Cheap Eats?: Weight Loss & The Real Meaning of Cheap

Sometimes when I’m in the mood, I will watch cooking shows on PBS, usually Martha Stewart Cooking Class or America’s Test Kitchen. The idea that I would attempt to make anything they demonstrate is absolutely laughable, partly because it’s usually far too complex for me but also because some of Martha’s ingredients are more than a little pricey! Also, where the heck am I supposed to find candied lemon rind in my podunk town?

While America’s Test Kitchen’s recipes are still too involved for me, they will let us know where we can skip a step or what we can use in place of a more pricey or hard to find ingredient without seriously bungling the recipe. When you go through all the steps to put together some of these recipes, the last thing you want to do is waste all that time and money!

Time and money are usually the biggest excuses when it comes to eating healthy. We have this idea that making healthy food is complicated and expensive, but in reality, it’s like anything else: we can make it as hard or as simple as we want it to be.

Example: my dad and I both love home-made enchiladas but making them the way my grandmother made them was an all-day job, so I figured out a quicker way to do without too much difference.  Granted, they weren’t quite as delicious as my grandmother’s, but they only took about an hour or so to do and it was good enough for us two!

I know from experience that we can google healthy whole food recipes that will take all day and require a long list of ingredients, some of them more than you want to spend on a weeknight dinner. Whether you are looking at dinner for one or two or even a family of four or more, a cart full of healthy whole food groceries starts looking more like a major investment!

I’ve seen the “it costs too much” excuse used a lot on My 600 lb Life.  Rather than buy whole food groceries, they run through the drive-thru. Listening to what they order, the cost of that fast food meal can run from $10 to $30 (for two). That’s not particularly cheap either! My groceries routinely include a $5 box of salad greens, bottle of salad dressing ($4) and package of meat which usually runs around $6.  The box of salad will last me at least five meals; the salad dressing about 10 meals and the meat at least two.  That means if I increase the meat for another three servings, I’ve got dinner for about five days which would run me about $24. That’s less than five dollars a meal! Yikes! That’s expensive–NOT!

What’s the real difference here? I had to make the dinner myself. That means I took out the skillet, put the meat on to cook, cooked it for about twenty minutes or so and then I dumped out the salad greens into a bowl and poured on some dressing.  Dinner usually takes me 30 minutes or less to make at home.  Granted, I eat pretty simply.  If I added some other veggies to my salad, it would obviously cost more, but even adding a few tomatoes, radishes, mushrooms or cucumbers, the cost per meal might go up as high as $7 dollars a meal! (Seriously, how many cucumbers do you put on a single salad?)

I eat pretty cheaply mainly because I like simple food (see that Martha Stewart remark above!) I get the box of salad greens because it’s cheap and it’ll last me until Friday.  I buy my meat in the Manager’s Special section of the meat department.  This is the meat that has a “best by” date in the coming week, so it’s been discounted by 30-50%. Since I either eat it or freeze it by the date, it’s no problem for me! Sometimes, I do spring for the tomatoes, mushrooms or avocados on my salad, or I opt for Brussels sprouts instead but the cost still isn’t exorbitant. Even if the meat isn’t ‘grass fed’ or ‘organic’ it is still fresh and even organic grass fed meat isn’t much more expensive than the ‘regular’ stuff if you know where to shop. (I like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts for good bargains on those!)

There is also something else that usually gets missed in comparing cheap eats and whole foods. How much of them do you eat in one sitting? One of the more interesting details about human anatomy is our satiety signals in our digestive tract. These are the hormones our bodies release to let us know that we have eaten enough. We have signals for protein, fat and fiber but none for carbohydrates.  That’s why I can eat half a bag of Brussels sprouts and feel like I can’t choke down another bite but could easily eat the family sized bag of Ruffles potato chips without even slowing down. Unfortunately, the only “sensor” we have that we’ve eaten too much ice cream, chips, crackers or cupcakes is the actual discomfort that comes from an overstuffed stomach! I am way too familiar with that one!

The Cheezits, chips, bread and rolls might seem cheaper but we don’t stop to think that we finish them off way more quickly than we do the whole foods. That box of salad greens isn’t any bigger ounce-wise than that family size bag of chips I used to polish off in one or two sittings, but there’s no way I can eat the whole box of spinach and butter lettuce at one go without throwing up! That’s because those whole foods aren’t just more ‘nutrient dense’– they are just plain dense! Let’s compare that bag of Brussels sprouts to that bag of Ruffles potato chips: The sprouts are 10.8 oz (Birdseye Steamfresh) and the chips are 9.5 (Ruffles Family Size).  There’s four 3/4 cup servings in the sprouts and ten in the bag of chips ( ~1 oz) but seriously do we only eat one ounce of chips at a time? Although they are about the same size, after eating about a cup and a half of sprouts, you would be getting the “stop eating” signal because your nutrition needs would be met. How long before your brain would tell you to stop eating the chips? Odds are, you’d be probably three fourths of the way through the bag before your stomach would be feeling full, and if you are me, you’d be polishing off the bag!

Honestly though, there are things that are missing from the sprouts: like preservatives, sodium and extra carbs, plus the vegetable oils that are fast coming under scrutiny. On the other hand, they do have lots more vitamins and fiber (that’s the stuff that makes you feel full!) I know for a lot of people, foods like sprouts, salad greens and other whole foods can taste pretty blah without all kinds of sauces to ‘dress them up.’ That’s because we have gotten so used to eating those additives and flavor enhancers in processed foods.  Those are the additives that don’t actually have to be made from food to be called “all natural.” Most pre-shredded cheeses have cellulose added to them to keep the cheese from sticking together.  Cellulose comes from wood pulp but because it comes from trees, they can call it “all natural.” Yummy!

It’s all a matter of taste and budget: you don’t have to eat as simply as I do, but think about what you are really buying. What is really in that burger and fries you ordered? It might be fast and it might be convenient, but what is the real price we pay for cheap eats?

 

 

Whole Foods are Habit Forming!: Weight Loss & Giving Up the Junk

We’ve all heard that junk food- and especially sugar- are addictive. To some extent that is true, but it’s true because we made it true! We’ve gotten accustomed to eating sugary junk food so that’s what our palates and subconscious have come to expect.  We are all familiar with Pavlov’s dog, only in our case we are the dog and sugar is the bell!

Anyone who has tried to make a New Year’s Resolution or build a new habit knows that it all comes down to repetition. You do it over and over and over again until it becomes lodged in our brains and we can do it without effort or even thinking about it.  It happened to me yesterday: I was leaving the office and as I got in my car, I reminded myself I had to pick up my dry cleaning and it had to be picked up that day. I put the claim ticket on my console, pulled out of the parking lot and got in the wrong lane out of habit! The dry cleaning was on the north and home was on the south so of course, like I do 95% of the time, I got in the south bound lane, after telling myself not to do it! What can I say? Habit won!

This same kind of repetition is how we end up craving sugar and junk food: we eat it over and over again! We aren’t born addicted to Hostess cupcakes and Lays potato chips, but because they end up in our mouths so often, we start to expect and then crave them. We don’t even taste them anymore: it’s just the sugar and carbs we are expecting!  Compared to sugar-rich snacks, foods like broccoli and spinach seem to come up short, but the same principles apply: if you eat them enough, eventually your palate and your subconscious will start to expect them!

It seems silly but it’s true.  A couple of years ago, I was out with friends celebrating a birthday and the guest of honor had chosen a pizza place.  There were lots of appetizers on the table like fried cheese and beer battered shrimp.  I had chosen an antipasto salad for my entree and after politely declining all the appetizers, when my entree arrived, I actually said “yay, salad!” out loud and I meant it when I said it. It still surprises me, because while I don’t hate veggies or salad, I didn’t realize until I saw it how much I was looking forward to the salad! I’d taught myself that salad was delicious.

Something similar happened just last week at the grocery store: I wanted Brussels sprouts for dinner.  I had salad greens in the fridge but on the way home, I started wanting (dare I say “craving”?) Brussels sprouts and I was so disappointed that the store was out of the fresh ones that I like! When I was a kid, you’d have to pay me to eat them, and now I was craving the dang things!

It’s all about repetition: we want the foods we are used to eating.  Our brains and our palates expect them on a regular basis. Dinner for me is usually salad, veggies or both along with some kind of meat: chicken, beef, lamb or pork.  When I get hungry, this is what my palate and my brain start looking for! Without thinking about it, I end up in the produce section of the stores looking at the lettuces: “baby spinach mix? butter lettuce?” Some times I mix it up with other produce like tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., but dinner for me usually begins with a big pile of green leaves!

Compared to what I used to eat regularly, salad can seem pretty blah. This is one of the biggest complaints when it comes to eating whole natural foods: “they don’t taste great.” Actually, it’s not that baby spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts don’t taste good: it’s that you aren’t used to eating them! Once you get used to eating whole foods, you develop a taste for them the way you developed a taste for those boxes of cupcakes and bags of potato chips.

