problem!

No one begins at a perfect starting point! Even fitness gurus like Chris Powell and Jillian Michaels started out less than perfect! While they look amazing now, what we are seeing is the Final Product, not the First Draft.  No one- in weight loss or anything else– started out perfect their first time around.  The hang-up comes when we want to be as perfect as possible the first time out or even before we start.  We want to begin from a perfect starting point so we can get to the Final Product as soon as we can.  It’s an admirable sentiment, however unrealistic it is. There is no Universal Perfect Starting Point; there is just where we choose to start!

While I realize I might be making some enemies here, I don’t believe either Chris Powell or Jillian Michaels are perfect.  They look great and are in great shape, but I’m sure if you ask either of them to point out things about themselves they wish were better, they’d have a few items on the list!  Each of us excels at pointing out our flaws.  When we stand in front of a mirror and our friends and family tell us how great we look, we still think “yeah, except for my hips/ my chest/  my neck/ my butt/ my thighs/ my whatever.”

This is where the idea of perfection has gotten stuck in our heads.  We want to eat perfectly.  We want to work out perfectly.  We want to look as perfect as we can.  Those are very admirable goals, but again, how realistic are they?  Is anything or anyone in this world perfect? Who is eating the perfect diet? Who is doing the perfect work out?  Even if they are ‘perfect’ most of the time, what they are doing is ‘perfect’ for them!  There are people who eat a lot of veggies like leeks and kale and tomatoes.  That’s great, if you aren’t sensitive to allium veggies, cruciferous veggies or nightshades!  Some people have trouble with the excessive sulfur in allium veggies like leeks, onions, garlic, etc.  People with thyroid conditions are sometimes told to limit their cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.  For some of us, we are just sensitive to nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes). So when you look at someone else’s ‘perfect’ diet, it might be worse for you than the diet you are following now!  The same with their ‘perfect workout’: what works for them might hurt you!

[What sparked this particular post might seem fairly far afield. As a ‘recovering English major,’ I was reviewing John Milton’s Paradise Lost. (Talk about a heavy unrelated topic!)  But the commentary I recall most from my classes about this epic poem is that while God made humans flawed and imperfect, He made them as perfect as they need to be. Adam and Eve had everything they needed to exist forever in Eden.  They were lacking nothing but through their own choices were cast out of Paradise. Their choices were not imperfections.]

Whether you are Christian or not, the fact remains that each of us has the skills and ability we need to lose weight, eat better and be more active.  We don’t need to start at perfection and perfection as a goal remains relative.  What works great for me might not work at all for my sister or my friends. Each of us needs to begin at our own starting point and move forward.  Some of us might be starting at a much lower benchmark than others and some of us might not ever reach as high as someone else’s midpoint!  We need to seek our own perfect eating plan and fitness plan and stop comparing ourselves to others.  It’s okay to try something someone else is having success with eating or doing, but if it’s a huge failure for you, it’s not your failure! You did not fail- this particular tool just doesn’t work for you. One of my favorite podcasters, Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has a favorite recipe that she eats often.  She calls it her ‘cabbage bowl’ which has raw shredded cabbage, bacon, an egg and usually avocado. She leaves the yolk runny and uses it with the avocado to make a kind of dressing.  If I had to eat raw runny egg yolk, I would seriously throw up! It’s one of the few foods that I have detested all my life.  (I only eat really hard cooked egg yolk with enough hot sauce on it to kill the taste!) I eat a lot of the other stuff in that recipe but not the egg! Does that mean my diet isn’t perfect? Not at all! It means the bacon avocado coleslaw I have is what works for me.

There is no reason to compare yourself against anyone else.  You are unique and while there are some basic healthy human guidelines to follow, no one else can tell you that you’re a failure for not eating or working out like they do.  Are you eating healthier, according to you? Are you being more active than you used to be?  If the answers to those are yes, then you are doing just fine, and if you think you can make improvements, great! As long as they work for you!  If they aren’t working out for you, find something that does, and odds are, it won’t be someone else’s eating or workout plan!

Tunnel Vision: Weight Loss & Broadening Your Vision

We’re all prone to tunnel vision at some time or another. We get locked into one way of thinking and forget that we locked the door ourselves. When it comes to weight loss, we often don’t realize we’re locked into tunnel vision because we’ve never seen outside the tunnel. Even when presented with outside-the-tunnel options, we may not recognize them as options they are: to us, they may seem crazy or completely out of our reach!

