Caveat Emptor: Being a Savvy Fitness Shopper

Information is a double edged sword: it’s always good to learn new things, even if it’s just new information on an old topic, but sometimes that new info or idea is distracting.  When it suddenly becomes “The Thing that Everyone is Doing,” there’s always an urge to jump on the bandwagon.  Sometimes, doing your own thing makes you feel like you’re missing out or you’re off in a corner by yourself.  We want to be with the crowd (we’re social creatures after all) and suddenly being alone doesn’t feel good. It also makes it hard when you’re looking for support and motivation: “Everyone else on MFP is doing keto/ IF/ LCHF but me.” It’s hard not to feel like we’ve missed something, but at the same time, if what we are doing is working for us, then we tell ourselves why mess with a good thing?

This is why we have to be informed consumers: jumping from one weight loss program to the next is a formula for failure.  We will accomplish nothing beyond frustration and wasted money and possible metabolic damage, none of which are good things.  It’s great to keep an open mind and learn new things, because eventually, most of us reach a point where what we are doing stops working for us or we are ready to make a change for whatever reason.  But if we try keto one month and then move on to IF the next month and then maybe try Paleo the month after that, we are not being consistent long enough to earn any success at any of them.  As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likes to remind us, consistency is what earns us our easy as well as our success.  How can you make something a habit, and therefore easier on us, if we aren’t consistent enough to make it a habit? How do we know if we’ve achieved any kind of success at any of these programs, if after four weeks of keto and two weeks of IF, you realize you’ve lost 6 pounds.  Great! Was that because of the keto or the IF?  Well…… the IF was what I was doing last, so I guess it’s the IF? Yeah, that’s why there’s a question mark.  Are you sure it was the IF or maybe it was keto or maybe it was because you started CrossFit three weeks ago or you dabbled a little in Whole30 when you switched to the IF.  Maybe it was all of those or one of those or who knows?

If you are feeling a little confused with all of the jargon, it’s on purpose.  Weight loss, nutrition and fitness are huge businesses and jargon is one of the ways people make you feel like you are missing out and you need to join their program! It makes them sound like they really REALLY know what they are doing and so you should listen to them! Just because people can throw around a lot of techno-terms and stats doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about or that what they are selling is good for you. (There’s a commercial out right now for a financial service company that has customers speaking with  DJ who is pretending to be a financial advisor and he fools them by using all the right jargon.)  I am not selling anyone anything, but I have been on the receiving end of a whole lot of sales pitches.  One of the expressions I use a lot with people is this: Why listen to your friends and family who are trying to sell you something when you can listen to the sales clerk who only has your best interests at heart?  (yeah, it’s backwards and that’s also on purpose!) This is what we do when we are presented with a sales pitch and our friends/ family offer their free advice.  We are sooo tempted to go with the flashy sales pitch- “I can buy these little colored boxes to put my food in so I can eat right!” The important verb in that sentence is BUY. Someone is trying to separate you from your money, but it sounds a whole lot flashier than your sister’s idea of maybe using a food scale and regular old plastic sandwich bags. Why spend $20 on a plain old boring food scale when you can make three easy payments of $19.99 (+ S&H) and get those cute colored boxes, a diet book and an exercise DVD? If you are really going to use them and stick with their program for a few months at least, then I would say go for it.  BUT (and we knew it was coming!) most of us won’t do that.  We’ll try it until it’s not fun and new or we don’t think it’s “working” fast enough, or we see something else that we think we might like better!

The simple truth is that we need to be patient with whatever approach we try and we need to be realistic about those approaches we do try. This is where my mom and I parted ways: she was always pushing me to try new approaches/ diets/ magic powders/ exercise gizmos that were the newest latest thing, which 1) may not be the best choice for me; and 2) may not be a good thing- PERIOD!  There are a lot of programs and ideas out there that can be harmful and we assume that if we see an advertisement for something, it must be safe, since “they can’t sell it if it’s harmful, right?” Ummm, …….maybe.  It’s not up to the manufacturer to make sure things are safe for everyone, and even if it’s not dangerous, they may just be selling unrealistic expectations. How many times have you seen the commercials for some weight loss program and they show you those ‘amazing’ before and after pics? We all know down in the corners it says “results not typical,” but it’s a lot like selling lottery tickets: you probably won’t win, but the chance is always there, and as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play! So you buy the program and play their game.  In most cases, as long as you follow their program, most people will lose weight. The problem comes when you stop following the program.  Many of them promise to help you transition from their food products to regular food, but most of us tend to go back to our old habits and gain the weight back again.

This is why we need to approach weight loss, fitness and healthy living the same way we approach other “products.” Most of the time when we are out shopping, we know when we buy on impulse, and most of us are pretty good at stopping ourselves from buying something like the great big shiny gas grill that can hold 17 steaks and has a burner to heat up the chili. Whatever “grill” or shiny new toy we are looking at, if it’s a substantial expenditure, we ask ourselves “how many times will I really use this?” It’s the same thing when the car salesman tries to up-sell us on those wonderful heated seats for an extra $1000- really?! $1000 to heat up your bum while the car is getting warm? Is your bum really that sensitive?? If you can afford it, then go for it, but for me- I’m happy if my windshield de-fogs in 15 minutes; as for my bum, I’ve got a lot of insulation!

Weight loss, fitness and healthy living should not be impulse buys or lottery tickets.  We really should approach them like we are buying a car or new smart phone, because like our cars and phones, we will be living with them every day, and if they are a hassle, we won’t use them.  This is why we have jokes about treadmills being the world’s most expensive coat racks and used sports equipment stores are in business. We buy them on impulse, in a fit of good intentions, and they sit there taking up space and getting dusty.  The same goes with gym memberships: we sign up, agree to auto-pay and then when someone asks you what gym you belong to, you have to pull out your keychain to check the name on the tag:  “oh, yeah! That one! I think it’s East Avenue….” I am just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to the fitness impulse buy, although I tend to be a little cheaper about it (used equipment and discount gyms).

On the other hand, I think it’s a good idea to keep an open mind about new techniques, especially if what you are doing now isn’t working for you or you don’t like it as much as you thought you would. Most of us have traded in a few cars and upgraded our phones, but when we did it, we checked out what we were getting and compared it to what we were giving up before we did it.  If you’re looking for a new weight loss/ fitness plan, make sure that you’ve stuck with the one you’re on long enough to know that it either isn’t working for you or you don’t like it before moving on to something else. Listen to those who have done it before: some plans like a ketogenic diet (keto) or intermittent fasting (IF) require some adjustment time. If the plan you’re on now wasn’t a carefully considered choice, then make sure the next plan you choose is something you decide on like a new phone or a new car: how many of us got that really big smart phone because it was cool and new and then we realized what a hassle it was because it was so big and awkward to hold? We traded it in ASAP because it was unwieldy and we had to use it every single day.  When we approach a prospective weight loss/ fitness plan, we need to ask ourselves the same kind of questions: how much of a hassle will it be for me to get to this gym two or three times (or more) a week?  If I decide on Paleo, how difficult is it going to be to stop eating things like bread, cereal and pasta on a regular basis?  If I decide on whole foods, how much trouble is it going to be for me to prepare 90% of my food myself?

Most things worth doing are worth making an adjustment in our daily lives, like exercising regularly, being more active and eating healthier.  We know this and in that way, it’s different than buying a car or a phone: yeah, there’s a little bit of change, but not really.  Cars and phones are all pretty similar, but eating healthier and changing how we move and how often? They can be HUGE adjustments, which is why we need to take the time to give them and us a fair chance. I think this is why most of us buy on impulse: we know it’s a big change and we think we can handle it and then we realize we can’t or don’t want to make that big a change and there we are using the treadmill as drying rack.

This is where we need to be realistic: too much of a change is too much work and it’s often overwhelming. Maybe you really do want to try keto or IF, but if most of your meals come in a box or from the drive thru window, maybe you should try something a little simpler first.  This question is not unlike the massive car payment for that brand new SUV with the heated seats: yeah, if you stretch your budget you can make it work, but do you really want to stretch it that much?  Then there’s the used SUV without the heated seats but it gets good mileage and it’s in good shape and the payment is a lot better. It’s better than the car you’ve got now and you can easily afford that payment: for most of us, it’s a no-brainer and we go with the used car.  We need to have the same approach when we look at things like clean eating, a gym membership or any other lifestyle change: is it a good fit for us?

Personally, I was a total carboholic before I started Paleo.  Most of my diet was bread, pasta potatoes and fast food. Seriously, about 80-90% of every meal I ate was a processed carbohydrate like bagels, bread, wraps, toast, pasta or some kind of cereal bar. I bought boxes of mac and cheese by the case. When I decided that Paleo was what I wanted to do, I seriously asked myself if this was going to work for and after a few days, I decided to start by giving up the potatoes, and then I moved forward slowly.  It took the better part of a year before I had given up all the things on the “not Paleo friendly” list and now, more than two years along, I don’t miss them.  Garlic bread can be really yummy, but it’s not the temptation it used to be. Paleo is something I can live with and really enjoy.  It wasn’t an easy change but it was definitely worth the changes I made. It’s not for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be.  It just has to be what’s right for me.  Now, keto on the other hand……

 

 

 

 

 

 

Failure is NOT an Option: Healthier Eating Plans for Weight Loss & Nutrition

This is probably the biggest time of the entire year for the weight loss and fitness industry.  Summer is another big time, but the start of the new year always has people trying to capitalize on starting new healthy habits and losing weight, so it’s not surprising that I’m seeing way more commercials for fitness and weight loss equipment and diet plans.

The sad part is that everyone really wants to improve their lives and health but most of those who try will give up by the end of February.  Not because they aren’t sincere, but because they are frustrated and overwhelmed.  They are trying to change too much too soon, usually and it’s not surprising that they lose focus and start feeling like a failure.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) usually compares this to teaching a child to read: she says you start with the alphabet, not The Iliad!  I usually think of weight lifting: you don’t walk into the gym on the first day and load up the bar with 150 lbs! You start with maybe 10, or just the empty bar!  You know you can’t deadlift 150 lbs- you’ll hurt yourself!  But when we start new fitness/ eating plans, we do the equivalent of 150 lbs and then we wonder why we failed: “what’s wrong with me?!”  There’s nothing wrong with YOU– it’s your method! I recently did a post on New Year’s resolutions and how to succeed at them (Making a List and Checking It Twice: Those Nagging New Year’s Resolutions).  This post is about what healthy eating plan you want to do!

There are a lot of diets out there and new ones coming out every day.  The truth is everyone is different and your way of eating for optimal health is not going to be like anyone else’s.  This is why the weight loss industry is pretty much always booming: people try to fit into someone else’s diet and when it doesn’t work- or work fast enough- they drop it and start shopping for another one!  The key to success with healthy weight, healthy nutrition and fitness is to find your own diet! Easier said than done, but that’s what this post is going to help you with!  Once you find what works for you, you’re there. You just have to keep doing what you’re doing. Little tip: if you aren’t happy doing what you’re doing, it isn’t the right plan for you!  Anyone can lose weight eating chicken breast and steamed broccoli 365 days a year but if it makes you miserable, you won’t keep doing it (and even if you stuck with it, you didn’t get ‘healthy’ so you can be miserable!)