Example: remember the first time you tasted beer? I am pretty sure you made a face! That first sip of beer is universally awful but as an adult, you certainly don’t think it tastes horrible.  You probably have your favorite brands and brews, but that first time? Ugh! So how did you get used to the taste of beer? By drinking it over and over, of course! (In high school, one of my sister’s friends got busted by her dad when he let her taste his beer and the fact that she didn’t make that face told him this wasn’t her first beer!)

The same thing happens in reverse: when you stop eating the junk food and sugar, it stops tasting good. You lose your taste for them. I used to eat a lot of fast food on a regular basis. I was seriously on a first name basis with the Jack in the Box drive-thru guy (his name was Dennis.) Once I stopped eating it for a few months, I decided to ‘treat’ myself to the same dinner I’d had several times a week for months. Same meal; same drive-thru, but what a difference! It certainly didn’t taste delicious and in truth it just tasted really weird to me! It wasn’t the food that changed: it was me!

It wasn’t just my palate that changed either. Not only did the fast food not taste good to me: it made me feel bad. It’s cliche to say ‘you are what you eat,’ but we all know how true that is. Changing what I ate not only changed my taste buds: it changed how I felt and how I looked. Not only did I lose 40 lbs by just giving up junk food, my skin looked better and I felt a whole lot better, emotionally and physically. It was a combination of not eating junk and eating more nutritious whole foods instead. Why eat the weird fast food that makes me feel like a blob when I can eat the fresh vegetables that make me feel good?

It is a lot like Pavlov’s dog: a learned response to stimulus. The sound of the bell is the sound of a treat! If we rang the bell and gave the dog something that tastes bad each time, he’s not going care how often you ring that bell! What you’ve got, he doesn’t want! Does all that junk food really taste good? Or are we just used to eating it?

The Weight Loss Guarantee No One Talks About

When we see commercials for weight loss or fitness programs, they almost always have some kind of 30 day or six week guarantee.  You follow their program for the requisite number of days, and “if you don’t lose weight/ inches, we’ll refund your money!” Of course, there is always the caveat that “you WILL lose weight/ inches” because you’ll be following their program (yeahhhhh, riiiighht!) but no one ever guarantees that you’ll keep the weight off and won’t have to do this again.

There is one guaranteed method of losing weight and keeping it off, but no one likes to talk about it.  It’s not glamorous or ‘trending’ or novel.  It’s Consistency. We all know about it but we hate doing it, so most of us don’t!  We know we should eat more veggies and less processed/ packaged foods, but.…. We know we should avoid the sweets, the carbs, the treats that aren’t good for us, but……one won’t hurt, right??  We make exception after exception because it’s So & So’s birthday/ anniversary/ celebration etc.  Then it’s a holiday or another special occasion or a ‘special’ treat so we cram those treats down even though they’re # 10 or more on our list of ‘exceptions.’  Then we wonder how we got so far off-track or why we stopped making progress or how we managed to gain X amount of pounds when we haven’t eaten ‘that much!’  This is the first sign that we’ve become Inconsistent: we stop making progress, i.e. losing weight!

Then comes the second consequence of Inconsistency: “why is it so hard to resist temptation??” Because we have taught ourselves that we can eat whatever we want! Yes: we have taught ourselves this bad habit! It might be nice to blame all those people who had birthdays or brought cookies or shared candy or other treats but they didn’t make you eat them! Even if they pushed them at you with the “one won’t hurt” excuse, you were still free to say firmly but politely: “no thank you.” It also wouldn’t have been out of line to give the brief explanation: “they’re not good for me.”  But we didn’t say that, did we? We said “thanks!” and helped ourselves! ……And now here we are, our progress stalled or erased and we are once more struggling with cravings and temptations that we really want to give in to, when just a few months ago, we would hardly have noticed that the grocery store has that great bread from that restaurant chain or that the Peanut Butter M&M’s are on sale for Halloween.

This is where most people just tune out because no one wants to hear that it’s our own fault and that staying Consistent would have bypassed these issues entirely! We don’t want to be Consistent because it’s BORRR–INNNNGGG!! Eating nutritious healthy low calorie food every day is just so old and tired! I’m tired of eating healthy food that helps me lose weight! I want to eat all the cookies and bread and sugar that makes me feel like crap and makes me gain back all the weight! Of course, we don’t actually say that to ourselves but it’s still the truth.  We lie to ourselves by making the ‘celebration’ excuse or the ‘one won’t hurt’ excuse, but at the end of the day, the truth is that most of these treats that we want to eat don’t make us feel good, they get in the way of our reaching our goals, and they make it harder for us to resist temptation.  But they were yummy, right?

“Eh…they were okay….” This is also usually the truth.  Most of the time, these treats aren’t as good as we remember them being and even if they are good, they last only as long as it takes to eat them: about a minute or so.  Was that minute worth the cravings and sacrificing your progress?  Add all those minutes up and weigh them against feeling cruddy, gaining weight and fighting temptation: worth it? Yes or no?

I can only answer for myself: NO, they weren’t worth it.  Some were good (bread is nearly always yummy for me!) but at the same time, I know what happens to me when I eat bread: I retain water like a freakin’ sponge, my hunger shoots through the roof about an hour after eating it and the next day, my hands hurt.  Nothing like a pin-through-your-thumb-joint kind of pain to get your attention and remind you “Yep! You chose to eat that bread!” As much as I love bread, it’s not worth the ‘hangover’ I have to suffer through for the next couple of days or so until the grains and carbs get cleared from my body.

But is Consistency really boring?  Not unless we make it boring!  For most of us, there are a lot of foods on that healthy and nutritious list, but we either don’t want to make them or we just crave novelty. Right now, there are dozens of new books hitting the stores almost every day full of delicious, low calorie healthy recipes and, if you don’t want to buy a book, the same kinds of recipes are available for free on Instagram, Facebook, websites and blogs! All you have to do is Google!  You can eat something different that’s healthy, low calorie, low carb and unprocessed every day if you choose to do the work! (FYI: I Googled for you & there are links below!)

Myself, I choose not to do that much work with cooking! It’s too much of a hassle for me and I am seriously happy with much more simple recipes like “fried hamburger.”  I am also just as happy with steamed veggies, tossed salad and –whoa!– sweet potato fries! (Those last almost qualify as ‘a hassle’ for me!) But those are the kinds of foods I like to eat, and if I get bored, I can change it up by getting roasted chicken or simply switching to another protein that I enjoy such as pork, lamb or even an omelette.  The same is true with the vegetables: if I get bored with one, just switch to another! It sounds simple and it is! I don’t have to choose between Mexican or Chinese or Indian food in order to eat what I like, and even among those foods, there are still dishes I can enjoy that meet my guidelines.  Last week I met friends at a Mexican restaurant and had chicken caseras: grilled chicken on a bed of shredded cabbage and onions with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo– and it was really really good! Even more importantly, after enjoying something different and delicious, I didn’t feel cruddy afterwards!

Also as a bonus, how hard would it be for me to make something like that at home? It’s something even I could do: get a bag of shredded cabbage, chop an onion, chop up some rotisserie chicken breast and mix it up with some fresh pico, sour cream and guacamole! Yummy, healthy and– most shocking of all– it’s Consistent with my goals! I can eat something like this every week or every day and stay Consistent with my weight loss, health and nutrition goals! How boring is Consistency from this viewpoint?

What happens with most of us (me included) is we get stuck in a rut.  It’s easy to fill the fridge with rotisserie chicken and bagged veggies so we forget that there’s a whole array of foods and recipes that are available to us. In that situation, yes, Consistency is boring, but it doesn’t have to be! We don’t know what to look for or we get lazy and rather than try to find something new that stays within our eating guidelines, we go back to what we used to eat.  The problem is the way we used to eat is what caused us to gain weight and feel cruddy all the time.  We call it a treat or a special occasion but all we are treating ourselves to is failed goals, a blood sugar roller coaster, weight gain and added aches and pains.  Personally, I don’t think of any of those things as “treats!”

Food For Thought

Nom Nom Paleo

Paleo Leap

Primal Potential

Eating Clean

 

 

Getting Started: Where Do I Begin?

A friend of mine recently decided to lose weight and eat healthier, and like most of us, she’s a little lost.  She knows what her goal is: being a healthier weight and healthier in general, but as to how to get there? It’s all a little vague. Most of us begin in the same situation.  The goal is usually pretty clear, but the path to take is like finding our way through a maze. Which route do we take and how do we know if we are making progress?

I think she has made a good start: she knows where she wants to go and she has an idea of how she wants to get there.  Although she wants to lose weight, her goal is to be healthier overall, so she began by making some realistic changes.  Instead of changing several habits all at once, she began by trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.  She said growing up, her family didn’t eat a lot of those, so she is making an effort to eat more of them.  She also joined My Fitness Pal and is logging her meals and exercise.  Although she’s just started changing her eating habits, she’s been exercising regularly for about a year now (I met her at the gym) so that habit is already firmly established!