When it comes to weight loss, so many of us think in the ‘All or Nothing’ mindset: either we’re completely on board with our diet or we’ve blown the whole thing. This is where most of us get stuck in the tunnel. We look at our Diet as difficult, restrictive, bland and miserable. We see it as something temporary and our goal is to get done with it so we can go back to our Normal Life aka Eating Like Before.  Welcome to the Diet Tunnel!

The most successful weight loss plans aren’t diets: they’re lifestyle changes— as in permanent. But permanent doesn’t mean we’re locked into that Diet Tunnel. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever eat bread or pizza or cinnamon rolls again. It means we are selective about when we eat them. It means we think about what we eat before we eat it! Not thinking before eating is how many of us gained as much weight as we did.  We see it; we want it; we eat it! At the end of the day, most of us never thought about how much we ate during the day, unless we were super stuffed. If we did happen to think about it, we either moaned about how “out of control” we are or we gloss over it and leave out some of the foods that we tell ourselves ‘don’t count.’  These would be things like the odd bites of pastry or the handful of chips at lunch or the energy bar we picked up at the gas station to ‘tide us over’ until dinner.

Five tortilla chips really don’t amount to much but five chips + one Quest bar + half a danish begin to add up over the day and the week and finally take up residence on your muffin-top belly.  They count, but how much they count depends on you and whether you thought about them before you ate them! This is where most of us are in that Diet Tunnel: we see the chip basket on the table and our first thought is “NO CHIPS!” Having a few chips is okay as long as you think about them and then before you grab that Quest bar on the way home, you pause: “I already had a handful of chips and half a danish.  Maybe I should skip the bar.”  If you really want that bar, maybe you skip the butter on the Brussels sprouts at dinner or cut the sweet potato in half.  You are in charge of your eating and you don’t get points for making yourself miserable, starving yourself or eating only lettuce.  This is why the permanent lifestyle changes win out over the Diet Mentality: once we learn to eat healthy things we enjoy in a way that keeps us healthy and losing weight, we don’t have to moan and groan about the chips or the ice cream or the bagels.  The key is balance, not deprivation!

The other place where most people get tripped up is when it comes to eating at home.  In an effort to promote healthy eating, a lot of magazines, books and websites publish recipes: healthy food, usually low calorie or low carb, and full of flavor!  It’s a great idea…IF you enjoy cooking!! Some of us aren’t fond of long ingredient lists or complicated steps or hours of prep time. That doesn’t mean I’m stuck with boring bland food unless I get take out or go out to eat.  It means I have to look outside that Tunnel and see what options are available to me that I feel comfortable making at home.  This can mean putting something in the slow cooker when I leave for work; it can mean preparing a lot of food on the weekend and putting it in the fridge or freezer.  Usually for me it means I make three or four burgers, steaks or ribs on one night and heat up the rest during the week. (I usually undercook the ones I’m saving for later so when I heat them up again, they aren’t overcooked.)  This works for me because I don’t need to eat something complicated: I like simple food.  For me, ‘make it yourself coleslaw’ and a pan-fried pork steak are just fine for me! That doesn’t mean they’re bland either: I usually dress them up with some of my favorite spice blends.

If you really don’t feel like cooking, there are healthy options at most grocery stores.  My old standby is still bagged salad/ veggies and rotisserie chicken! They also have frozen burgers ready to reheat, frozen quiche and many other healthy options you just need to reheat.

Getting out of the Tunnel doesn’t just mean food or cooking: it also means activity.  When your main evening activities are sitting in front of the tv and eating;or getting online and eating; or reading and eating; or [insert sedentary activity here] and eating, you need to look for something else to fill your time.  Believe me, doing what you used to do and thinking about not-eating is just rubbing salt in the wound.  It’s a lot like an alcoholic hanging out with his drinking buddies and thinking about not-drinking. When my uncle stopped drinking, he started hanging out with my dad a lot.  There were phone calls every night except for his Meeting Night and lots of activities on the weekends and it was for the same reason: my dad has never been a drinker so when he’s with my dad, it’s never an issue or an option.  While we may not all be food addicts, we still have behavior that triggers us to eat out of habit.  How many of us automatically stand in the popcorn & soda line when we enter a theater?