There are a variety of healthy eating plans or Ways of Eating (WOE) that don’t require you to buy pre-packaged foods or attend meetings or do anything other than maybe download a list of foods or a short outline of the plan.  Having tried a few of the other more restrictive eating plans (buying their packaged foods from a service), I personally think these less restrictive WOEs are a better option: you can buy the food anywhere and they are a lot more flexible if you run into an unforeseen situation.  Some of the healthy eating plans I considered are: Mediterranean diet; ketogenic/ keto diet (not really flexible); High Fat Low Carb (HFLC); Atkins; Whole 30; Whole Foods; Paleo/ Primal (what I eat); Intermittent Fasting (IF);  and vegetarian (& related forms); vegan;.  There are also the various diets put out there by certain professionals such as the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP); the Wahls Protocol; Dr. Hyman’s Eat Fat Get Thin diet; Dr. Ludwig’s Always Hungry? diet; and Elle Russ’ Thyroid Solution diet. (Some of these are obviously trying to fix health problems other than just weight, but that might be part of why you’re looking to improve your health.)  Some of these diets are really similar and it’s only the details that matter, but it’s the devil in those details that can make all the difference!

The more generic diets (diet here means “foods an individual habitually consumes”) tend to be a little more flexible than the “sponsored” diets. I think that’s because these are the ways communities ate for generations and someone finally noticed and wrote a book about it!  For me,  that lends a little more credibility to them since generations of people ate that way and remained relatively healthy. [Disclaimer time:I am not affiliated with anyone but me and I make no money off of any of these diets/ WOEs. I am not a health professional: just another informed consumer!]

The Mediterranean Diet: As the name implies, this is the diet consumed by communities around the Mediterranean and its big focus is on fruits, veggies, grain & grain products (breads, pastas), legumes, olives & olive oils, and nuts/ seeds. It also advocates eating fish and seafood a few times a week, dairy and eggs in moderate amounts more often/ daily and meats and sweets the least. The focus is on whole unprocessed foods and limits red meats, emphasizing proteins from seafood and even though it does advocate eating pasta and grains, the idea is that they are not a big portion of the diet and are to be balanced out by the vegetables, legumes and proteins.

High Fat Low Carb (HFLC): In a lot of ways, this is kind of a freestyle version of the more regimented Atkins diet.  It promotes exactly what it says: you eat high amounts of healthy fats, moderate to high amounts of proteins and keep your carbs low.  The trick here is “healthy fats.”  Generally, there are still a lot of people out there who are afraid of saturated fats from red meats. Healthy fats are foods such as avocados, coconut oil/ butter, olives/ olive oil, and fats from proteins like fish, meat and eggs.  The prevailing thought is that if it’s a naturally occurring fat, it’s healthy in the right proportions.  Man-made fats like trans fats and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) from crop oils (soybean, corn, canola, safflower, etc) are generally unstable and cannot be used by the body or expelled, so they are there inside you forever doing nothing good. This is what scares most people away from this diet, but in healthy amounts, I don’t think they are harmful: it’s the “healthy amounts” again that are the issue. I tend to keep my fats higher than my carbs and protein in my diet by a small margin, and I do this by eating only natural fats and I limit the saturated fats from red meats.  By keeping the carbs low (and hopefully limiting them to complex carbs from vegetables), you can maximize your weight loss and nutrition.

Atkins diet: This is again much like the HFLC diet described above except it’s broken down into 4 “phases” in which you limit your intake of the macros (fat, protein, carbohydrate). For those of you who don’t know, this diet was created by the late Dr. Robert Atkins.  It starts you off by severely limiting your carbs, and then you begin phasing in more carbs from vegetables and nuts.  The bulk of your calories come from healthy fats and proteins.  This is a “sponsored” diet with a website, community and a line of packaged foods following the diet protocol. Initially, this diet took a lot of abuse for advocating high fat at a time when fat=death, but studies continue to bear out Dr. Atkins’ findings.

Whole 30: This is a WOE that obviously focuses on eating whole natural foods.  The term Whole 30 is actually another sponsored diet (see Whole30.com) with a list of rules for their eating program, focusing on whole foods (minus certain foods like sugars/sweeteners, grains, alcohols, dairy, legumes, etc) and it’s “30” because it’s a month long program.  This program has had a lot of success, and like the Atkins site, it offers books, communities and support to help you succeed. It also has rules like no measuring, no weighing, and no analyzing body composition during the program (but it’s okay to do before and after.)

Whole foods: A less stringent version focuses simply on eating whole foods.  (This has nothing to do with the grocery store chain of the same name!) Basically, you eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible before you prepare them. For example, when you eat sweet potato fries, you buy the sweet potatoes and cut them up into fries yourself; the flash frozen bag of sweet potato fries is not a whole food. Apples are a whole food; applesauce is processed.  The point of this WOE is that you are not getting any (hopefully) of the chemical additives, preservatives and PUFAs that come in processed foods and are getting more of the natural vitamins, nutrients and fiber that comes in the unprocessed foods naturally.  This WOE isn’t focused on the macros but more on the natural state of the foods, and it also emphasizes organic and non-GMO foods.  This WOE is focused on nutrition, which is a good thing!

Paleo/ Primal: This is the WOE that I follow, so it’s the one I know best! Paleo gets it’s name from the supposed diet eaten by Paleolithic (hunter-gatherer) peoples, so it focuses on whole natural foods, but it initially took a lot of heat because it’s low carb and specifically avoids grains (including rice & corn), grain-products, legumes (including soy & peanuts), starchy vegetables (white potatoes, taro), refined sugars, dairy, and crop oils (canola, corn, vegetable).  This WOE focuses on vegetables, proteins (meats, eggs, seafood, poultry), good fats (coconut, olive, avocado), and nuts, seeds and fruit in moderation. The big difference between Paleo and Primal is the dairy: Primal allows it. Other than that,  I have not found any differences.  The focus of this diet is to avoid grains and processed foods in general.  Like the Whole Foods diet above, if you want sweet potato fries, they enter your house as the raw tubers from the produce section.

Ketogenic/ keto diet:  This diet is not very flexible and I have to say some people have a lot of difficulty with it, but those that manage to stick with it have had some fabulous results with weight loss, nutrition, energy levels and insulin resistance especially. Keto is extremely low carb, and by that I mean like 20 grams or less. By comparison, on Paleo, my carbs are generally around 100 grams per day, so keto has you eating almost no carbohydrates at all, either simple (bread) or complex (ie spinach).  The idea is that the body turns carbs into glucose which is used as fuel, but our bodies can also use ketones which are made from fat, so if you don’t eat carbs/ glucose, your body is forced to use fat/ ketones, either from what you eat or your body fat.  Most of the calories on the keto diet come either from fat or protein and you need to be careful not to eat too much protein because your body can turn protein into glucose (gluconeogenesis) which will be used as fuel. When you stop eating carbs/ glucose, your body will go into a state called ketosis, which means it’s burning fat.  Sometimes you hear people talk about “sugar burners” and “fat burners.”  If your body is using mainly glucose & carbs, you are a sugar burner; if it’s using mainly ketones, you’re a fat burner and if you can go back and forth between the two, you’re metabolically flexible (way too much terminology for me!)  FYI: sometimes this diet gets confused with ketoacidosis, which is a dangerous condition for diabetics.  It means your blood sugar and ketones are high and you need to get to a hospital ASAP.  This diet is really great for people who are reversing type 2 diabetes since it drastically reduces your blood sugar and increases your sensitivity to insulin (kind of the opposite of diabetes). People have difficulty keeping away from carbs, increasing their fat intake, and when you first start reducing your carbs that low, you generally feel pretty awful for the first couple of weeks (they call it “keto flu” because it’s so similar).  Personally, I have MFP friends who love this way of eating, but I have never been able to 1) keep my carbs that low; and 2) make it past the keto flu.

Intermittent Fasting (IF): This is not so much a diet about what you eat but about how you eat.  It’s fairly similar to Paleo/ Primal/ Ketogenic in that it’s great for reversing insulin resistance.  Just like it says, you fast for either several hours or several days.  The idea is not to starve yourself or drastically lower your calories (which can tank your Basic Metabolic Rate- think Biggest Losers who gained it back).  Apparently, when you fast, your body switches to burning fat like in ketosis.  There are studies which show IF has quite a few health benefits besides increasing insulin sensitivity and proponents say that instead of being tired and hungry all the time, like people would expect, the opposite is true: they have more energy and aren’t hungry.  When you fast, you do need to increase your water intake and also your sodium and electrolytes (they get flushed out with the urine at a higher rate). You can fast for either a few hours (12 hour eating window and 12 hour fasting is usually the starting times) or you can fast for a few days or longer. Proponents also state that the first two days of fasting are the hardest and after that, your body has made the transition and it’s pretty easy.  It is advisable that you don’t try IF unless you are in reasonably good health, not suffering from any illnesses and definitely not if you are pregnant.

Vegetarian/ Vegan diets: These diets, while also about health and nutrition, usually have a moral component as well.  Most people who follow these diets do so not only out of a desire to be healthier but because they don’t believe in eating animals (vegetarianism) or using products from animals (veganism). There are a lot of health benefits to a plant based diet, especially when it comes to reducing saturated fat and some of the less than positive attributes of meat. There are some different types of vegetarianism, such as people who only eat fish (pescetarians) and people who eat eggs and milk (lacto-ovo vegetarians) and other forms.  Vegans don’t use anything that comes from an animal: no milk, eggs, leather, or gelatin, etc, if it uses parts of an animal or is produced by an animal.  I do want to caution that there can be health concerns with this diet, as one of the essential vitamins we need is B12, which is very hard to get in sufficient quantities from plants alone. Those of you who have read past posts may recall I spoke about a college student who ended up in the ER because she was B12 deficient.  This deficiency can kill you since you need the B12 for your body to use oxygen: no B12= no life= no you!  If you do elect a vegan/ vegetarian diet and are not already taking a B12 supplement, you may want to consider it. There are possible other concerns, as with any WOE, so be sure to research all eating plans thoroughly and if you can’t find the answers to your questions, please see a nutritionist or dietician.