As far as “choosing a diet plan,” she hasn’t really opted for a ‘packaged plan,’ which I think is a good thing.  Too often, I hear people trying to fit their lives and eating habits around the Rules for a diet. This is how people end up malnourished or becoming ill after following Rules carved in stone by someone they’ve never met.  (My all-time favorite is the college student who ‘went vegan’ and ended up almost dying in the emergency room because of B12 deficiency.) I don’t have anything against vegans (my cardio trainers are both vegan) but when we opt for following a way of eating, we need to make sure that it fits our nutritional needs and our own preferences.  I really love grapefruit and cabbage, but I’m sure not opting for the Grapefruit Diet or the Cabbage Soup Diet!

When people ask me if I have a diet, I usually tell them that I do a ‘version of Paleo/ Primal,’ because my ‘rules’ are going to be different from anyone else who also does Paleo/ Primal.  There are even disagreements over how to define Paleo and Primal, so following the rules is a little bit like choosing a religion!  This is why I’ve opted to make my own rules and follow my own version.  What I do may not work for my friend or for anyone else, so while it’s great to ask for advice, if it doesn’t work for you, then what’s the point?

As I mentioned above, my cardio trainers are both vegan and they are big fans of promoting veganism.  It really works for them: they are both healthy and fit 70 year olds (not a typo- they’re both in their 70s!)  Personally, I like eating animal products and I know I wouldn’t be very happy ‘eating vegan’ or even vegetarian!  At the same time, there are a few of my fitness and gym friends who eat keto, which is usually heavy on fat, mainly from animal products.  As much as I love things like butter, bacon, meat and dairy, the few times I’ve tried eating keto, it has not been very satisfying, even discounting carb withdrawal.  I hear repeatedly how healthy vegan/ vegetariansim/ keto are and I don’t doubt they work for a lot of people.  My sister was a happy vegetarian for several years before she opted to change her eating habit again.  None of those really made me feel good, so they’re off my list of eating plans!

My own version of Paleo means mainly whole natural foods as unprocessed as possible.  It also includes dairy (most hardcare Paleo followers insist that Paleo + dairy = Primal). It does not include starchy vegetables, grains/ grain products, cane sugar and some legumes.  Essentially, I started with a basic Paleo framework and adapted it to suit my metabolism and preferences. In fact, when I started, my diet did not include dairy for many months.  Eventually, I opted to include it again although I do think I need to limit it more than I do now.  The point is that the way I eat now makes me feel my best and I am getting the results that I want.

That is how we find the answers to those earlier questions: which route do we take to our goal and how do we know if we are making progress?  If you are feeling your best with your current eating plan and you are getting the results that you want, then that is the route to YOUR goal.  Most of us go into dieting with the general goal of ‘losing weight.’  Weight loss isn’t always healthy!  In fact, when I started losing weight, because I was so extremely obese, I lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time.  When I saw my doctor, her first reaction wasn’t “finally!”; it was “are you feeling alright? are you having health problems?” Rapid weight loss is an indicator of cancer, hormonal imbalance and intestinal/ digestive problems.  It also leads to malnutrition, i.e. the vegan college student with B12 deficiency.  What most of us really want is ‘fat loss,’ not just ‘weight loss,’ and while the distinction is lost on most people, it is an important distinction.  Losing weight can mean losing water weight (and becoming dehydrated) or it can mean losing lean body mass, i.e. losing muscle, among other things.  When the number goes down on the scale, most of us are really happy about it and keep doing what we are doing to keep the number going down.  But if we are doing something unhealthy, then we are only becoming thinner instead of healthier.  My friend made the observation that while most of her family was obese, all the people she knew who were diabetic were thin.  Just as being clinically obese doesn’t equal ‘unhealthy,’ being thin does not equal being ‘healthy.’

Getting the results you want, whether losing fat, building muscle or being fitter, is one way of knowing you are on the right path, but we must also not discount the ‘how am feeling’ part of the answer.  If you are getting the results that you want, like fat loss, but you hate the way you are feeling or eating, then that is NOT the right path for you!  If you hate the way you feel or you hate the way that you are eating, you are not going to sustain it for long. I tried both vegetarianism and keto a few times, and frankly, I hated both ways of eating.  I felt horrible, had terrible cravings and did not enjoy what I was eating. Although I’ve since learned that the cravings and the ‘keto flu will go away, I didn’t like what I was eating and overall, I didn’t like the way that felt. There are days when I eat more to a keto or veggie plan than other days, but those are the exception rather than the rule.  When I opted to include dairy again in my diet, one of the things I watched for was simply “how does it make me feel?”  If it made me feel awful or kept me from making my goals, then I would have kicked it back out again, but the truth is I like cream, butter and cheese and it doesn’t keep me from my goals.

We’ve all done diets where we strictly limit our foods, either the types or the amounts and yes, most of us have lost weight on those diets, but once we stop the limiting, we gain back fat and usually a bit more.  This is why it’s so important that we must enjoy the way that we are eating in order to be successful, otherwise any fat loss is going to be temporary!  Also, what is the point of looking great if we feel miserable?  Remember the last time you lost weight and showed up at a function like a holiday party where everyone commented on how great you look? That felt awesome…. until we reached the buffet table! There was all that food that either wasn’t on our diet or was simply too much! Instead of thinking, yum! what looks good to eat?, we were crying inside because it was all foods we were denying ourselves! I know from experience that situation is no fun at all! I know I don’t want to spend the rest of my life ‘looking great and feeling miserable!’  Even though there are a lot of foods that aren’t on my list, there are a lot of foods that are, and the last time I was at a buffet, there were still a lot of yummy foods that I could and did eat!  It was easy to choose those foods over the foods not on my list because I knew I felt better eating them and I knew I was going to keep making progress!

My friend is still in the early stages of her getting-healthier journey, but as I said, I think she is off to a great start. She is building good habits on a reasonable time line and she is asking herself the right questions. She mentioned it to me because even though she was enjoying her lunchtime salad with leafy greens and chicken, she was still getting hungry before dinner, so she was asking me about options for fixing that.  We discussed adding in some healthy fats (avocado, olives or more cheese) or more fibrous veggies (broccoli, cabbage or kale).  Obviously, what works for me won’t always work for her, but the important points are that you have to eat what you like eating and still get the results you want, because unless you do both, it doesn’t matter what you eat or how much weight you lose.

“No Thanks! I Choose Life!” Weight Loss Starts with You

Every now and then, I hear people talking about how it’s nearly impossible to lose weight once you get ‘older.’  I have been overweight pretty much all my life.  I was a pudgy kid and then when I was in 6th grade (thereabouts) my weight really began getting out of control.  I was around 200 when I was in my 20s and for each decade thereafter, I added roughly another 100 lbs.  By the time I was in my mid-forties, I was about 375, +/- 10 lbs.  I’d lose some weight, gain it back, gain some more, lose a bit, and repeat the process.  I’d gained and lost the same 40 lbs for several years.  Most people would be thrilled at losing 40 lbs, and frankly, I was too, but when you’re going from 375 to 335, it’s a little less thrilling: “Yay! I’m under 350!” Essentially, I’m still sinking, just not as fast as before.  Unfortunately, even that little glimmer of hope soon faded away.

Most of us chronic dieters are pretty good at making bargains with ourselves and rationalizing our choices.  I remember when I realized that I had been over 350 for so long that even if I lost weight, I would need surgery to remove my excess skin.  “I don’t want surgery, so I won’t lose weight.” Great! Now I no longer need to worry about losing weight! Except….. my weight was still a problem.  I remember thinking “not everyone is cut out to be skinny, so I guess I’m just destined to be fat.”  Great! Now I no longer need to worry about losing weight! Except…. I still kept gaining weight.  “I’m still happy and fairly active even though I’m overweight.” Except…. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t very active.

Honestly, I spent about ten years or so- most of thirties and the first half of my forties- being about 375, and for most of those years, that last rationalization was true.  Despite being so overweight, I was independent and fairly problem-free.  I could do just about anything I wanted to do and knew how to get around the activities that were a little more problematic.  If I wasn’t truly happy being 375, it wasn’t a big issue in my life.  But unfortunately, I was still gaining weight and so every year or so, I would add a couple more pounds or so.  I think if it hadn’t been for the changes in my job, I would probably have kept gaining about that same rate and probably would have hit fifty closer to the 400 lb mark but still under.

But, when I was about 46, things changed at my job, which led to changes in my lifestyle, which led to me gaining about 65 lbs over the course of two years.  I remember being 48 and realizing I was not only over 400 lbs now, I was beginning to make some serious progress into that weight range: I was 438. That is some serious weight. Even worse, I was completely miserable.  I couldn’t walk for any distance or stand for any length of time.  It hurt to move around, to sit, or lie down.  While being 375 is far from healthy, those additional 65 lbs really put extra stress on my body physically and I started having health issues I’d never had before.  Family and friends started talking to me about getting a gastric bypass.