When we’re used to getting a bag of chips and sitting down to watch our usual show or we hit the Starbucks to grab a Frappucino and scroll through our Instagram, those are triggers.  We can still watch our show and scroll but we are usually conscious that ‘something is missing.’  Triggering the craving is making it harder than it needs to be! It’s keeping us locked in the Tunnel as well as pushing us over the edge when it comes to ‘sticking to our Diet.’  That doesn’t mean you can’t ever watch tv or hit up a Starbucks, but it does mean that you have to think outside the Tunnel.  That can be something as simple as watching tv and keeping your hands occupied with something else, such as folding laundry, writing in your journal, playing tug of war with your dog, or (in my case) doing my nails. There was a transition period, since I obviously can’t do my nails every night, but once I got in the habit of doing something other than eating while in front of the tv, the trigger went away.  The same is true for just about any behavior or activity: if it triggers the impulse to eat, either replace the eating with something else or re-evaluate that activity’s importance in your life. If sitting at Starbucks is too much temptation, find someplace else with WiFi to scroll through your phone. (My gym has free WiFi!) Or maybe you make a new ‘phone’ habit, like doing it at home or you check your social media at home on the laptop?

It takes some practice to find out what’s outside the Tunnel and what options will work for you and what won’t. I hear a lot about “batch cooking” on healthy lifestyle podcasts but while making that much food doesn’t work for me, I do a version of it that does: instead of cooking one burger or serving of veggies every night, I do enough for two or three and just warm up the rest. When I hit Starbucks, instead of a macchiato or a latte, it’s brewed coffee or an americano with cream.  Sometimes I’m really out there and just get tea! The activities don’t have to be drastically different- they just have to be different enough to change your triggers and keep you on track with your weight loss goals.

Having a solid support system is critical when it comes to seeing outside the Tunnel.  As I mentioned before, if we’re not used to looking at things differently, we probably won’t see the options available. This is where having resources come in. I have a fitness community (My Fitness Pal) but you can still use any supportive community (Facebook, Instagram) or even website with ideas or recipes (Nom Nom Paleo; Primal Potential, etc).  The idea is to surround yourself with options and try them out! There is a way out of the Diet Tunnel but until you unlock that door yourself, you may never get out.

Information Isn’t Action: Weight Loss Requires Activity!

When it comes to weight loss, too many people think the activity I’m referring to means working out, going to the gym or walking or some kind of exercise.  While exercise has its place in weight loss, what I mean is that you must take action to lose weight.  Reading a nutrition or diet book is not action: it’s research.  I can read every diet book that comes out this year and still not lose a pound unless I actually do something such as implementing the strategies in those diet books.

This distinction confuses a lot of people and it’s completely understandable.  We take the time to read the diet/ nutrition books; we buy the yoga CDs (I’ve got dozens of those- still in the wrappers!) and we think we are ‘making progress!’  As in, “I’m planning to lose weight and exercise more and I’ve got my strategy all mapped out!”  But until you put that strategy into action, you ain’t gonna be losing weight!  Take my yoga CDs: I really really want to start yoga, as evidenced by the CDs and books stacked on my bookcase.  How good am I at yoga? Not started it! I’ve got the mat and strap and bolster literally buried in my closet but I’ve not used them. So how good am I at yoga? I’m guessing I pretty much suck since I’ve not tried in the last 15 years or so.  But I really really want to! Little clue here: you have to do it in order to make progress!

So why haven’t I done anything with my yoga practice? Oh, the usual excuses: “I don’t have time”; “I don’t know if I’m doing it right”; “I’m afraid I might hurt myself”; “I can’t afford the classes”; blah blah blah. The point is that while I have all the resources and tools to practice yoga, they are gathering dust and I am making no progress at all really fast! However, I don’t expect that I’ll be magically good at yoga just because I have all the tools and information at my fingertips, but when it comes to weight loss, there are a lot of people who get lost in the research and strategizing.

I’ve got another confession here: I really love research! I love reading a new book or magazine about health or listening to a new podcast about being healthier. The problem is that reading about health and weight loss and listening to other people talk about getting fitter does not improve my health and fitness unless and until I actually put these ideas into action. I can’t tell you how much I’ve heard and read about the ketogenic diet and Intermittent Fasting, but I can also tell you that I am most definitely not in ketosis! Why? Because I haven’t made the changes in my diet necessary to get into ketosis. [I did try keto and decided I didn’t like it very much, ergo not eating keto!]