As for the remaining “sponsored diets,” they tend to run from the fairly complex and regimented (designed help you recover from a specific condition) such as the Autoimmune Protocol to the mildly structured such as the Always Hungry diet. Most of these have books and websites, like Atkins and Whole30, to help guide you through them.  Dr. Ludwig’s website has a lot of free info.  I have read Dr. Ludwig’s Always Hungry? book and it offers a great comparison with the Atkins and Mediterranean diets.  Almost all of these ways of eating have books or websites available to you.  Some of the sites I like are Primal Potential (site & podcast with more free info), Paleo Leap, Dr. Jason Fung’s Intensive Dietary Management blog, Jimmy Moore’s Living La Vida Low Carb (site & podcast).  Some of the books I like in addition to Dr. Ludwig’s are Living Paleo for Dummies, Vegetarianism for Dummies, Mediterranean Diet for Dummies, Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore, The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung and The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore.  These are only a few of the books and websites available. A note about the Dummies books: I like them because they assume you know absolutely nothing about the topic.  Even if you are familiar with it, it doesn’t hurt to at least review what you think you know, because I have come across info that was new to me, even though I’d already researched the topic.  It turns out I was less thorough than I thought!

It’s important to be an informed consumer and learn about a diet/ nutrition/ fitness plan before you start (remember the vegan college student!), but don’t get so caught up in learning “everything about all of them” that you don’t start any of them!  It’s also not a one-shot deal: if you start Whole30, decide it’s not for you and you want to try IF, you don’t have to wait until next year or the end of the month or any date in particular.  Give it a fair test run (remember keto and IF take a few days to get through the “flu”) but if you don’t like it, try something else! Also, don’t let anyone tell you what’s right or wrong for your way of eating and lifestyle.  Unless it’s something horribly unhealthy (like starving yourself, bingeing/ purging, etc), you are the one who knows yourself best.  My only requirements are: 1) does it provide a solid nutritional foundation?; and 2) is it something I will enjoy doing long term?  If the answer to either of those questions is ‘no,’ then I would keep looking.  If you have any questions, you can leave a comment here or send me an email at takingthelongweightoskinny@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Making a List and Checking It Twice: Those Nagging New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve been doing this “fitness thing” for a couple of years now and I remember last January when everyone on MFP (My Fitness Pal) was complaining how crowded the gym was!  They went for their regular workouts and found the gym was packed with all the “newbies” lining up for equipment and crowding the classes.  The general response across the board was “wait a few weeks and it’ll be back to normal!”  Happily for most of us chronic gym rats, that’s what happened: by the end of February/ beginning of March, the gym was back to normal.  Good for us; not so good for everyone whose New Year’s resolution was to get fit!

So, how exactly do you keep a resolution (New Year’s or otherwise) to get fit/ eat healthier? I’ve got two words for you: 1) Baby; and 2) Steps! Yeah, I know it sounds silly and it takes too long and everyone else is out there crushing it nightly at the gym and juicing the heck out of every leafy green thing they can find! And there you are, looking like a wuss, taking baby steps!  Need I remind you of the tortoise and the hare?  You can be off like a shot, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, and biologists will tell you rabbits are built for speed, not stamina. Long distance runners will tell you the same thing: you need to pace yourself!  [FYI: the first marathon runner who ran the 26.2 miles from the battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the Athenian victory to the city DIED after making the announcement!]

This is all about sustainability! All of us who regularly haunt the gym (or in my case, the pool) have worked it into our regular schedules.  This is a habit with us and we regularly schedule around our workouts.  For example, if I’m going to run errands after work, I never do it on Mondays or Wednesdays because I have my water fitness classes those nights.  Maybe two nights a week doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m still going after all these months. (I also just bought some pool gear so now I can do the same workout on Friday nights too!) A lot of the newbies who were crowding into the pool in January and February are no longer coming. Hitting the gym or weights or whatever four times a week is great, if you have the time.  If you can fit those in every week month after month, you’re definitely crushing it (and frankly, I’m a little jealous)! I don’t have that much free time in my schedule and I really don’t know a lot of people who do.  That’s the problem for most people: they want to get healthy but they think that in order to get great results, they have to show up at the gym several times a week.

They also think they need to clean out their kitchen of everything that even remotely looks or tastes good or fattening or “unhealthy.” So the juicers and blenders and spiralizers and other gadgets come out of hiding (like they do every January) and are put through their paces for roughly six weeks or so.  Like the constant trips to the gym, all that rigorous “healthiness” starts to wear thin after a while.  Really, how many spinach, cucumber and cranberry smoothies can someone drink?? (I know I’m soo tired of Epic bars myself! Ugh!) It’s also more difficult if you have a family to contend with: kids and spouses who are not doing the “fitness thing” with you also have to adapt to the new schedules and habits.  These can create substantial impositions on their lives: “sorry, hon, can’t pick up/ drop off the kids because I’m at the gym!”; “yes, we’re having kale salad tonight again!”; “no cinnamon rolls in the house- daddy’s on a diet!”; “More spinach?!

Do you know why baby steps are called “baby steps”?  Because- like a baby- you are learning how to do something! If you’ve ever tried learning a new language, you don’t pick up Don Quixote in the original Spanish! You start with a few easy phrases: Hola, mucho gusto, por favor, gracias, de nada, etc.  You create a foundation to build on; otherwise you get lost in unfamiliar territory.  Fitness and healthy nutrition are no different.  Build yourself a solid platform you can rely on and then keep building. Ideally, you should make a list of healthy habits you want to incorporate into your life and start with just the first one, then every month (once you’ve successfully added in the first), add in another.  For example:

  1. Drinking 6 glasses of water daily
  2. Tracking your food/ drinks/ activity
  3. Going to the gym twice a week (or once)
  4. Getting more sleep (at least 7 hours)
  5. Giving up (or reducing) bread/ pasta
  6. Eating cruciferous veggies daily (1 meal)
  7. Getting 5000 steps a day (or whatever number works for you)
  8. Eating at least one whole food meal daily
  9. Practicing gratitude/ stress management
  10. Giving up (or reducing) sugar
  11. Stop snacking between meals/ evenings
  12. Eating more organic/ non GMO foods

I admit this list does not look very impressive, but that’s because it’s things you will actually do and enjoy– not overwhelm you with “healthiness.” These are just some examples, but if you don’t know where or how to start this list has some easy examples and it should easily take you through 2017.  I know they look like something you can start all at once, but this is where most people run into trouble.  They’ve got this list of things they need to focus on and when real life hits, these “little things” get lost in the shuffle: “I can work on eating healthier after the huge office project is done! I’ll worry about getting more exercise after the meetings are over!  I’ll focus on getting my steps in once the merger is completed!” Before you know it, it’s April and you maybe get to the gym once or twice a month, your Fitbit is gathering dust on your nightstand, and you’re still regularly eating ravioli and English muffins.  This is about having one thing that you focus on for one month or so until you know longer have to think about doing it: it’s become a habit.  Congrats! Cross that one off your list and move on to #2!  By June, when everyone is complaining that they didn’t lose the weight or work out more during the winter and now it’s swimsuit season, you’ll look way better than most of your friends & office mates.  You’ll be more active, leaner and fitter and eating a whole lot healthier, and when they’re asking you how you stayed on track, you can tell them: baby steps!

Instead of trying to make a bundle of changes all at once, you made one change a month and built yourself a sturdy foundation.  (In other words, you learned your vocabulary before you started on sentences.)  It’s not glamorous or exciting or dramatic, but it’s effective. This is why this process is overlooked by a lot of people.  When it comes to fitness and weight loss, the slow steady ‘be the tortoise’ approach isn’t what people want to hear or see: everyone wants the quick fix and the magic pill. In the next couple of months, there are going to be a lot of commercials for ‘super-quick’ fitness & weight loss products & programs: “you can lose weight & look great in 14 minutes a day!“Pack all your food in our colored portion control boxes and you’ll lose weight without boring calorie counting!” They are all very tempting and some of them actually work….. as long as you stick with the program.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) tells her clients & listeners regularly: “short term solutions provide short term results” But most people are focused more on “fast and dramatic” and ignore the “temporary and unsustainable” part of the program: “I’ll worry about that later!”

People also run into trouble when they think they have to be perfect. They’re supposed to be cutting back on the simple carbs (breads, pastas & cookies) and they end up at a Mexican restaurant and before they know it, they’ve eaten half a basket of chips and salsa: “Crap! I screwed up!”  Yeah, those chips are definitely not low carb or whole food (even if they are corn tortilla chips).  Two more words for you: 1) so; and 2) what?  Yeah- so what?  You screwed up and had some chips! It’s not the end of your fitness journey; the nutrition police don’t throw you off the Fitness Team; the gym doesn’t shred your membership card! Sometimes when you’re learning a new habit, you forget and follow your old routine by mistake.  When I was trying out Bulletproof coffee, I kept adding my usual cream and stevia every morning because I was half asleep on autopilot; I had to stop buying the cream and stevia so it wouldn’t be there for me to put in by mistake! It took a little time but eventually, I got there. When you flub up, you get up and try again. If you ever learned to ski, you know the first few times, you spent a lot of time in the snow, either face first or on your butt! The same thing when you learned to ride your bike- the training wheels got a lot of mileage! But that’s why they’re there!  Something odd happens when we try something that’s not on the regular “growing pains” list or maybe it just happens when we turn into adults: we stop giving ourselves a break and start holding ourselves to ridiculous standards. It’s like we give ourselves one attempt at something new and if we goof it up (as most of us will!), it’s “too bad- so sad! thanks for playing!”  This isn’t the last at-bat of the last game of the World Series!  It’s not fourth and goal with 10 seconds on the clock of Super Bowl! If you flub up with the chips three days into “low carbing it,” you don’t lose the championship or the game or even your gym membership: you just stop eating the chips!  You just move on to the next good decision.  These are your training wheels!  They are your baby steps, because you really are still learning this!

This is why the newbies at the gym drop off six weeks into the New Year and the rest of the regulars are still there.  They’ve taken the time to work these healthy habits into their regular lives.  I went to the grocery store without my list the other day (I thought I had it in my pocket- what can I say?) So when I realized I’d left it at home, I just went through my usual circuit at the store: produce section, meat, coffee, health, pets, dairy. It was pretty much autopilot, but that’s what made it easy. When I reached an area where I normally shopped, I knew what I was there to get, did a quick mental check (am I out of that?) and moved on to the next section! This is what makes it easy to stay with it and this is the difference between sustainability and “temporary solutions.”  It would have been harder for me to do my grocery shopping last year when it was still a new process, but now it’s normal and I don’t have to worry about having to fall back on boxes of mac & cheese and hot dogs “in case I don’t have anything for dinner.”