Frankly, I hated this idea.  I’ve never been a fan of surgery but having your guts rearranged seemed crazy.  I remember meeting with a bariatric surgeon (mainly just to tell others I’d considered it) but the idea was always a no.  [FYI: that surgeon was a real butthead!]

So what happened? Long story short: I decided to make myself a priority.  One of those goofy movie lines that sticks in my head sometimes: Ice Age– Sid looking at Diego’s ‘short cut’ and saying “No thanks! I choose life!” Yeah, it’s goofy, but it’s pretty much what happened to me.  I was looking down the barrel of a very short and painful future, and “no thanks! I choose life!” I quit the Job From Hell and that was the first of a series of choices that put my welfare first.  That lifestyle change led to others: no more fast food; eating healthier; slowly being more active; getting more rest; and those small changes alone had huge consequences.

And I mean Really    Huge    Consequences.  Like the small changes in my job that led to my being so unhealthy and so utterly miserable, those small decisions to eat less processed foods, eat more whole foods, get more sleep and be more active led to my losing roughly 100 lbs in about a year.  No surgery. No weird diets.  Nothing extreme.  I just decided to eat more whole foods, be more active and put my health first.  I picked a food and lifestyle plan that I liked that was also sustainable and I followed it.  If this were a movie, it’d be easy and my weight loss would have been consistently linear and there would have been no cravings, no difficulties (and I’d be happily married to a great guy who looks shockingly like Russell Crowe,) but- alas!- it’s not a movie.  There were lots of cravings at first.  It was hard work following the diet (Paleo), learning what works better for me and what frankly does not work at all.  I did a lot of research, mainly because that’s one of the things that works to keep me focused and I just like it.  It also gives me access to some new ideas, but while people will fret that “it’s impossible to lose weight after 40!”, I am here to tell you that it is not impossible.  I’ve not only lost the equivalent of an entire large sized adult, I am still losing weight.  I didn’t even start losing weight until I was nearly 50! Yes, it was a lot of work at first, but it gets easier the longer you stay with it!  It’s just like any other habit you learn: harder at first, then you learn the little hacks and it’s not so hard anymore.

I’ve lost 184 lbs and I now weigh about 250 lbs.  I am much more active and I feel so much better physically and mentally.  Yes, I do have some excess skin, but it’s not a problem right now.  Maybe eventually, when I either stop losing weight or it becomes a problem, I might have to deal with it surgically.  But the excess skin is less of a problem than my weight ever was! I know this isn’t a movie, but it still has a happy ending for me, and I know that there can still be a happy ending for everyone else who is over 40, overweight and thinks they are destined to be the ‘fat guy/ girl.’  You don’t need a fairy godmother, but you do need to choose yourself first.  (And if you’re a great single guy who looks shockingly like Russell Crowe, give me a call!)

You Can’t Choose For Them But You Can Choose to Respect Their Choice

This is a topic that is close to my heart, because it stabs right through! I was watching a rerun on My 600 Life: it was a follow-up episode and the patient was doing fairly well, having lost about 200 lbs. The problem now was her 23 yr old daughter’s weight, which was around 300 lbs.  The patient (Charity) was desperate to keep her daughter (Charlie) “from going through what I went through” and was essentially hounding her to lose weight.  I have been that daughter.  For more years than I care to think about, I have listened endlessly to all kinds of threats, inducements, plain old bribes, suggestions subtle and not at all subtle about my weight.  I know the mother’s behavior stems from her love and desire to protect her daughter, but the girl is now an adult and the best way to show that love is to respect her daughter’s decisions, even if she thinks they are the wrong decisions.  It’s okay to disagree with her and be respectful about it, but constant criticism is only going to drive a wedge between them.  Think about it: let’s substitute ‘boyfriend/ girlfriend’ for ‘weight.’  How many of you have listened to a parent complain about the person you are dating/ involved with? How much fun was it seeing your parent when you had to listen to them talk badly about someone you love? How long was it before you limited your exposure to your parent and/ or tuned them out as soon as they started complaining about your boyfriend/ girlfriend?: “You wouldn’t have to do XYZ if Bobby had more ambition.” “If Jolene dressed a little better she’d probably get a better job.”

I am sure Charity thinks she is doing what moms are supposed to do and look out for their children. She no doubt thinks she’s ‘guiding’ Charlie, but Charlie has already told her that when she criticizes her weight or her eating habits, it hurts her feelings (frankly, that’s more than I could ever tell my mom!)  So, Charity does the ‘next best thing’: when they show up at Dr. Nowzaradan’s office, Charity tells him to tell Charlie she needs to lose weight! (One of those not-at-all-subtle suggestions!) What Charity does not realize is that she is not helping her daughter any more than the constant criticism and humiliation at the hands of others helped Charity to lose weight herself! As someone who has been in Charlie’s shoes, I can tell you that all Charity is doing is making Charlie feel more inadequate and more like a failure or disappointment.  There is the ‘constant qualifier’ to her self-esteem and worth as a person: ‘you’d be such a pretty girl if only you weighed less“; “you could do XYZ if you didn’t weigh so much“; etc.  In other words: “you’re just not good enough because you’re too fat.”  I am sure that this is not what Charity believes just as I am sure this is not the message she wants to send to her daughter, but this is the message she is sending her daughter when she criticizes her weight and her eating habits: you are screwing up!

People eat for a variety of reasons and two of the biggest are emotional solace and simple control.  We hear a lot about people ‘eating their emotions’ because they are either feeling something they don’t know how to deal with or they don’t want to deal with, so they distract themselves by eating something that makes them feel good, or they want to celebrate by making the good feelings last longer, so they eat something to reinforce those positive feelings.  The end result is usually obesity: ‘I can’t handle my emotions.’

Control is another reason: pretty much the ultimate control over your own body is what you eat.  Remember how little kids will refuse to eat?  They are exercising control over their situation in the only way they can.  This can end up as an eating disorder, usually anorexia.  Sadly, this is how my grandmother died: as her health deteriorated and there were fewer things she could on her own, she chose to eat less and less.  Despite being hospitalized and having the doctor (and others) flat out tell her that she would die if she didn’t eat, she refused to eat.  The flip side of self-starvation is obviously obesity: ‘I am in control of what I eat and I am choosing to eat!‘ The irony is that the more you choose to eat or not eat, the less control you have over your situation.  As my grandmother grew weaker, there were fewer and fewer things she could do, until she finally ended up in a hospital where she died.  The same is true for the super morbidly obese: the more they eat, the bigger they become, the less mobile they are, the less they can do until finally they are bedridden and dependent on someone else bringing them the food they still demand because their ability to eat as much as they want is still under their control as they learn to manipulate their enablers.

In a situation like Charlie’s, the more disapproval she senses from her mother, the more likely she is to eat her emotions: she feels bad that her mom is unhappy with her, and her mom makes her feel bad about herself, so she eats to feel better, and then feels guilty that she ate or that she ate the ‘wrong thing,’ so she eats something else to feel better.  I think for Charity growing up, she ate for control (I know I did): her childhood was chaotic and scary and eating was something she had control over, so she ate as much as she could to make herself feel safe and secure (it was kind of the same for me).  When everything is chaos and disorder, you control what you can, even if it’s just a bag of potato chips.  The point is that having used food for solace and control in her own life, Charity should realize that her nagging behavior is not supporting Charlie.  Unfortunately, like most of us, Charity is too close to the issue to be objective.

It’s hard to say what I would do in a similar situation: I’ve been morbidly obese like Charity (technically I still am) and I grew up being hounded over my weight like Charlie.  Obviously since my weight remained a problem, one thing I am absolutely sure of is that hounding someone is guaranteed not to succeed.  Constant nagging only alienates those involved and in most cases adds to the stress which triggers the ‘offending behavior,’ whether it’s smoking or eating (my mom hounded one of her boyfriends about smoking with the same results!) There’s that old expression: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” You also can’t push him down the road you think he should be on.  All you can do is try to lead him, and leading by example works a whole lot better than bullying or humiliation.

When it comes to other family members, whatever they choose to eat is their own choice.  There are few things more personal than what you choose to put in your body.  My sister was vegetarian for many years and while it’s not my choice, it was hers and I respected that when we went out to eat.  My dad eats the Standard American Diet, and when he was recovering from an illness recently, I bought groceries for him.  It would have been easy for me to buy him what I think he should be eating (my mom would have) but I bought things he likes, although I did buy the healthiest versions of them that I could.  I could have filled his bags with organic produce and meats and left out the breads and processed foods he likes, but that’s what I choose to eat for myself. Having been the recipient of “healthy” groceries chosen by my mom, based on whatever “doc of the day” said was healthy, instead of being grateful, I was more hurt and annoyed than anything else.  I confess, when I shopped for him, I leaned a little more heavily on the fruits and vegetables he likes rather than the stuff in cans or boxes, but they were all things he enjoys.  His grocery bags looked way different than mine do and that’s the point: we all choose different things for ourselves.  You may not like what someone else chooses to eat: you might think it’s bad for them; that they are eating all wrong; that they need to ‘fix’ whatever in their diet, but the fact remains that it’s their life, their body, their food and their choice. We need to respect one another’s choices as we expect them to respect ours.