It seems simple: if you want to make progress, you have to take action. Research, although it feels like you are doing something, really isn’t action. It is accumulating information.  What you do with that information determines how much progress you make. Too many of us get lost in the informational weeds because we want to lose weight ‘the right way,’ or we just plain don’t know what to do or where to begin.  Those are all good starting points but we have to remember they are only starting points! Once we have a plan or a beginning, we have to begin doing something with that information we’ve so carefully accumulated.

Which brings us back to my yoga non-practice.  The honest real reason I haven’t tried yoga? It intimidates the bloody hell out of me! Despite reading all the books and watching the CDs, I truly don’t know if I can get into some of those poses and if I get there, how the hell do I get out of them? What if I get stuck or hurt myself? What if I just look stupid? Hello! That’s why we practice! No one can reasonably expect a beginner to do anything perfectly the first time or even the hundredth time! It’s a progression and until we actually begin doing it, we aren’t making progress!

This is one of the pitfalls of too much information gathering: we are afraid we won’t do it right or that we’ll be unable to do it.  Seriously, not-doing it is the biggest way to mess it up! Allowing yourself to be intimidated is a sure way to keep you from making any progress towards your goals or even from trying anything new.  Aside from not making any progress, it can keep you from doing something you turn out to enjoy.  And as for doing it ‘wrong,’ every professional started out as an amateur.  Mozart may have been a prodigy, but the first time he stepped up to a piano, he still had to figure out which key was what note! Even failure can teach you since now you know what not to do! Everything takes practice!

While we may learn the basic framework through information gathering aka ‘research,’ it only benefits us when we put that knowledge into action. This is why doctors spend years in residence: book knowledge is so very different than actually doing the procedures.  I can read all about Intermittent Fasting and learn all the tips and tricks for getting through a seven day water fast, but again actually fasting for seven days only drinking water is a whole ‘nother experience! And that’s the key word: experience.  Experience is true knowledge and it only comes through action.  The more experience you have with your weight loss process, the more you know about your body, what works for you and what doesn’t (i.e., me & keto). It’s great to read about different supplements, different fasting regimens and different recipes or eating plans, but unless and until you put that information into action, you are only wasting your time and not making progress! If you are serious about weight loss, you need to do something about it, and reading about it doesn’t count! [Now I need to get off my butt and dig that dang yoga mat out of the closet!]

 

Fearlessly Being You: Weight Loss & Liking Who You Are

I am sure we are all familiar with the self-help mantras “you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you,” and the ever-popular Serenity Prayer. I accept that these mantras have merit, but they’re a little too mainstream for me.  I much prefer the somewhat quirky “wherever you go, there you are!”  I feel it not only speaks to where you are in life, but who you are as well.

One of the newer podcasts I’ve been listening to is The Wellness Force podcast with Josh Trent and while I’m still not sure he’s going to fit with my lifestyle, one of the recent podcasts he had was with professional volleyball player Kelly Claes who used an expression that really resonated with me: “fearlessly authentic.”  The inspirational quote app that I use updated earlier this year and now allows me to create tags for my favorite quotes and the first tag I created is “#fearless.”  Simply put: sometimes you need to be fearless to get where you want to go!

Most of us start out life with our parents setting our goals and aspirations.  This is pretty normal: as a kid, you really don’t know what’s what so you look to your parents for guidance and somewhere along the line, you realize you don’t want to be a doctor or a teacher but an artist or a baseball player or an engineer.  You start finding yourself and finding your own way.  Again, this is pretty normal.

But when you’re a kid and you’re overweight, you face some different obstacles. Most parents either believe ‘it’s a phase’ and you’ll ‘grow out of it’ or they start trying to guide you out of it. Sometimes their guidance is encouraging you to be more active, play sports or eat healthier foods.  Sometimes, it’s humiliation and recrimination. Even if they don’t mean to do it, sometimes it feels like their love and acceptance hinges on how much you do or don’t weigh. They may not ever say it, but we feel their disappointment and disapproval of our weight and from those unspoken feelings, we begin to feel that we are simply inadequate, lacking and a failure.

Growing up is hard enough without feeling like you are a failure as a person. While this post is about weight loss and obesity, it happens to kids for all kinds of things: not being pretty enough; not being a good enough athlete; not being smart enough.  Parents don’t mean to do it, but they place their own expectations on their children and when they fall short of those expectations, the child internalizes the disappointment as being their own personal failure. When it comes to weight loss, it can lead to a lifetime eating disorder, among other things. Generally children who feel inadequate either begin to crave their parents’ approval or they go the opposite direction. (Guess which way I went!)