There’s nothing glamorous about taking baby steps and following the “tortoise” route.  There are no dramatic changes- yet! The dramatic “holy cow, you look great!” comes later in the year, when you show up for the 2017 office Christmas party and people who haven’t seen you for several months get another look at you.  The dramatic looks start coming about June or August when you’ve had six or eight months to get the baby steps rolling.  Once the sustainable changes start showing, the “wow! you look good!” remarks will start coming more and more often (which is some great motivation, too!) but the best part of knowing that your improvements are showing is also knowing that you don’t have to worry about “how long can I keep this up?” and “what happens when I can’t do this any longer?”  This is what no one talks about when they’re pushing the super-quick ‘look great in 21 days’ programs at you: what happens when the 21 days are over?  what happens when you can’t keep doing the boogie board exercises or can’t keep packing dinner in the portion controlled boxes?  The bottom line: if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing to lose weight/ get fit, YOU WON’T KEEP DOING IT!  You have to find what works for you, what you enjoy doing and then make it part of your normal every day life.  It’s a little bit of work, it’s not oh-so-dramatic, and Chris Powell isn’t going to show up at your house to turn your garage into a mini-gym, but on New Year’s Eve 2017, you won’t be at a party with a muffin top and a huge piece of something unhealthy on your plate,  getting ready to start ‘getting healthy’ all over again!  When everyone else is making New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, exercise more and eat healthier, your resolutions for 2018 will be things like “learn to surf,””start kick-boxing,” and “try hot yoga.” You’ll already be healthy and getting healthier because all those good habits are now part of your normal, and it’ll have been a lot easier and a lot less pain than killing yourself in the gym every night in January 2017! It’s one new habit a month and each month, you add a new one!  be the tortoise and finish the race!  And try not to laugh at all the exhausted rabbits you pass on the way!

CICO: Calories May Matter, but They Sure Don’t Count!

It took me a while to figure out what “CICO” stood for: Calories In Calories Out.  I should know that one by heart, since I spent most of my adolescence listening to my mom go on about it!  One of the phrases I learned to hate: ‘bank your calories.’  It’s right up there with ‘in lieu of a meal.’  Both of those phrases make me really want to hit someone! (so not kidding here!)

As some of you know, I have been educated in ‘calories’ since I was about 13 years old until about two years ago: 35 years of calorie counting! It eventually became the dull roar in the background that I learned to ignore.  My mom meant well of course but it never stopped feeling like there was something inherently wrong with me.  I was always ‘broken’ or ‘substandard.’ I seriously think it’s why most of my pets are the ones no one else wanted: I needed to show them that they had value and they were precious.

When most of the fitness and nutrition world starting condemning the CICO model, I laughed.  Calories are not what weight loss is about after all! All those “experts” were dead-wrong (they were wrong about fat, too!) Calories do count, because if you eat too much of anything, you’re going to gain weight, but keeping your calories under a certain number isn’t what’s going to help you lose weight.  It’s not the calories you need to control: it’s your hormones!

Specifically: insulin, cortisol, ghrelin, leptin and melatonin.  Those are the chief hormones that you want to keep tabs on, because when those are out of control, they can make you miserable! Not to mention stressed out, overweight and sleep deprived!  This is the part where I remind you I am not a doctor and have no medical training at all.  (Unless living for 50 years in an overweight body counts!) Since I’ve begun losing weight, nutrition, weight loss and fitness have become a huge part of my life. Since I spent years doing it wrong, I want to make sure I don’t trade one health problem (super morbid obesity for another- malnutrition)!  This happens way more than people think!  Many of the patients seen by Dr. Nowzaradan (TLC’s My 600 lb Life) weigh more than 500 lbs, have a body mass index of at least 85 and many of them are malnourished.  This is because a lot of what they eat is unhealthy junk food or nutritionally vacant simple carbs (like chips or bagels): lots of calories but no nutrition.  Most people who focus on weight management do so at the expense of nutrition.  They are so busy counting the calories they are eating, they don’t think to count the nutrients they are (or aren’t) getting in those calories!

It’s not the calories in what you eat that matters: it’s what you are actually eating!  Shane Pace (Metabolic Radio podcast & website) likes to remind listeners that calories are information. They are a unit of energy, not Weight Watchers points. (He also likes to remind listeners that calories are invented unit of measurement- “people eat FOOD, not CALORIES!”)  Three hundred calories of beef, three hundred calories of coconut oil and three hundred calories of whole wheat bread are all the same number of calories, but they all affect your metabolism- and your hormones- very differently! Generally, what you want to keep control over is the insulin.  Insulin reacts to the glucose in your blood stream and anything you eat or drink (except maybe plain water) is going to have an effect on the glucose levels, and consequently the insulin levels.  The more glucose in your blood, the more insulin, and this matters because while insulin is present in your bloodstream, your body is storing fat, not burning it.  Your body metabolizes the food you eat into either glucose (carbs), fat/ triglycerides or amino acids (proteins).  The more carbs and the simpler the carbs, the more glucose in the blood and the more insulin in response to the glucose. What you want to manage is the insulin response to the foods you eat, which can be done by making sure the carbs you do eat are the complex carbs that come from non-starchy vegetables.  Starch=sugar=glucose= more insulin in the bloodstream.

So getting back to three hundred calorie examples above: 300 calories of beef will break down to fat and amino acids; the coconut oil is only fat and will enter the blood as a fat/ triglyceride, and the whole wheat bread (a starch) will break down into glucose. The starch will metabolize quickly, will spike the glucose and subsequent insulin response to clear the glucose, which will cause the blood sugar (glucose) levels in the blood to drop dramatically.  This is the after-eating “crash” that hits a lot of people about 2:00-3:00 p.m. after their chips-and-sandwich lunch at the office.  This is why people have that afternoon slump about 3:00 p.m.

The beef and the fat however won’t cause an insulin spike or the subsequent “crash.”  Both of these macronutrients (fat and protein) take longer to break down so there is a slower and steadier release of nutrients into the blood so instead of sending you on an energy rollercoaster, you cruise along at the same pace.  Your brain and body like to have the blood sugar as even as possible.  The  steady nutrient release from the fat and protein will do that, unlike the starchy whole wheat bread.

There is also another side effect from the “after lunch crash”: most people get hungry again.  Their brain receives the signal that blood sugar is low and triggers ghrelin, the hunger hormone. For a lot of us, this also manifests as cravings for starchy things like chips, crackers and breads.  These are most quickly metabolized into energy and so that’s what the body wants- fast energy to get that falling blood sugar back up! The problem is that this is one more ride on the glucose rollercoaster: you go up fast and fall just as quickly- there is no steady even ride with starches!  This is something I can speak to from personal experience: this is the ride I was stuck on for a couple of decades at least: I’d eat something starchy, go up, crash, get hungry and do it all over again!  The problem is “300 calories!”  300 calories of bread for breakfast; 150 calories of granola bar snack, 300 calories of bread for lunch, another 150 calories for bagel snack, 300 calories of pasta for dinner and another 200 calories of cookies for dessert.  That’s 1400 calories, assuming I didn’t eat or drink anything else during the day (which was really unlikely)!  “I’m hungry so my body must need fuel!” What my body needed was for the glucose levels to stay even and steady- not jump up and down every couple of hours!  So while my brain was trying to even out the blood sugar, I was eating way more calories than I needed, most of which was just getting stored since I never had a chance to get out of fat-storage mode thanks to the glucose and insulin in my bloodstream, and I kept gaining weight and kept getting tired and hungry all the time.  My hormones were a wreck and I kept bouncing between insulin and ghrelin releases.

The other hormones mentioned above (cortisol, leptin and melatonin) are all necessary to keep your body in a healthy balance. Leptin is the satiety hormone.  It’s ghrelin’s counterpart and turns off your hunger, but it takes a little bit of time to hit the brain.  This is why one of the strategies for weight loss includes eating more slowly.  Remember Thanksgiving where you felt like a beached whale because you ate too much?  You probably ate too much too fast so by the time the leptin hit your brain, your stomach was already way too full.  Eating more slowly allows the leptin to be released (triggered by the fat in the blood) and get to the brain to turn off the hunger.  This is another reason the protein and fat are more satisfying: since they take longer to metabolize, they are in the blood longer and the more leptin (“hunger is off” hormone) to send that message to the brain.

Leptin is also affected by sleep: poor sleep habits lead to poor leptin production.  This is because the body is always tired and the brain is turning off the leptin, because you obviously need more energy(cue the ghrelin and carb cravings!) This is where the melatonin and cortisol come into play!  Melatonin is a sleep hormone and cortisol is a stress hormone (bit of oversimplification here).  Cortisol is the hormone that wakes you up in the morning and it has another surge later in the day, and drops off in the afternoon.  Melatonin does the opposite (the same as ghrelin): it surges later in the day and early evening and wanes early in the morning because melatonin promotes relaxation and sleep.  When there is too much cortisol in the blood, melatonin production is off so all those sleepless nights when you tossed and turned because of job stress? You can thank the cortisol for that!  You were stressed out over something and the body reacts to stress by releasing the cortisol for alertness and energy in a dangerous situation.  (Obviously if you are about to be eaten by a bear, being sleepy, mellow and relaxed are not conducive to your survival!) Cortisol also intensifies the insulin spike in the morning (grab that energy so you’ll have it when you need it to run from that bear- or irate boss!) So that breakfast sandwich you have not only spikes your insulin, the cortisol makes sure the insulin is in the blood for as long as possible!

Melatonin however is carb friendly, and the more carbs you have, the more melatonin is in the blood, the more relaxed you are and the easier it is to sleep.  The more rested you are, the more leptin is produced and less ghrelin is released. To put it simply:

  1. Stay away from starchy carbs, especially in the morning;
  2. Eat more nutrient dense non-starchy foods like meats, leafy or cruciferous veggies, and healthy fats like olives or avocados or their oils;
  3. Manage your stress;
  4. Develop consistent healthy sleep habits.

[Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has distilled this into what she calls The Golden Rules of Carbs and Fat Loss. You can find it on her website by doing a simple search!  She’s awesome!]

For those of us who were raised on the CICO model and cannot imagine trying to lose weight without counting calories, let me tell you flat out: managing hormones worked for me! After 35+ years of counting calories and NOT losing weight, I’ve followed the hormone management model above for the last eighteen months (I went Paleo in April 2015) and I’ve lost 171 lbs, reversed type 2 diabetes, lowered my blood pressure and resolved my asthma.  So, yes, this works!  Despite this, I do know people who’ve had a lot of success with the CICO model; they manage their calories and have lost weight. However, it has never worked for me and for most people I know!  Even if I (or my friends) do lose weight on CICO, eventually the weight comes back.  But if you can manage your calories and stay under (or at) the right number, then go for it!  If you can be happily productive by staying at 1500 calories (0r whatever number), then ignore what I’m telling you here!  Most people don’t want to look at calorie numbers all day every day. They just want to eat healthy delicious food (not calories as Shane reminds us!)

As I’ve said over and over, I am not a doctor (or any kind of health professional) but this is what I’ve learned from other professionals. Namely: Elizabeth Benton at PrimalPotential.com; Shane Pace & Taylor Empey at MetabolicRadio.com; Alan Misner at 40+ Fitness.com;  Dr. David Ludwig Always Hungry?; Dr. Jason Fung The Obesity Code among others.  I’m also a fan of Living Paleo for Dummies and Nutrition for Dummies for some basic information.  If you are interested in eating Paleo, I also subscribe to Paleo Magazine (and their podcast) as it’s a great resource for all things Paleo and Primal.  Another awesome tool for information and support is My Fitness Pal.  It’s set up as a calorie counting site/ app, but it’s a lot like Facebook for fitness/ nutrition minded people and has some great resources (not to mention all my awesome friends!) I did a blog post on my favorite resources (“Sharing is Caring”).  You can also reach me at takingthelongweightoskinny@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You May Already Be a Winner!