Do you know what has helped me the most in my weight loss? Other people respecting my food choices.  My mom disagreed with my choice to eat Paleo (at least until the “doc of the day” gave it his thumbs up) and just like before, I tuned it out. The rest of my family was kind of interested in it, or at least they faked it for my sake, and they encouraged me to make better choices by respecting my different way of eating.  Now if I eat something that ‘isn’t Paleo,’ they tease me about it but won’t tell me that not to eat it.  Being supportive doesn’t mean being critical; it means respecting someone else’s decision.  If Charity really wants to be supportive with Charlie, she can do it by inviting her to share her healthy meals, setting a good example and letting Charlie decide for herself.  After all, what is more encouraging that being around someone who is happy, healthy and is holding the door open for you to join her?

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Wired To Eat by Robb Wolf

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was listening to Robb’s new book (thank you, Audible!)  Generally, I don’t like to ‘read’ books this way, but his book sounded a lot like an extended version of his podcast.  Even though it was not read by him, Robb’s personality definitely came through and I believe one of his best attributes is that he explains some really technical info in terms that everyone can understand.  Not only did I finish his audio book in record time, but while listening to it, my attention did not wander! (Minor miracle!)

I’m not going to go into chapter and verse here, but I will give you a quick overview. In 2011, Robb published his first book The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet and it was a resounding success.  Paleo was already being discussed by the weight loss/ fitness community and most people fell into one of two camps: either they thought it was another goofy fad diet or they were firm believers.  Most people today still fall into those two camps, but the Firm Believer camp is growing fairly steadily, mainly because more and more health professionals (including doctors and nutritionists) are finding that even if they don’t buy the complete ‘Paleo premise,’ the fact that the lifestyle emphasizes whole unprocessed foods, healthy movement and quality sleep is enough to merit a hearty endorsement.

In Wired to Eat: Turn Off Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite to Lose Weight and Discover the Foods That Work for You (really really long title, dude!), Robb is taking the Paleo diet and individualizing it for you.  He’s developing the idea of Personalized Nutrition by first laying a strong foundation of healthy eating, movement, sleep and community and then taking it one step further by helping you find what foods are better for you and which foods you should be avoiding.

One of the things I like best about Robb (and I think it’s a big factor in his success helping people eat healthier and be more active) is that he has no illusions about the weight loss/ fitness community and industry.  He tells you a few times in the first few chapters that this is basically a ‘diet book’ and the fact that we are reading it at all instead of “killing it with fire!” is a small miracle on its own.  Robb understands that most of his readers are going to be looking for a quick fix and that many won’t make lasting changes unless the program isn’t complicated and they see some positive results fairly quickly.

Robb begins with his 30 day Reset, which is essentially a Paleo diet plan.  He admits he chose Paleo because it’s a whole food diet, emphasizing what he calls the four pillars of good health: nutrition, sleep, movement and community.  By focusing on eating whole unprocessed foods, we give our bodies the best materials we can to repair and refuel itself.  By getting enough quality sleep (and those two adjectives are important!), we give our minds and bodies the time it needs to repair and refresh themselves.  By getting enough healthy movement, we keep our body in good working order, which is also good for the mind, and by maintaining positive healthy relationships, we also keep our bodies, minds and spirits healthy and vibrant.

Robb gives us a little background on our basic human wiring.  Humans evolved to move.  As a species we walked on an average more than five miles a day, pretty much consuming everything edible that crossed our path and we rose and slept with the sun in an extended family unit or tribe.  This paradigm served us pretty well until the last hundred years or so.  Even after the agricultural revolution, we were still doing okay until the invention of cheap electric light, industrial foods and antibiotics.  We began eating highly processed but nutritionally barren foods, using broad spectrum antibiotics which wiped out our healthy intestinal bacteria (which allowed us to eat the nutrient rich foods) and started sleeping less and less and becoming more and more cut off from society. As a result, over the last century, we’ve become steadily more unhealthy, increasingly obese and much less active, and- a much more frightening statistic- the rates of digestive and autoimmune diseases have skyrocketed.  Under the current functional medicine point of view, most of our rampant health issues stem from the lack of good nutrition, lack of activity, lack of sleep, and growing social isolation.

Most of Robb’s book focuses on getting us through the 30 Day Reset, in which we stop eating the Standard American Diet of processed foods and high glycemic load carbs.  We start moving more, getting more sleep and building or maintaining our social connections.  He essentially talks the reader through why these things are important to our success not only as a species but as an individual.  He also has some quick easy meal planning tips for those who are intimidated by the idea of cooking most of their own food as well as some tips for what happens when the reader goes out to eat.  A lot of them are pretty common sense to me, but I grew up in front of a stove, cooking for my family. When I got older, I elected not to cook (with amazingly disastrous results, BTW!) When I mention cooking to others, I am frankly shocked by how little most people know about cooking and how resistant they are to the idea.  Many of them think making dinner involves hours of meal prep and slaving away over the hot stove.  They also think meal planning takes hours of complex menu convolutions.  Robb gives a few ingredients and menu variations with those few basic ingredients that only take about 30 minutes to prepare.  Most of them sounded really good too!

He also goes through some healthy advice on movement, community and sleep. He outlines ideas on getting more quality sleep and its benefits.  Some of these sounded a little ‘out-there’ to me, but I’m pretty atypical in this arena.  What works best for me and some of my friends is a sleep/ relaxation app, a warm cozy blanket and my pets.  Robb emphasizes the benefits of sleep and how it not only restores our brains and bodies, but it also helps us recover from the stress of the day.  We are not a society that values relaxation and stress management any more than we value sleep and this shows in our lack of good health.  Even though we live in a high tech, food-rich society, we are generally more unhealthy than our grandparents because, although food is plentiful, it has fewer nutrients than the food our grandparents ate, and thanks to our modern lifestyle, we isolate ourselves in front of our devices for hours on end, without moving or sleeping.  None of this behavior is healthy.

As far as movement goes, his advice is pretty basic: choose an activity you enjoy and do it as much as possible.  If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.  As a coach and a gym owner, he gives some background on endurance and your mitochondria, but the bottom line is even if you choose the healthiest activity there is, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t matter.  I really like water aerobics and while it may not be the healthiest activity, it’s one that I do as often as I can because I like it and I like hanging with my friends in the class. That makes it a successful workout regimen for me.

Community is also something that is overlooked by our high tech high stress society.  In the past, we lived and worked in communities with strong social ties. Being isolated increases stress and depression, among other things, while shortening our lives.  Social isolation ranks with cigarette smoking when it comes to shortened life span. Humans are social creatures so maintaining and developing social ties are important to our stress relief, mental and physical health. Again, I am atypical in this regard, in that I am happily single and living with others actually increases my stress.  Let me clarify that: living with other humans increases my stress and irritation.  I have a strong social human network  with whom I interact nearly every day, but at the end of the day, I go home to my furry family.  Although I am the only human in my household, I certainly do not think of myself as ‘living alone.’

After laying a pretty solid foundation for healthy living in his 30 day Reset, Robb goes the extra step and tells us how to customize our eating plans through the 7 day Carb Test. By the time you’ve gone through the 30 day Reset, you’ll have noticed that most of the carbs in the menus are low carb, unprocessed and/ or fiber rich.  It is Paleo after all, so there’s not a lot of things like pasta, breads, rice, white potatoes, wheat, corn or other grains on there.  The 7 day Carb Test is where he explains how we can get some of those back in our diet.  The 30 day Reset is to help you establish a healthy baseline and healthy habits.  It gets you off the crazy carb roller coaster and other unhealthy habits and once you’ve done that (and probably lost a few pounds, are feeling more rested and focused), he shows you how to figure out what foods work better for you than others.  He suggests getting a glucose monitor to test your blood sugar.  What most people don’t realize about blood sugar is that cravings, hunger, headaches, low energy and weight gain, not to mention diabetes and other diseases are related to your blood sugar, which is pretty much dictated by what you eat.  If you want to ride the blood sugar roller coaster, start with bagels and juice for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, a grande mocha in the afternoon, pasta marinara for dinner and a scoop of ice cream for dessert.  Even if you add in some extra protein, that menu will have most of us going up and down with mood, energy and hunger all day, with the accompanying weight gain.  But not all carbs are bad for everyone, and that’s what Robb’s 7 day Carb Test helps you figure out.  He outlines a program to let you test yourself on some of the carbs you like and want to add back and then you can determine if you are too sensitive to them. Even if you aren’t really sensitive to them, some foods may just make you feel worse or better than others.