For me as an overweight child, I was constantly being told “if only you lost weight, [insert good thing here].”  If I lost weight, I’d have boys lining up at my door.  If I lost weight, I could wear all the pretty clothes.  If I lost weight, I could have a whole new wardrobe.  Basically, if I lost weight, I’d be perfect.

Except I didn’t lose weight.  I stayed obese and after years of failing to win my mom’s approval (she was the most critical), I eventually gave up trying to get something I was so obviously never going to get.  (While my dad wasn’t exactly happy with my weight either, he was more focused on other goals such as college and a career.) This is where I learned to be fearless when it came to being me.

What I mean by “fearless” is that I simply stopped apologizing for being obese and not being perfect. It also means that I accepted myself for the person I was at that time and not who I was going to be at some time in the future.  This is paramount because until we accept who we are right now, we’ll always be stuck putting off our lives until some future time ‘when we’re thinner.’ While you’re probably thinking that’s a no-brainer, this idea sometimes gets internalized with the “I’m not good enough” mentality and before you realize it, it’s part of who we are.  Unfortunately, it’s usually the part that holds us back from living the life we want.

One of the constants on My 600 lb Life is patients saying how they need to have surgery so “I can get my life back” or “start living my life.”  Many of them probably never considered that their lives don’t have to be on hold because of their weight.

Obviously there are a lot of issues behind their compulsive overeating but I think a portion of it comes from that ‘waiting to be perfect’ mentality. They can’t move forward because they believe there is something wrong with the person they are right now. Being morbidly obese- and especially super morbidly obese- is a fact of life that has to be dealt with but when you put your life on hold until you are ‘fixed,’ it can mean waiting forever. Most of are familiar with the ‘perfect outfit’ in our closet that we can’t wear until we lose 20 lbs or so, and we hang onto it until it’s no longer in style and we have to give it away without ever wearing it… and we replace it with another perfect outfit we’ll never wear. Imagine that’s your life: always waiting for it to ‘start’ until you’ve got no time left.

Wherever- and whoever- you are is all you’ve got. There were a lot of times I was rejected because of my weight. I was told I wouldn’t advance or be successful in some jobs because of my weight, that guys wouldn’t find me attractive because of my weight, that my weight was always going to hold me back from doing things I wanted to do. Some of these statements were and still are true.

But I’ve lived all my adult life obese, mostly around 375 lbs. Once I learned to stop apologizing for being fat and imperfect and fearlessly live my life on my terms, my weight took a backseat to the rest of my life. Yes, there were times it got in the way and there were a lot of times I wished I were thinner. FYI: I also wished I were taller, too! But for most of my life I refused to let my weight make me miserable.

When my weight did finally become a problem I had to deal with, it still took a backseat to an even bigger problem, mainly my depression over The Job From Hell. That job seriously made me hate my life and who I’d become and it wasn’t until I dealt with that as well as the mental and emotional fallout from that job that I was able to deal with my weight. When I learned to like myself again, it gave me the strength to take advantage of new and unexpected opportunities which led to some serious weight loss.

Even though I’ve lost nearly 170 lbs, most of the world still considers me obese. There are a lot of family members who would be happier if I lost another 100 lbs. I’m still eating healthy and I’m still being as active as I can be, but my weight doesn’t define me anymore now than it did when I was 375. I am still more than just the number on the scale. For most of my life, I liked and accepted myself for the person I was, and I like who I am now. The difference is that now I’m 170 lbs lighter. It was my acceptance of myself that gave me the strength to grow and succeed and make the necessary changes. My acceptance of who I am gives me the courage to live fearlessly and do what’s right for me instead of following advice that doesn’t work for me, whether it’s for weight loss or anything else. If I hadn’t had the strength and courage to live fearlessly, I’d never have tried the Paleo diet; I’d never have gone to a gym or tried water aerobics; I’d never have joined My Fitness Pal, or started blogging, and I’d likely never have lost the weight I’ve lost. Liking myself, accepting myself and trusting myself has allowed me to continue growing into someone I like better who is happier and healthier than she used to be. But weight loss isn’t what’s made me happier and healthier: it’s the byproduct of learning to like myself again.

Sometimes we think we know where we’re going. We all have an idea of where we want to be but a lot of times, that’s not where we end up. That’s why I like that quirky mantra so much: “wherever you go, there you are!” And if you don’t like where you are, have the courage to go somewhere else!

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.