We’ve all had days like this: we ate okay for breakfast and we resisted the urge to add the holiday flavored syrup/ creamer to our coffee in the morning, and we did great for lunch but now, after the healthier than usual dinner, we went crazy and had a couple chocolate chip cookies! “What’s wrong with us?!” Or this scenario: we went on vacation and we had decided we weren’t going to “diet” on vacation, but now we’re back and we have to get into our routine again and it….just….feels…so…much…harder….than….before!  This is a tough one.  I don’t mean the whole ‘eating according to your healthy plan’ routine: I mean cutting yourself a break! Yes, we need to be accountable.  Yes, we need to be consistent.  Yes, that would be easy if we were all androids like Cmdr. Data or Vulcans like Mr. Spock.  (Trekkie here. Sorry!) But, for better or worse, we are simple humans and as both Data and Spock will tell you, humans are susceptible to emotion and are fundamentally illogical.  In other words, we know what’s good for us and we do what feels good instead, even if it’s not good for us.

We need to find that middle ground between stepping out of bounds occasionally and actually moving off the reservation.  As some of you know, I follow a Paleo eating plan, which means all those yummy crunchy grain products are off my menu pretty much all the time, and especially in the morning, but… I really wanted a breakfast wrap, so I had one.  I’d love to say that it was delicious and guilt-free, but as yummy as it was (and it was!), I kept thinking how it wasn’t good for me and I knew it and I still got it and here I am, eating this hot delicious wrap and I’m screwing up my whole eating plan for the day.  “What’s wrong with me?!”

Nothing is wrong with me, except my guilting myself for eating what I wanted.  Now if I had wraps every day or even more than once a week, then there would be a problem, but one wrap?! So, after a few minutes of guilt, I told myself to knock it off.  It’s a choice I made, so own it, and secondly, it’s not the end of my Paleo eating plan!  I don’t have to go back to ‘start’ and I don’t have to punish myself for eating off the plan. This is what I mean when I say we need to learn to give ourselves a break!

Too many of us feel the need to punish ourselves for not being perfect.  I was good until I had that cookie! I was good until I had a ‘insert off limits food here.’  No mea culpas necessary! You are a responsible individual and you can decide if you want a treat or not.  There’s a big difference between looking at the cookies, wanting one and deciding that one (or however many) can be allowed rather than seeing the cookies, having an irresistible craving for them and sneaking off with four or five in your hand.  Eating according to your cravings is not good and it’s not responsible eating; making a considered thoughtful choice is something else. I thought about having a wrap and chose to have one. The rest of the day and the next were in line with my eating plan; the wrap was a hot & yummy anomaly!

The other reason we feel the need to punish ourselves is because we aren’t doing ‘good enough!’  We use phrases like ‘out of control,’ ‘get my butt in gear,’ ‘get my head/ game together.’ Why? What are we doing that’s so wrong? We had a couple cookies after dinner?  We had a wrap for breakfast?  Damn, send in the Marines!! We need to whisked off to the nut house- we are outta control!! Except that it’s not funny and I’m not exaggerating, because that’s how we think of ourselves and that’s how we treat ourselves: “I had cookies- I’m bad! I had cookies- I’m bad! What’s wrong with me?!” Nothing is wrong with you either: you’re a regular person (see above reference to synthetic humans and alien species).  For most of us, this healthy eating and fitness lifestyle is still pretty new.  I’ve been doing this for two years, and while I may have a little more experience than some of you, I am far from an old pro! I am pretty used to eating according to my Paleo menu and it’s my default routine now.  That means it’s easier for me to say to things like cookies and potato chips and crackers because I’ve been doing it for over a year, but I’m still human and sometimes the cheesetoast at Sizzler looks good to me.  The chocolate covered pretzels at my friend’s party are kind of tempting.  Do I eat them? Rarely.  It’s not because I’m denying myself or doing penance for whatever imagined sin I thought I committed.  I say no most of the time because I know they aren’t good for me and as tempting as they are, I know that I really don’t want them.  They may taste good but they have consequences that aren’t worth it to me.  If I do have them, it’s not the end of the world or a fatal diet error; it’s an anomaly, and it usually serves to remind me of why I gave them up.  I usually feel kind of blah afterwards that has nothing to do with guilt: it’s like my body is saying “what the hell did you just eat and why did you eat it?!” (FYI: this is the same body that used to go into shellshock when I ate broccoli and now that it’s finally adjusted I go and give it cheesetoast again?!)

This is what Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls “All or Nothing” thinking, and it’s why so many of us give up trying to eat healthy or get fit.  Either you’re in or you’re out.  We are either staying on the straight and narrow path or we are off the reservation in the food wilderness!  When I was kid I used to play a board game called Aggravation, where we rolled the dice and moved our platoon of marbles around the board.  The goal was to get all our marbles to the end before the others did, and if someone landed on one of your marbles, you had to move it all the way back to the beginning to start over.  We are not marbles on a boardgame! When we have the cheesetoast or pretzels or anything else that’s “forbidden,” we don’t have to go back to Start! We don’t have to throw the board across the room in frustration!  We just have to remind ourselves that really no food is “forbidden” or “off limits.”  Eating Paleo doesn’t mean I never eat pasta or crackers again: it means I may eat it once in a while but it’s not a big part of my regular menu. Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you never eat cake again for the rest of your life: it simply means that cake is an occasional treat, not dessert every night!  Much of what we eat as every day foods now were never intended to be everyday foods.  Things like cookies and cake and chocolate were things made in celebration of a holiday or a special occasion.  (This is why we have things like birthday and wedding cakes, Christmas cookies and fruitcake.)

A lot of us get caught up in this dieting “on or off” mindset because this is what most diets teach: you follow this strict regime for X amount of days to lose X amount of weight.  Some of these diets are so structured, they set you up with weekly menus or goals you need to hit before you can move on to the next level and when you miss a goal or go off menu, they tell you to start again!  Really??  This is why so many of the diet books and programs my mom used to leave on my doorstep ended up in the bottomless pit of unused diets. These diets don’t teach you how to eat for health or nutrition; they teach you to diet! They teach a short term style of eating with one goal in mind: losing weight!  It’s not about being healthy or eating for long term nutrition or fitness- it’s all about the quick temporary fix.  This is why so many of us have spent so many years losing the same 10/ 20/ X lbs over and over again.  This is why I don’t say I am on the “Paleo diet”; I say that I eat Paleo, because I like eating this way and I intend to eat this way for the rest of my life.  It’s not about weight loss (although frankly, I think losing weight is awesome!); it’s about being healthier and fitter and feeling really great.

More importantly, it is a PROCESS! Whatever style of eating you decide on, anything that recommends you get up the next morning “fully onboard with their eating plan” is pretty much setting you up to fail, in my opinion.  When I decided to try Paleo, I did my research and downloaded some food lists and frankly, was shocked at all the things that were not considered Paleo.  It was pretty much everything I had been eating: bread, pasta, potatoes, sugars, grains, etc.  It was daunting, and I didn’t begin by throwing out everything non-Paleo from my cupboards.  I started by eliminating one or two items: pasta and potatoes.  I stopped eating those, until I felt I had a handle on it and I wasn’t going crazy craving them.  Then I moved on to breads and crackers, and so on.  It took a few weeks (really more like months!)  before I had everything non-Paleo off my menu.  I didn’t “start over” if I slipped up and had a piece of garlic bread a week or so after I stopped eating bread; it was an anomaly, and I kept going forward.  I made note of how after eating it, I started craving it again, and how that was not a good thing, and it reminded me that was one of the reasons I stopped eating it!  Learning to eat according to whatever healthy plan you choose is the same as learning any new skill: it takes time and patience but with practice comes improvement.  Yes, there will be a few bumps in the road, but you don’t give up. Every master was first an apprentice.  At some point in his life, Michelangelo didn’t know the first thing about drawing or painting.  Mozart at one point knew nothing about music (although I think he was probably one year old at the time- prodigy!) The same was true of all the great artists, musicians and scientists.  Everyone starts at the beginning and works their way forward.  We don’t win when we reach our goal weight or bench press X lbs like we did in high school.  Fitting into our wedding dress or a size 6 doesn’t make us winners.  We win every day we get up and keep moving forward with putting our health first! Even if we have the birthday cupcake or the breakfast wrap, when we keep moving forward, we keep getting better; we keep winning!

Eating for Nutrition v Eating for Weight Loss

We’ve all been told endlessly “we need to eat low-calorie, high-nutrient-dense foods to optimize our health!”  Yeah, yeah, blah, blah- but what does that really mean?  How often do you look at food and think the chicken has fewer calories than the beef, so I’ll choose the chicken.  The salad has fewer calories than the sweet potato, so I’m choosing the salad.  We make choices like this each day at home, in the grocery store, and at restaurants.  All of these foods, properly prepared (unbreaded chicken, beef that’s not part of a cheeseburger, and a salad isn’t swimming in dressing and croutons) are healthy options. They all have good nutrients, so that means I’m getting all my vitamins and nutrients, right?

Well, maybe.  Humans are what’s known as opportunistic omnivores, which is biospeak for “they eat whatever they find.”  When our Paleolithic ancestors were out on the plains and they came across a blackberry thicket full of berries, berries were on the menu for that night (and for however long the blackberries held out before being all eaten).  When someone killed an antelope, there was meat on the menu, or if they were near a river when the salmon were running, it was fish for dinner.  This means that humans ate a complex variety of different fruits, vegetables and proteins. (Personally, I think this is one of the problems with eating a lot of processed grain-based foods: too much of one thing and not enough of anything else.) Our bodies are used to getting nutrients from a variety of sources: whether we developed this way because of how we were foraging or we learned to forage because the ones that didn’t forage didn’t survive to have offspring is beside the point- this is how we are!  When we stick too much to a limited number of foods, whether whole foods or processed, we run into trouble.

“Eat across the rainbow”: you have probably heard the advice from nutritionists and dieticians and seen it in a lot of blogs.  It’s a little cheesy and cutesy, but it’s correct.  Mostly people apply it to fruits and vegetables, eating all the different colors.  Different colors in fruits & veggies pretty much mean different nutrients but it should also apply to the proteins, which usually get left out since people don’t think of them as “color.”  Most people when they think “eating healthy” usually limit themselves to the leaner “naked” proteins (such as grilled chicken breast) instead of fattier proteins like beef, pork, eggs or even just chicken thighs but they make an effort to eat a variety of the fruits and veggies.  Most people think of those when it comes to “vitamins” and tend to think of meats only in terms of “protein.”  This is one of the biggest reasons I advise people to get a good basic nutrition book when they start to eat healthy.  Whatever diet or lifestyle book/ program you choose, make sure it has a comprehensive section covering the basics of nutrition.  I always recommend Nutrition for Dummies because it’s easy to understand and has lots of charts in it.  It doesn’t assume you know the definition of something or that you will look it up: it gives it to you, usually with an example!