While the 7 day Carb Test isn’t complicated, there are a few caveats: if you have never tested your blood sugar, it means sticking your finger to draw a bit of blood.  Most glucose monitors will run you about $10-20 and you need to check to see if they include batteries and the lancing device and the actual lancets.  Some of them don’t and the lancing device and lancets will run about another $10 or so.  The device is reloadable: it’s the lancets that you need to change out each time and a box of those is fairly cheap.  Most lancing devices have a little dial at the tip: this controls how deeply the lancet sticks you to make you bleed.  Start with the most shallow number and do NOT lancet the tip/ pad of your finger! Too many nerve endings and it will hurt like an SOB! Stick the side of your finger tip and stick a different finger each time.  What is NOT cheap are the test strips.  Most reliable test strips will cost about a dollar a strip and they are usually sold in boxes of 50 or 100 (you may be able to get a box of 25 depending on the brand).  Should you opt to do the 7 day Carb Test, you MUST make sure that the test strips you get are compatible with your monitor.  Even if you get an off-brand that says it’s compatible with XYZ brand monitors, there is usually some discrepancy, like plus/ minus 10 points. Depending on how much you want to invest in your carb tolerance and your diet, the 7 day Carb Test may be worth it for you.  If you have pre-diabetes, D2, or another weight loss condition, your doctor might be able to give you a prescription for the monitor and the strips, etc but you will need to discuss it with him/ her and see if your insurance will cover it.  Personally, I’ve stuck my fingers too many times to be interested in doing it again.  I know what carbs I like and what works better for me, or at least is worth the ride on the roller coaster.

If you are interested in Robb’s book or anything else about Robb, his website is Robbwolf.com.  (The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble if you want to skip his site.)  At his website, you can find info on his other book (The Paleo Solution), his podcast and a host of other resources.  Robb’s a real pro and I’m not kidding when I say he is a fitness and nutrition guru. [Obligatory disclaimer: I have absolutely no affiliation with him.  I just think he’s a great resource for anyone interested in eating better and getting healthier.] I hope you enjoy his book as much as I do and feel free to let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Potayto- Potahto: Diet v Lifestyle

The summer is rapidly approaching and so is the second wave of “diet season.”  There’s the first wave at New Year’s, the second wave at summertime and a smaller third wave around the holidays (“look good for New Year’s parties!”)  Of course along with all the new diet programs and services, there’s a whole new wave of exercise gizmos designed to burn fat and give you rock hard to-die-for abs.  I’ve looked at a lot of these kinds of diets and doodads, mainly because my mom bought them and shoved them at me.  I didn’t try all of them but the ones I did try obviously didn’t work.  Not the magic ‘fat-binding powder’ or the deck of food cards to keep me from eating too much or even the food delivery program I picked out and bought myself.  After so many years, I finally know why they didn’t work: simply put, diets are temporary and temporary by definition does not last!

When I started losing weight and began looking for a long term solution, I found Paleo.  Most people know this as the “Paleo diet” or the “Cave Man diet.”  In the Paleo community, most followers call it the “Paleo lifestyle,” because a diet is temporary and many of us will not be going back to the way we ate before.  For most of us who adopt a certain way of eating and living, it is by definition a ‘lifestyle.’  I’m not going to go all militant Paleo Stormtrooper on you and insist you call it a lifestyle, but I have learned that so much of the success with losing weight and getting healthier has to do with mindset as much as it does nutrition.  This isn’t just a semantics or a ‘label’ issue: I think this is fundamentally why diets don’t work: instead of the diet mentality (I can go back to my old eating habits once I’ve lost weight), we need to change our thinking to “I am living a healthier life now.”  By thinking this is a temporary situation until we reach X goal, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  I know how wonderful it feels when you finally lose weight: something is finally working! Hallelujah! And I also know how utterly hopeless it feels when you gain the weight back.  This is why so many of us just give up and resign ourselves to being the ‘fat woman’ or the ‘fat guy.’  Obviously, there’s something wrong with us, since ‘Diet Program XYZ’ didn’t work for us.  It works for everyone else, but either we did it wrong or we’re just destined to be fat forever.

Well, odds are, we didn’t ‘do it wrong’ nor is there something in our genes compelling our bodies to be fat forever.  Diets are temporary solutions to life-long issues.  By the time most of us reach our thirties, we have been dieting on and off for years, and despite that, we are still overweight. Many of us find as we get older that it’s harder to lose weight, the weight comes back faster and each time we regain the weight, we gain back more than before.  As a result, not only are we not losing weight, we are getting progressively more obese.  This is a result of dieting and the metabolic damage that it causes.  The diets have made us fat.  These ‘temporary solutions’ have definitely had a permanent effect on our bodies and metabolisms, but not the one we wanted.

As a result of constant yo-yo dieting, we cause long term (and sometimes permanent) harm to our metabolism.  The more you restrict your calorie intake, the slower your metabolism becomes.  Your body triggers you to eat more because it’s recognizing that it’s not getting enough fuel to sustain it as it is.  So not only do you become tired and lethargic, you are hungry all the time.  This is your body lowering your energy level to conserve the fuel (body fat) that it has and it’s telling you that the tank is running dry, so eat something, buddy! This is why people find dieting so hard: you are starving your body, but in a diet battle between you and your body, the body wins every time!  Even if you do lose weight, the reason you gain back faster is because your body is used to functioning at the lower metabolic level, so even if you go back to eating what you used to eat, say 2000 calories, your body is still functioning at the 1200 calorie level you were at on your diet. As far as your body is concerned, you are eating 800 calories above what it takes to maintain your current body, so you gain weight.  That means the next time you diet, eating 1200 calories is going to keep you right where you are, so now you need to lower your calories to 1000 or lower. This is how people end up gaining weight on 1000 calorie diets.  [FYI: fasting is not the same as dieting.  Fasting has beneficial qualities and does not cause the same kind of metabolic damage.]

So how can we lose weight without tanking our metabolism and spending the rest of our lives eating rice cakes and plain tuna? We change our lifestyle instead of dieting.  Changing your lifestyle starts with changing what you are eating rather than how much you are eating.  Yes, you will have to eat less than what your body needs in order to burn fat, but your body was originally programmed to burn the excess body fat when necessary.  That’s why the fat gets stored to start with! But we have been really bad care-takers of our bodies and we have jacked up the wiring (to use the technical terminology) and so now our body is used to periods of extreme deprivation aka dieting and so it hangs onto as much fat reserves as it can because it doesn’t know how long this extreme deprivation will last.  What we need to do is feed it enough good nutrition so that it starts letting go of some of the fat reserves because not only is it getting enough to survive, it’s getting a lot of really good stuff that allows it to function at a higher level.  Personally, I think it’s a little ironic that most people who will go out of their way to feed their pets the best food and treats and make sure they get enough exercise won’t do the same thing with their own bodies.  I confess to doing this myself: I made sure my pets had high quality food while I was eating Jack in the Box.  My first clue should have been when My Yorkie refused to eat the McDonald’s burger patty I offered him (and he was not the picky eater I have now!) Some people use a technique called ‘reverse-dieting’ to repair metabolic damage. I am not sure how this works, or if it is effective. (Metabolic Radio did a podcast on it if you want to find out more.)

For myself, I began by viewing this as a lifestyle change, not a diet. I decided- before I started- that whatever eating plan I was going to follow was going to be a life-long plan and not something temporary.  The changes I made were going to be permanent, so that did two things for my mindset: 1) there was no expectation of ‘this is only until [insert goal here]; and 2) there was no pressure to hurry.  Since I intended to do this for the rest of my life, it didn’t matter if I made 6 changes in one week (NOT a good idea) or if I made one change a month (much more doable). It also gave me a little more freedom to experiment: if I tried eating more kale instead of something like rice, there was no penalty if the kale didn’t work for me (FYI: I discovered I really really hate kale!)  So nix the kale, stick with broccoli! No harm, no foul! Since this is a lifestyle, there is no ‘doing it wrong’ unless I am forcing myself to eat the kale (or something else I don’t like) because it is ‘the healthy choice.’  Being healthy doesn’t mean that we are miserable.  I really think this is part of the dieting mentality: we feel like we are making sacrifices to gain the weight loss prize, so we put up with the suffering but as soon as we get the prize (or close to it), we stop torturing ourselves and go back to eating what we like.  This is pretty much how a diet works: no sugar, no chips, nothing that we like until we lose X lbs, and then- relief!! No more kale, rice cakes or dried out chicken breast!……..and the weight comes back!