Most vegetarians and vegans will tell you that you can get enough protein from plants, and most people know that some plants have more protein than others, but the vitamins and nutrients that are in the animal proteins tend to be glossed over.  If people think of any “protein” having vitamins, it’s usually ‘fish and Omega-3,’ but meat has more than just protein in it! If any of you have ever tried being vegetarian or vegan, you may already know that one of the difficult vitamins to get on a plant based diet is B12.  B12 (cyanocobalamin) is a vital nutrient and not having enough can cause major health problems, like dying!  Not getting enough B12 can cause fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart problems and cognitive/ memory problems.  It can eventually kill you! Many years ago, my friend and I tried vegetarianism, so of course, I bought the Dummies book and one of the things it discussed was the importance of B12 because this vitamin is found mostly in animal protein aka MEAT! You can get it in some animal products, like grass-fed dairy and cage-free eggs if you are vegetarian, but if you are vegan, it’s a lot harder.  The Dummies book just recommended a supplement if you go vegan.  Recently, on yet another TLC show (Untold Stories of the ER), there was college girl who came in with jaundice, fatigue, and shortness of breath and when the doctor found out she was a strict vegan, she checked her B12 levels and you guessed it-  dangerously low!   You need the B12 for hemoglobin to function properly: no hemoglobin, no oxygen to your brain and body, ergo no YOU.  One little vitamin shot and the little college student was pretty much good to go! But not getting enough vitamin B12 nearly killed her.

As for that Omega-3 mentioned above, most people who are not fish eaters usually end up going with the football shaped fish oil supplement.  Lately, these supplements have been catching a lot of heat over quality control. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your triglyceride levels, brain function (especially for Alzheimer’s and depression) and they’re good for rheumatoid arthritis.  If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that I’ve got arthritis in both knees (osteoarthritis) and I used to take fish oil on a regular basis, until I realized it was actually causing pain in my knees.  This is because of poor quality control in the industry in general: oils can go rancid and when they do, they cause inflammation instead of relieving it, so my fish oil supplement went out with the trash.  Instead, I eat more fish now. I like fish, so it’s not a problem for me, but for some people, eating fish is really unpleasant (I like it and sometimes I get sick of it, too!) For non-fish eaters, grass-fed beef, cage-free/ enriched eggs, edamame and walnuts are all good alternatives to boost your Omega-3 intake.  (In general, grass-fed meats have more Omega-3 because the animals get it from the grass they eat.  Grain-fed animals get less in their diet so there is less in the meat.) One alternative to improve your Omega-3 absorption is to decrease your intake of Omega-6. Omega-6 fatty acid can have some benefits (again brain function, cardiovascular disease and nerve function) but it is also pro-inflammatory (which is not good for arthritis)  It also interferes with absorption of Omega-3.  Both require the same receptors to be absorbed and used by the body.  Decades ago, this was not much of a problem because people consumed Omega-3 and Omega-6 pretty much at a one to one ratio: they were consuming the same amounts of each.  Now, however, much of what we consume in processed foods contains polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) usually in things like vegetable oils, which are high in Omega-6. Now we are consuming ten times as much Omega-6 as we do Omega-3, and the Omega-3 is getting short-changed.  If we eat a salad with grilled tuna or sardines (Omega-3) but we also top it with sunflower seeds, croutons toasted in safflower oil and a dressing made with mayonnaise or soybean oil,  we just pretty much cancelled out whatever Omega-3 we might have had a chance to absorb.  Even if we avoid things like crop oils (corn, safflower, soybean, canola, etc), these oils are in a lot of processed foods like potato chips, bakery goods, fast foods, salad dressings, condiments, in addition to natural whole foods like nuts, seeds and some conventional grain fed meats. Since these PUFAs are a man-made invention, they tend to be unstable to start with, and now that we know they are interfering with Omega-3 absorption, this is one more reason I choose to limit processed foods in my diet.

Minerals are another nutrient that tends to get overlooked.  Our bodies usually only require trace amounts of the necessary minerals like selenium, magnesium, iron and calcium but not having enough of those trace amounts can be really harmful. Anyone who has suffered from post-workout muscle cramps knows they need to boos their electrolytes, which were probably lost in perspiration.  These include some of these minerals, like calcium, magnesium and potassium.  Muscles need these to function properly, and the heart is probably the most important muscle in our body.  Again, no minerals, no heart, no YOU. We don’t need a lot, but if you aren’t getting enough, you will have problems.  Anemia is a common problem with vegetarians and vegans, because a primary source of iron is red meat, which they avoid.  Anemia is low blood hemoglobin (see the vegan college student example above) which can cause tiredness and low energy. Again, eating whole foods, especially things like grass-fed beef & other meats, cage-free eggs, fish & shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds and leafy greens are good sources for most of the minerals our bodies need.

Obviously our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t look at food and calculate vitamins and minerals in each thing they ate, but because they managed to eat a wide variety of foods and they ate seasonally, they were able to stay healthy and flourish.  Eating seasonally is something that also gets overlooked because now fruits and vegetables are usually available all year round.  This doesn’t mean that we need to avoid apples in the middle of winter or citrus during the summertime; it just means to get as much variety in your diet as possible.  When berries are in season, eat them!  When squash is in season, eat it! When you are doing your shopping, don’t just stick to the easy stuff or the routine: make a habit of changing up the menu as much as you can.  Not only will it keep you from getting bored of the same old chicken-and-broccoli dinner, it’ll keep you healthier by getting more vitamins and minerals in your diet. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that ‘skinny’ does not equal ‘healthy’ (no matter what the name of this blog is!)

I don’t mean to be an alarmist or scare you away from trying veganism or even vegetarianism. (Processed foods are scary all by themselves!)  I am telling you that whatever eating plan you decide on should include enough vitamins and nutrients to keep you healthy, even if it means just taking a supplement or a multivitamin. The goal is not to consume a handfuls of pills every day; most nutrients and minerals are best consumed in the foods themselves, since nutrients work best in conjunction with each other.  This is why you most often find calcium together with vitamin D- you need the D to absorb the calcium.

Getting your nutrients through food also helps avoid over-consumption.  TOO MUCH IS NOT A GOOD THING!! Some vitamins and minerals can be FATAL in high doses.  Vitamin D is one of them: it can lead to irreversible heart damage.  Minerals like sodium and selenium can also be fatal in high dosages.  Consuming handfuls of supplements and vitamins without paying attention to the dosage can be harmful to your health. A few years ago, I was taking a calcium supplement along with a multivitamin, but I was upping the dosage of the calcium (which of course came with the vitamin D booster) and I started feeling like I was having heart palpitations.  Once I backed off the calcium and D combo, they went away.  It turns out that on top of the multivitamin (which also had D), I was just getting too much of it for my system.  Whatever supplements and vitamins you take, please check the dosages and the ingredients to make sure you aren’t getting more than you need.  It’s also a good idea to make sure your doctor(s) have complete lists of all the medications, vitamins, supplements and herbal compounds you take.  Some years ago, the herb St. John’s Wort was very popular, but it was causing problems for some people because it was reacting with medications they were taking and some were simply taking too much.  If you are prescribed medications, please read the little pamphlet that comes with it. This also goes for the vitamins you take. It sounds silly, but a friend of mine was advised by her doctor to take a vitamin D supplement and after 3 months, she went back for a blood test and found her levels had risen only a fraction and she didn’t know why it was so low.  I asked her if she was eating when she took the pill; no, it was on an empty stomach like all her meds.  Vitamin D is fat-soluble: no fat, no absorption.  All those pills she took for 3 months weren’t absorbed because she hadn’t read the label that says “take with food.”

I’m definitely not a health or nutrition expert by any stretch of the imagination, which is why I always recommend you do your research before you take action.  Even if you aren’t starting a new healthy eating plan or looking into vegetarianism/ veganism, you need to have a good basic nutrition book. I can personally recommend Nutrition for Dummies: easy to read, great explanations and charts, but what matters is what you are comfortable with.  I know most of us focus on weight loss and I’m really not any different; I often have to push myself out of the chicken-and-broccoli rut. Despite what it may look like from this post, I am really not a fan of beef or eggs! Sometimes eating for nutrition means eating something with a little more calories rather than eating for weight loss. Yes, I really want to be skinny, but being skinny doesn’t count for much if I’m too sick to enjoy it.

Best Tips for Weight Loss/ Fitness

When it comes to losing weight, people always want to take the short cut.  It’s understandable: just give me the “down & dirty” so I can get this over with!  The problem is a lot of times that advice gets distilled into Calories in – Calories Out, or The Top Five Most Success Methods for Fast Weight Loss or something “packageable” like that.  Weight loss isn’t something you can stick in a box or distill down into a simple formula.  It’s a little messy and complicated and time-consuming, a lot like the behavior that got you to where you are.

Despite its inherent messiness, I’m going to give you my best advice for losing weight and getting fitter.  These behaviors have served me well and continue to do so over the past two years and are the major reasons I’ve lost 165 lbs.  In no particular order:

  1. sugar
  2. sleep
  3. stress management
  4.  golden rules of carbs & fat loss
  5. whole foods/ processed food, simple carbs- little sponges!
  6. water
  7. moving
  8. good fats
  9. logging
  10. meal prep

Sugar

Need I say more? (Well, yeah, kinda) This is in practically everything we eat that comes in a box, bag, bottle or can.  Sugar is what my mom used to call ’empty calories,’ because it has no nutritive value but has a lot of calories.  Doctors are finding now that sugar is behind a lot more health concerns than they initially thought (they are always finding something!), but my goal here isn’t to educate you on how ‘evil’ sugar is; it’s simply to tell you to remove it from your diet as much as possible.  This actually gets easier if you follow the rest of my tips, because refined sugar does not appear a lot in nature.  The bottom line you need to know about why it’s not good for weight loss: sugar is quickly metabolized by the body into glucose which triggers insulin secretion, which is a storage hormone.  Your body stores the glucose as fat, and even if you ate a lot of sugar, it ALL gets stored and none gets burned as long as insulin is in the bloodstream.  The more sugar you ate, the longer the insulin is in the blood and the more calories are stored rather than burned.  End result: you put on fat and fast!

Sleep

I know a lot of people blow this off because “what the heck can sleep have to do with losing weight?!” Yeah, I know that because that’s what I always thought.  Sleep was for the lazy.  Sleep was unproductive.  My favorite sleep related comment: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”  For some reason, I thought that made me sound tough.  (Actually, it made me sound stupid, but what the heck, I was young(er) and dumber than I am now….. riiight!)  Sleep has to do with hormones and body repair and stress relief (stress is coming up below- in a good way!) When you sleep, your body gets a chance to relax and it releases beneficial hormones that allow the body to metabolize the proteins and fats and other nutrients you’ve consumed into things like muscle.  The body burns fuel when you’re sleeping (part of the basal metabolic rate) and you want to build and repair muscle.  Not only does it keep you strong, but it requires more fuel to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat.  When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t get a chance to release the restorative hormones which build and repair the body, increasing the muscle mass and allowing the body to use what it’s taken in.  You are also more tired when you get less sleep or less restorative sleep, which means you are more likely just to eat more calories.  I was an admitted scoffer on the whole “sleep is good for weight loss” idea until I started getting more sleep: I was less tired, eating less because I actually got some rest, and wasn’t chugging coffee/ caffeine five times a day because I was exhausted, so when I actually got some sleep, it was real sleep not tossing and turning (the lack of stress also helped here too!).  End result: I was losing weight faster.  I have since noticed that when my sleep now is screwed up for whatever reason, my weight loss suffers!

Stress Management

This is another one that everyone (including me) scoffed at, because “really?? does stress have anything to do with weight?” Oh, h*ll, yeah! Like the whole ‘sleep is good for you’ idea, I had to learn this the hard way. (Hmm, the more I learn about getting healthy, the more I’m learning I can be really dense- like rock hard!) Again this has to do with hormones.  One of the hormones that gets released when you are stressed is cortisol.  Cortisol is an energy regulating hormone.  It’s what wakes you up in the morning, and it’s responsible for releasing glucose into the blood stream.  Your body normally releases cortisol at certain times in the day (namely in the morning and a smaller surge in the later part of the day), but it is also released when you face stress, whether physical or mental.  Your body does not differentiate between the stress you feel when a project at work goes badly or if you are nearly hit by a truck- it kicks out the cortisol and adrenaline to deal with the sudden demand for energy.  The problem comes when you are constantly feeling stressed and your body is constantly putting out the cortisol.  This means that there is always glucose in the blood stream.  Normally, cortisol turns off the insulin so your body can burn the glucose immediately (so you have energy to run away fast from the giant bear about to eat you). This means cortisol is making your cells insulin resistant, which starts a vicious cycle; even though there is always glucose in the blood stream, your cells aren’t using it because it’s being stored, so your brain is telling you to eat something.  It’s because the cortisol and insulin are cutting off the other’s effectiveness, which can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (where I was at).

Essentially, you are always putting out cortisol and glucose and insulin and it’s a train-wreck: nothing is working like it should and you are constantly storing the glucose as fat and constantly hungry and constantly gaining weight.  Like I said, I was a scoffer until I quit the job from hell, the stress went away and I lost 40 lbs in about two months.  So, yeah, stress has something to do with weight loss!

The Golden Rules of Carbs and Fat Loss

This is one I owe directly and completely to Elizabeth Benton! If you want to know more about this, please go to her website PrimalPotential.com and check it out there.  I’m just going to give you a quick breakdown, mainly because it’s directly related to cortisol and glucose which we just went over and because it’s really basic: Don’t eat carbs in the morning! I know there are all kinds of blogs and weight loss ‘gurus’ who will tell you to eat your carbs in the morning so you have all day to burn them off, but I learned from Elizabeth that this idea does not work. You get your biggest cortisol surge in the morning and because you’ve been fasting all night (that’s where the word ‘breakfast’ comes from!), your body is most sensitive to cortisol and insulin in the morning, so when you have that bowl of cereal or the bagel, your body reacts more intensely to both hormones, so the cortisol keeps more glucose in the blood and your body pumps out a lot of insulin so you are in fat storage mode much longer than if you had bacon and eggs instead.  Remember that insulin only reacts to glucose.  When you eat fat and protein, they take longer to metabolize than carbs, so they don’t hit the bloodstream right away, delaying the secretion of insulin, and there are no carbs in fat or protein, so they are not converted to glucose! (Not going to cover gluconeogenisis here!) So, no carbs for breakfast means no insulin in the blood and no fat storage mode for you! You are burning energy instead.  So, the fewer the carbs you eat in the morning, the more fat/ glucose you burn and less gets stored.  Carbs are best eaten later in the day (like dinner) because your cortisol surges are done for the day and the body is putting out more melatonin (the sleep hormone) and carbs help elevate the levels of melatonin, serotonin and tryptophan, which can make you sleepy.  (This is why so many people get sleepy after a big meal.) Since you are winding down for the day, this helps you relax and get more sleep.

Whole Foods v Processed Foods

I did an entire blog post on this but it’s key to weight loss, in my opinion. Simply put, eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible.  Bagels are not created by nature, even it says “ALL NATURAL!” on the label.  (FYI: a label is another cue something may not be in its ‘natural’ state!) Sweet potatoes on the other hand come right out of the ground in pretty much the same shape and form as they are in the produce section.  These days a lot of produce do have labels on them: my apples usually have a little sticker telling me the variety and the producer’s logo. The more processed a food is, the more it’s broken down (pre-digested if you will) which means the easier it is for your body to break down and a lot of times, the fewer nutrients it contains.  One of the things that makes me roll my eyes is that to make the bagel, they have to process the wheat, which means they take out most of the stuff that gives wheat its value, like fiber and protein and vitamins and then they have to add some of those back to bump up the nutrient quota!  Let’s take a look at my apples:  there’s the bulk raw apple with the stem, the seeds, and the peel that I get from the produce section, there’s the applesauce that I get from the canned fruit section and the apple juice that I get in the juices.  All of them are made with apples, but the juice is the most processed of the three.  All that’s left of the apple is the liquid sugar and a few vitamins.  The applesauce is a better choice than juice, because in addition to the apple’s sugars, there is some of the fiber left and probably a few more vitamins but the raw apple is the only one in its natural state: nothing has been removed, even the parts we won’t eat like the seeds and the stem.  We can eat the peel, the flesh and get the juices too.  We get the benefit of the whole apple: fiber, sugar and vitamins.  It’s the same with the sweet potato: you get the whole vegetable, not just parts!  Because it has not been processed, nothing has been broken down and nothing has been taken out. That means it takes longer to metabolize, is usually more filling and there’s more nutritional bang per calorie buck!

Water

This is another one where everyone rolls their eyes! We’ve all heard it but do we do it?  Water is one of those things that we take for granted but our body is made up mostly of water.  Not enough water and bad things happen. Right now, California is suffering from the worst drought in a century so water is on every Californian’s mind.  Our lawns and landscaping are dying because there isn’t enough water and we do it to our own bodies voluntarily!  Unlike our lawn, our body can’t turn yellow in spots to let you know that it needs more water! What does turn yellow? Yeah, you know! and the darker yellow the worse the internal drought!  Like our lawns, we also dry up, but we don’t notice it because we aren’t paying attention.  Our lips, skin and mouth get dry, as do our eyes and the rest of our mucus membranes.  We just put on lip balm and lotion and eye drops instead of getting a drink!  We do drink a lot of other things besides water, like coffee, soda, tea, alcohol and sports drinks.  What we really need is just plain water without the additives, because in some cases, whatever water you take in with the drink is being used to process the additives (like caffeine and ethyl alcohols) in the drink.  Plain simple water is best.  Staying hydrated means your body isn’t retaining water.  As we Californians know too well right now, each drop is precious so we don’t waste anything! Our bodies do the same thing: no water coming in? no water going out! This means we retain as much as we can. (I know this happens to me!) Things that normally get expelled are not getting expelled because the body is hanging onto the water. Dry mouth, thirst and dark urine is the simplest ways to tell if you are not getting enough water.  Drinking enough water also keeps you from overeating as well, because some of the time when we think we’re hungry, what we really want is water. It not only keeps us full, it’s good for the body (it’s really hard to drink too much water) and it’s got no calories! So next time, don’t get a soda or coffee- just get a water!

Moving

Obviously, I mean just regular activity! As a species, when we had to get from point A to point B, we had one option: get up and walk!  Now, we ask ourselves what we need from point B, send them an email and have it same-day delivered!  It would be funny and sad, but it’s true!  We don’t need to walk around the grocery store: we get our groceries delivered to our doorstep!  We don’t need to walk through the department store: we order online.  When I was a kid, my sister and I used to walk to the movie theater two and half miles away from us (yeah, I know- it’s supposed to be 5 miles in the snow to school!)  It was pretty much an all day outing: on the way over, we would stop at the local drugstore, get some candy and soda, walk the rest of the way to the theater and after the movie we would walk home.  Our biggest concerns were the storage facility with the scary big dog and the parts of the street that had no sidewalks.  We didn’t know or care how far away it was: we wanted to see the movie!  We really didn’t notice how long the walk was because we were too busy talking and watching for traffic, and on the way home, we were usually too busy going on about the movie we just saw.  Our parents either didn’t worry or didn’t know that we did it (we were kind of latch key kids). Today, if someone suggested I walk down to that same theater from my old house, I would think they were nuts: “do you know how far that is?!”  The indignation would probably mean more if I hadn’t done it so often as a middle schooler, but this is how our lifestyles have changed. We don’t even get up to give our boss down the hall an update on our project- we email him!  Someone buzzes the intercom to be let in and we don’t get up to open the door- we press the button next to the intercom (and sometimes whine about having to get up to go to the intercom)! This isn’t about going to the gym three times a week to work out, although that’s not a bad idea; this is about moving as much as possible during the day.  Our sedentary lifestyle is having a huge impact on our bodies and I don’t just mean our weight gain.  As a society, we are suffering musculoskeletal changes and problems from prolonged sitting.  In peoplespeak, it means our bones, joints and muscles are hurting from being stuck in positions we weren’t built to be in for long periods.  Those hunched shoulders and back?  The carpal tunnel?  The stiff knees, hips and low back?  All from sitting: at the desk, in the car, on the sofa, etc.  Moving as much as possible isn’t just good for burning more calories and raising your basal metabolic rate; it’s good for your posture and your overall health.  A lot of activity trackers have reminders to move that you can turn on.  My new one buzzes me every hour to remind me to get up and check the paper in the copy room down the hall.

 Good Fats

Most of us remember the “fat scare” of the ’80’s: anything with fat was a deadly weapon and it is to be avoided at all costs in favor of ‘healthy whole grains.’  We all know where that took us: right into obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics, and it didn’t do much for the heart disease problems, either! Bottom line for most of us: our bodies need fat.  Every cell in our bodies has and needs fat to repair itself and function.  Without fat, we die.  It’s that simple.  (Some of us are also old enough to remember the creepy X-Files episode in which Timothy Carhart played a fat-sucking vampire! Yeah- creepy!) Without fat, our bodies start breaking down, plus our bodies actually burn it as fuel. But the fat scare wasn’t totally without merit: some fats are better than others.  Basically, stick with fats that appear in nature and avoid crop or grain fats, as they are generally unstable.  If it’s an unstable fat when it comes from the factory, it’s going to be an unstable fat when it’s incorporated into your cells.  Animal fats like those in butter and meats, although saturated, are still better for you than the unstable crop oil fats. (They don’t have to be your major source of fat!) Things like olive, coconut and avocado oils are also good stable fats, and they usually taste better than some of the crop oils.  Fats are also very satisfying; yes, they have more calories than carbs or protein, because they have more energy and your body runs longer after a meal with lots of healthy fats, meaning you are more likely to feel full for a longer period of time than after a meal with more carbs and protein.  So, having a salad with some chicken, cheese, avocado, broccoli and an olive oil vinaigrette is probably more filling than a simple salad with ranch.