This is the difference between a lifestyle and a diet: because I am making permanent changes, my focus is on eating things that I enjoy, that are healthy for me and that don’t leave me starving.  My criteria isn’t the calorie count, but the nutritional value.  If it’s a whole food I like with good nutritional value, ie strawberries, broccoli, or sweet potatoes, I eat as much of it as I like.  Portion control at the beginning was a bit of a struggle, but after a while, I got used to eating normal sized portions mainly because whole foods are more filling than processed stuff and the body takes longer to digest them.  So instead of feeling bloated and sluggish after dinner, I feel pretty good.  That’s because dinner used to be a sourdough jack, fries, jalapeno poppers, diet soda and maybe cheesecake.  Now dinner is a lamb shoulder chop, sweet potato fries and strawberries.  Not only do I feel a whole lot better, it tastes a whole lot better too. I am also not hungry all the time, either.  Eating processed foods used to make me feel like a blob right after eating them, then I’d be hungry and tired in a couple of hours or so.  My energy level was always either ‘okay’ or ‘about to fall asleep.’  Now my energy level is pretty even throughout the day and at the end of the day, I am hungry for dinner, but I’m not starving.  If I have to run a few errands before I get home and make dinner, I’m still okay.

Although my goal was- and still is- losing weight, my focus isn’t on eating low calorie foods that I don’t like and don’t make me feel good just so I can lose more weight faster.  I don’t want to be thinner and miserable any more than I wanted to be fat and miserable.  I want to feel good no matter what my weight is.  For me, this is the most important difference between a diet and a lifestyle: I want to enjoy my food and my life for the rest of my life; I don’t want to be miserable for a few weeks so I can be thinner for a few more weeks until the weight comes back.  Tried it and frankly, it sucked! Once I decided to make being healthier a lifestyle, I have been losing weight for the last two and a half years and I have been enjoying myself doing it.  It’s not a hassle; there’s no drudgery involved and there’s no fear of gaining the weight back.  There is also no deprivation involved: if I want to eat popcorn, cake and frappacinos, I have them.  I make a point not to have them a lot, not because they’re ‘fattening,’ but they don’t really taste great anymore and sometimes they give me a rocketing sugar high followed by the accompanying blood sugar plummet.  I stress way less about my weight and health now than I have since I was ten years old and never thought about it at all. Instead of scrutinizing everything I eat, I eat what I like, because now I know that what I like is good for me. This is the second most important difference between a diet and a lifestyle.  The most important difference is that a lifestyle actually works for a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing to Your Own Tune: Personalize Your Healthy Living Routine

As some of you know, I like to eat Paleo and one of our chief gurus, Robb Wolf, recently published a new book, Wired to Eat, about customizing your eating plan.  The book has been out a little over a week and I downloaded the audio version.  I confess I am not a big fan of audio books, but what the heck! I can give it a listen on the drive home.  One of my favorite people (Elizabeth Benton, Primal Potential) is also reading it and I’m looking forward to hearing her thoughts on it.

From having read the opening chapter (thank you, Kindle sample!), it looks like the point of this book is that no matter what eating plan you follow (Paleo, Keto, LCHF, etc) you need to find what works for you! You would think this would be a no-brainer, but many times we just “follow the rules” or “follow the crowd.”  For example, “my sister does keto and she doesn’t eat any veggies at all! I must be doing it wrong since I usually have salad once a day!” This is where so many of us run into problems, and not just with eating.  It’s that syllogism again: All poodles are dogs but not all dogs are poodles.  We are all human, so there are some foods that are better for other species than for us (ie eucalyptus leaves are not high on our diets!), but we are not all the same, so there are some foods that are better for me than for you, and vice versa.  Even among poodles, there are variations, so we need to account for these variations when we start making improvements to our routines.  Sometimes, following the crowd and/ or rules will not work for us, and it’s okay to customize our routines.

We often forget that when we try to adopt a healthy new plan. For example, another one of my favorite people (Alan Misner, 40+ Fitness) was giving some tips on how to stick with your workout routine, and one of his tips was to get it done first thing in the morning. Honestly, I hear a lot of advice about getting your workouts done first thing in the morning, doing your journaling or gratitude or meditation, etc, first thing in the morning. For a while, I just figured I was out of luck, since I am the antithesis of a morning person.  The old expression “I’m allergic to mornings” is the best descriptor for me. Listening to their podcasts, I pretty much came to the conclusion that as a night person, if I tried to do the routines Alan and Elizabeth were describing, it would be a disaster for me. I am not awake in the mornings, so when they gave advice about doing self-care and journaling and workouts, it would be the same as a morning person trying to do it at night.  Most people come home from work and they are pretty worn out, ready to have dinner, watch a little tv/ internet and go to bed.  I am more awake in the evenings: I come home, do my journaling, get online, watch tv, have dinner, play with the pets, do my workouts, make my phone calls and if I had my way, I would go to bed around 1:00 a.m. or so. Going to bed by 11:00 p.m. is a sacrifice for me!

So, instead of setting up an evening routine that’s pretty much on autopilot, I set up a morning routine that is on autopilot.  Before I go to bed at night, I set out everything I need to pack for breakfast and lunch.  All I need to do when I get up is turn on the coffee maker and grab my lunch bag.  My gym bag gets packed the night before and left next to my purse.  My clothes are laid out the night before.  The only accommodation I really make is I get up a bit earlier to I can do my version of gratitude.  “Gratitude” is a practice that focuses on things and people you truly appreciate in your life and it starts (or ends) your day on a positive note.  I don’t write anything out or pray or meditate: I spend a few minutes each morning playing each of my pets individually.  The rest of the morning is pretty much on autopilot for about an hour or so, until I really wake up sometime after coffee and getting on the highway.

The reason most people do an autopilot routine in the evenings is that this is the time of day when they are most likely to veer off track and away from their goals because they are emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day.  Alan refers to this as “decision fatigue.”  This is when you’re asking yourself what to have for dinner, should you go to your workout? what should you do to keep on track to your goals versus what feels easier for you to do right now?  This is when they stop for fast food or call for pizza or blow off the gym.  I know from my own experience, these ‘evening’ pitfalls hit me more often in the morning: if I didn’t pack my gym bag the night before, I am more likely to blow it off in the morning because I’m tired, not awake, I have too much to do, etc.  It’s easier for me to make excuses in the morning.  The same thing happens with breakfast: if I didn’t set it up the night before, I can pretty much guarantee I am getting it to go at some fast food place.

Plain and simple, I don’t fit the norm, so following the routines that all the “professionals” advocate is almost impossibly hard for me. The idea of my working out in the morning is pretty much laughable: I’d never get there on time and I’d probably hurt myself being half awake.  I customized my routines to fit what works for me and after a little practice, they are working out really well.  But for some of us, we have never thought of customizing a plan to fit our own needs: we just follow what everyone else says is “the right way to do it.”  If it doesn’t work for us, we scrap it and try another routine from someone else.  We forget that we can modify things to fit our own schedule, (although both Elizabeth and Alan will remind you to do what works best for you.)

One of the other hot topics in the health & fitness media is sleep, both the quality and the duration.  I have never been a good ‘sleeper’ since I have been told since childhood that I am ‘doing it wrong’:  I sleep in the day; I am awake at night; I sleep with the lights on, with all kinds of noise, in a warm room and with all my pets jumping around the bed.  “Well no wonder you are sleep deprived!” they tell me. “You need to sleep in a cold dark soundless room during the night without anyone else in the bed!” Ummm…….no.  When I make my own schedule, I sleep just great: in the day, with the noise, the lights, the pets and the heat on. I sleep until I wake up naturally and I have lots of energy.  Trying to do it ‘the right way’ is an exercise in agony for me.  When I force myself to sleep according to the rest of the world’s day-night routine, I end up sleep-deprived. I am foggy-headed when everyone else is wide awake and I am wide awake when the “experts” tell me I should be getting my best sleep. I sleep just fine with the lights on (after a lifetime of pets sprawled out on the floor) and the lights going off will in fact wake me up.  The pets wrestling on the bed aren’t a blip on my radar. I wake up and find the ones who were on the bed are on the floor and the ones on the floor are on the bed, and I never even budged! How can I be doing it ‘wrong’ if the routine I use gets me the results that I want? [FYI: I was told the same thing by my study skills professor in college: studying in a noisy room while watching tv is “not effective!” Guess I just imagined graduating magna cum laude! My sister has the same habits I do, and she graduated summa cum laude, but what do we know!]

Robb’s book seems to be about taking this customization idea a little further to include your eating plan.  For most of us who eat Paleo, there are some foods that are simply off the menu if you follow the strict diet, like bread, wheat/ grains, refined sugars, beans/ legumes, etc.: “Completely non-Paleo! Bad food! Bad food!” But the truth of the matter is that if my sister and I eat a food like corn, I might have an extreme blood sugar response and she might not.  The corn will effect me negatively but she might be fine with it.  On the other hand, if we both have something like cherries, my sister might have more of a blood sugar response than I do. Sometimes, it’s not the foods, but the amounts of foods, and although most people focus on carbs and blood sugar, it’s not just the carbohydrates that effect us. Some of us don’t react well to fats or proteins.  MCT oil is not my friend and neither is coconut oil.  They don’t make me sick exactly, but I don’t like the way I feel after eating them.  If you listen to a lot of health gurus, both of those are really pushed at people as being “superfoods” (like kale, also NOT my friend-yuck!) and I am really “missing out” by not including them in my diet.  I beg to differ: why eat something supposedly healthy and good for me if it makes me feel awful?  “Awful” is not how I want to feel; if I wanted to feel awful, I would go back to eating the way I used to eat when I weighed 375+.  At least I was eating food I liked back then )although I have since lost my taste for it.) The point is that if your healthy routine and/ or eating plan make you feel miserable, awful or is just too awkward or difficult to maintain, then try changing it so it does work better for you.  Healthy living is supposed to make you feel better physically and mentally: if it’s not doing that for you, then you need to change what you are doing! You might be doing it “the right way,” but if your routine, whether eating, sleeping or working out, isn’t giving you the results you want, then you aren’t doing it the right way for you. You don’t win any prizes for following the rules; you only win the prize when you get the results you want.

I have to admit that the idea of creating something completely tailored to your unique lifestyle and metabolism can seem a bit daunting at first.  Everyone likes something custom-made just for you, unless we have to do the work to make it ourselves! Then it’s just too much work or too confusing: “Where do I start?”;  “What if I’m doing it wrong?”; “How do I know if it’s right?” Robb’s book gives you a great starting point, but even if you don’t decide to use his book, there are a few out there that will give you an idea of how to develop an eating plan that works better for you than a more generic “one size fits all” plan.  Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry? is also very comprehensive and it gives you a structured format to start you off before you learn to fly on your own. The important points to remember are: 1) it takes time to get all the kinks out before you find the routines and foods that work best for you, so be patient!; and 2) simpler is always better! It’s generally easier and more convenient.  The more you overhaul the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain! And not just the drain: if something involves too many steps or is just too inconvenient, what are the odds you will stick with it long term?

In the end, it’s all up to you: only you know what works best for you: eating, sleeping, being active- all of it!  It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work for others or if they are telling you to try what works for them, even if it’s a family member who’s telling you. If what you are doing is getting you the results you want, then stick with it!  If it’s almost there but not quite, then give it a tweak and see how it goes.  Don’t abandon what you’re doing until you have given it enough time to know that yep, not working! Then you can try what your brother or your friend recommended, but since we are all unique, there is no ‘one size’ for everyone.

 

 

Beating the Clock: “I Don’t Have Time to Work on my Diet!”

This is going to be a little bit of a rant hopefully mixed with a little common sense.  One of the excuses I hear a lot (and that I personally used myself!) is “I don’t have time to work on my diet!”  The idea that a diet “takes time” comes mostly from the diet industry.  I think people genuinely believe that it takes a lot of time and preparation to “work on a diet.”  Part of it I think really is just an excuse to keep putting it off, but I blame most of this wrong-headed approach on the diet industry.  When you look at the programs that are advertised all over the media, it usually comes as some kind of package, either with food you have to pick out and order, or some kind of food list and meal prep instructions and all kinds of things you need to read, set up and/ or shop for.  They have to sell you something for the hefty amounts of money you are paying them!

In reality, “working on your diet” takes no more time than the way you are eating now.  You do not need to order any pre-packaged food off a website; you do not need a long list of special powders, pills, specialty foods or equipment.  All you need to work on your diet you most likely already have at home right now.  It’s not about doing anything special: you don’t need hours to do “meal prep” or create a “diet menu.”  There is really one thing you need to do to “work on your diet”: Make Better Choices.  It takes no more time than what you do already.  I know this for a fact, because it takes me no more time to make better choices now than it took for me to make really awful choices two years ago.

Pretty much anywhere you go to eat, whether in your job’s cafeteria, fast food or the grocery store, even a gas station mini-mart, you choose what you eat, and all you have to do is make a better choice than you did before!  Most cafeterias have some kind of salads, vegetables, cheeses, or yogurt in addition to whatever processed foods they have.  Some of the better ones can make you a wrap or you can always get the burger/ chicken breast sandwich and ask them to leave off the bun/ bread (you can always just throw it away yourself!)  Just because you are in the cafeteria doesn’t mean you have to have the burger, fries or spaghetti or whatever.  While you are there on your regular lunch hour, choose something healthier!

The same goes for eating at fast food or even a regular restaurant.  Salads are available at almost all fast food places, and certainly at a sit-down restaurant.  The same thing goes with the fast food burger (take off the bread and skip the fries!).  Some of them now have the “low carb burger” wrapped in lettuce.  You don’t have to have fries and the soda.  Get a bottle of water or if you want something sweet, get the diet soda.  Your eating doesn’t have to be perfect- it just has to be an improvement for you! You will still lose weight and be eating healthier!

The same goes when you are shopping at the grocery store: you don’t have to buy the packaged foods.  Most supermarkets have salad kits and steam-in-the-bag veggies.  They take no more time to prepare than the boxes of packaged foods you make now, whether on the stove or in the microwave. Most of them are 5 minutes or less, and if all you are doing is pouring the salad in the bowl and adding the seeds/ nuts and dressing, it’s maybe a couple of minutes at most! As for the rest of the meal, it doesn’t have to be complicated.  There are a variety of slow cookers and pressure cookers (Instant Pot comes to mind) that greatly simplify “meal prep.” You can either set up your entree to cook while you are at work or using an Instant Pot, cut the meal prep down to a few minutes.  Personally, I use my cast iron skillet, toaster oven or get the prepared meat out of the deli (usually rotisserie chicken or roast beef).  Making dinner for me takes no more time than hitting the drive-thru, and it has the extra bonus of already being at home.  I get a lot of stuff done at home while the dinner is on the stove/ in the oven: letting the pup out; feeding the cats; putting the laundry in, etc.  Instead of sitting in a smoggy smelly drive-thru, I’m at home taking care of things I need to take care of whether I make my own dinner or not.

It’s not any more difficult to make a “healthy” grocery list than it is to make an unhealthy one.  Instead of getting seven frozen dinners or seven boxes of rice or pasta mix, I get seven days worth of protein,  veggies, fruits (my preference is for fresh or frozen, but canned work too).  Instead of buying a box of frozen waffles, I buy a carton of eggs.  Instead of boxed mixes, I get vegetables:  Instead of processed foods, I get fresh meats, eggs, cheeses, etc.  It’s simply about choosing things that are minimally processed or healthier rather than things that not so great for you.  Shopping takes the same time whatever I am buying. Cooking doesn’t have to be some long complicated recipe out of a book: it can be throwing some pork chops or burgers on the stove and heating up some veggies.  Most of the time it’s 30 minutes or less, which is about what it takes to hit the drive thru and get home.

The same goes when you stop at the gas station for a snack: instead of getting the chips or the candy, get a cheese stick or some jerky.  They also have nuts, which are a great snack! Instead of the soda, get a bottle of water or a diet soda.

If you decide you want to buy a “diet book,” go for it!  I would also suggest you buy a book on nutrition, simply to give you an objective point of view.  There are a lot of books with solid weight loss/ healthy eating plans and many of them contain recipes.  If you don’t want to buy a book, there are a lot of websites that offer free information on nutrition and recipes.  One of my favorite sites is Primal Potential.  It has 100 Fat Loss Friendly Meal Ideas for free and she also did a podcast on healthy meals under $1.99 per serving.  Another of my favorite sites is Paleo Leap (I eat Paleo if you haven’t guessed!) I’m also a fan of Nom Nom Paleo, but her recipes are bit more involved, although extremely delicious!

A few words on meal prep: I know there are a lot of people who live and die by the meal prep idea.  They make a batch of soup, stew or meat on one day and eat it during the week.  There are just as many people who spend several hours cutting up their fruits, veggies, meats, etc and pack it all in the fridge or the freezer so they can heat it up in a couple of minutes or have them ready in the fridge.  That’s up to you: if that works for you and makes it easier, then it’s worth the investment.  For me, it’s too much of a hassle and it usually doesn’t work out for me.  My idea of quick and easy snacks are usually a bag of nuts or some Epic bars in my desk.  Personally, I think they keep better and last longer than the cut of celery or cucumbers, although I will prep radishes when I buy them.

The whole point is that “working on your diet” isn’t any more work than what you are doing now.  If you think that the way you are eating now is “working for you,” just ask yourself how you are feeling?  Are you happy with how you look and feel?  Do your clothes fit the way you want them to?  Do you have the energy you need and want?  Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect: it just has to be better. And ‘better’ is relative! Make a better choice this week and then when you feel a little more comfortable, make another better choice.  Your body will notice the improvements and you will start losing weight, without doing a lot of extra work.

You don’t need to do hours of meal prep or menu planning and your schedule doesn’t have to change: the only thing that changes are the choices you make regarding the foods you are eating.  Obviously, the diet industry does not like to tell you this, because they have a vested interest in selling you their products.  If you don’t buy their little food prep boxes, equipment, books or meal service, then they don’t make money.  Eating healthier doesn’t need a big investment of time or money, but it does require a little bit of common sense and careful thought.  You can work on eating better or you can work on staying where you are: it’s your choice.