Logging your meals & activity

People either really hate this or they really agree with it (guess which one I am?)  It’s not that hard and it doesn’t have to take a long time, but it’s a wealth of information!  Simply write down what you eat and when you eat it, and when you work out and what you did.  Elizabeth Benton also advises to write down how you felt afterwards.  I usually do it if I notice something out of the ordinary. IT’S NOT ABOUT COUNTING CALORIES, although you can if you want.  It’s about finding out what works for you!  For example: I used to eat a banana every morning for breakfast.  By the time I reached the office, having eaten my banana on my 2 hour commute, I was usually pretty hungry around 10:00- like starving hungry!  Every day my journal said “starving by lunchtime.” So, I switched to eating string cheese in the morning instead, and ta-da, not so hungry by 10:00 a.m. This is where you write these things down, so when you’re trying to figure out why you are falling asleep at your desk at 3:30, you can look at your journal and see that you started getting sleepy in the afternoons about the same time you started having X for lunch.  Maybe it’s just not enough food for you.  Maybe it’s something your body burns fast and then you have the after-lunch energy crash.  Sometimes, a workout really saps your energy and makes you feel like you’re starving. That might be something you want to change but you need to track the changes to know what works best for you. I know when I have a sugary dessert in the evening (whether fruit or pastry), I will usually have a “I feel like a drank a bottle of tequila” morning because of an overnight blood sugar spike-and-crash.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be the negatives that you track: I’ve noticed that since switching to higher protein lunches, I have a lot more energy, and after workouts, I usually feel pretty energetic the next day, in addition to sleeping really well the night before.  This is why a lot of people who don’t log food and activity feel lost a few weeks into their new weight loss/ fitness plan: they know it’s not working but they don’t know how to fix it because they have no record of what they’ve done.  Think like a scientist and keep track, so when you hit that bump in the road (we all do), you know how you got there and can figure out how to get around it.

Meal Prep

This is another one people don’t like to do: it’s a pain; it’s a hassle; it takes too long; what if I change my mind?  Blah-blah-blah! I’ve heard (and used) that same list of excuses, and yes, every Sunday I b*tch about having to get the shopping done and get everything set up for the coming week, but I’ll tell you this on my word of honor, when I bailed on it last time and used the blah blah list of excuses, it was so much more of a pain, and a hassle and it took so much longer because I wanted that extra two hours to sit on my butt and goof off on Sunday afternoon! I had to scramble for something to take for lunch and then hit the grocery store on the way home from work, because I didn’t have anything prepared at home!  I had to stop for my coffee and a jacked up breakfast because the food I would normally have ready to go wasn’t even in the house!  So, guess who did a mid-week mini- food prep?  and guess who got her butt down to Safeway that next Sunday?  You don’t have to make a week’s worth of meals on the weekend (or whenever): all you have to do is figure out what you are going to be eating for the next week! Mine is as lax as possible (because I’m fundamentally lazy)! I buy enough meat/protein to get me through the week and enough vegetables to do the same. So I might have some chicken, some pork, some sweet potatoes and broccoli in my fridge, along with some apples, some string cheese, more chicken for lunch and some half and half for my coffee (really, that’s pretty much my weekly grocery list).  Nothing is pre-cooked or packaged in my lunch container, but it’s prepped enough so the night before, I stick it all in my lunchbag in the fridge and get the coffee set up for the morning, so I just turn on the coffee maker in the morning, pour it in my travel mug and grab the lunchbag out of the fridge.  When I come home in the evening, I put the chicken on the stove, stick the broccoli in the microwave and it’s dinner! Usually takes about an hour, give or take, chicken & broccoli v sweet potato fries.  Pretty much the only thing I do pre-cook would be the chicken for lunch, depending on what kind I get.  Usually a lot of my lunch is from my dinner: I make enough for dinner and lunch and stick that in my lunchbag.  It’s a little bit of planning or if you want, it can be the full-bore make-it-and-stick-it-in-the-fridge/freezer prep.  It’s what you want it to be, but knowing what you have planned and getting it set up ahead of time takes a lot of the guesswork out of eating healthy and leads to more consistency, which leads to more results, and isn’t that what you are after?

Finally!!

My apologies for the longer than average post but I think this should give you some place to start or some ideas for positive changes to your own routine.  Most of these I learned the hard way and from wiser souls than I am (again, check out Primal Potential- she’s very accessible!)  I’m just passing on the good intel (or at least what works for me!)  I practice all of these and they have served me well.  I’ve lost 165 lbs to do over the last two years, and except for one really long plateau that was totally my own fault (curse you, 2015 holidays!), my weight loss has been pretty consistent!  As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Identity Crisis: Losing Yourself in the Process & the Fear of Success

Obviously, I was desperate to lose weight.  I had been trying to do that for most of my adult life and had failed utterly and completely.  When I finally stumbled into the right process for me (Paleo living), I was beyond estatic!  I was so happy that I was FINALLY losing weight and it wasn’t coming back and I was not totally miserable in the process! I just wanted to tell everyone: this is working for me!! (LOL- it’s one of the reasons I started this blog!)

I have been at this nearly two years now (I count January 2015 as my ‘start date’) and I have lost about 165 lbs (164.4).  That’s about an average size adult human. I used to look at my total weight loss and tell myself “that’s a toddler” or “that’s a kid” and lately it was “that’s about a whole person.”  At first it was a little funny, thinking I was carrying those extra forty pounds around like someone would carry their child, and then the higher the number the more it was a little frightening thinking I had been carrying so much extra weight on my enitre body.  As it climbed higher into the 100’s, I would think about how my knees and my back and feet would hurt and I’d realize it was the same as carrying around another person with me 24/7.  I’ve heard pregnant women complain about how heavy the baby is and how awkward it can be to move around, and the average woman gains only 25-30 lbs when pregnant.  For someone who was not overweight before, it’s still a lot of weight and it’s mostly located in one awkward area of the body.  I was carrying so much more than that all over my body and it was not a temporary condition! Worse, I kept gaining weight. Before I finally lost weight, I was carrying the equivalent of two large men around all the time (I weighed 438 lbs and I’m 5’4″). I knew I needed to lose weight and that I was unhealthy, but at the same time, the discomfort from my weight gain had been slow and insidious.  I’ve heard it said that if you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump right out, but if you put it in a pot of cold water and slowly increase the heat, the frog will stay there and die ( someone please save the frog! no cooking frogs please!).  I was the frog: I had been gaining at a relatively slow but steady rate and the discomfort slowly increased but like the frog, I was not paying a whole lot of attention. On one level, I knew this was killing me, but it wasn’t killing me so fast that I felt I needed to do something about it. It wasn’t until my health became so bad due to other factors that I was finally motivated to make changes that ultimately led to my losing weight.

Now I’m a little over the halfway mark to my goal weight (150 lbs). At some point, in the rather near future now, I’m going to have to talk to my doctor about getting some of my loose skin removed, although I would prefer to wait as long as possible.  The problem with loose skin isn’t so much that it’s unattractive as it can become a source of infection.  It folds up on itself and rubs in places where it’s not supposed to be and these wounds can easily become infected.  Mine is not that bad yet, but it’s getting there, especially on my legs.  Knowing me it will probably come down to which is the bigger pain in the butt: the loose skin or the surgery?  When the answer is the loose skin, I’ll probably call my doctor.  The bad part about that is that I have a high tolerance for irritation, so I’m hoping I don’t get an infection before I finally decide to go get cut up.

There have been a lot of physical changes these past two years.  The loose skin is only one change and maybe the most noticeable. My body is literally shrinking in on itself. Parts of me are sagging that never did before and it’s a little uncomfortable at times having to deal with that.  I swim a couple days a week, so I am used to seeing myself in the gym mirror in my swimsuit looking like a deflated balloon (even more so since I’ve gone to a smaller two piece). I feel my bones more prominently and there’s a lot less pain in my back, knees and feet. Moving is a lot easier and so is sleeping.  My clothes are hanging on me now and even my shoes fit better. Shoes I could barely fit in two years ago now fit well with a little extra room to tighten them up. My younger and smaller sister has started giving me her old clothes (she’s also lost weight) and I was rather shocked when I got dressed this morning and I put on a shirt that I didn’t think would fit, but it fit just fine.  I really didn’t think I’d lost that much weight.

That statement seems to be at the crux of my current mindset. I am in denial regarding how much weight I’ve lost and how much smaller I seem to be getting.  At first, it was kind of fun thinking I actually need to buy smaller clothes.  I don’t ever recall a time in my life when I was complaining that all my clothes are too big and I need smaller sizes.  I have a couple of shirts that feel like I’m wrapped in a sail and the free t-shirt I got when I joined my gym (even though I got the bigger size) is now my nightshirt since it comes down so far on me.  I recently ordered new swimsuits online and a couple days after I submitted my order, I realized maybe I should have ordered a size down (I was getting in the pool- go figure).  The reason I needed new swimsuits is that the ones I have are starting to slip off in the water. (The new ones fit just fine!) Back in August, as I noticed how my pants flap and a lot of them now have safety pins and binder clips keeping them up, I figured I’d wait until October to buy some new ones.  Now October is here and I’m telling myself, as even the “good fitting pants” now need a binder clip, maybe I should wait until the new year.  I keep telling myself that I haven’t lost “that much weight” and these 3X pants still fit too well for me to think about moving down to 2X.  The size 24 shirts still fit nice enough that moving down to 22 is “probably not a good idea.”  That worked until this morning when the shirt I put on is one of my sister’s 2x hand-me-downs and it fits better than my old sail-size 24s.

The physical changes and the denial about the overall weight loss are only one part of the problem.  I’m pretty used to the saggy skin and not too concerned about it, and while the baggy clothes are becoming more of a problem (buying new clothes has always been so depressing!) The bigger ‘problem’ is that I’m changing in ways I never thought about and while you wouldn’t think it would be something that upsets me, it really does bother me more than a little.  Whenever I notice it, there is always a feeling of disquiet in me, because it feels like I am losing who I am.

Fear of Success

And I think that is exactly what is happening: the person I used to be, the person I am familiar with, is no longer entirely there.  There has always been a lot of attention given the fear of failure and how to get over that, but not so much to fear of success.  Some people have never heard of it and automatically dismiss it as one of those psycho-babble ideas: “Really?? You’re afraid of succeeding?? Of winning?? Of completing what you set out to do??”  Ask any athlete who has won Wimbledon for example: how much pressure is there to win next year, and the year after?  Ask Tiger Woods after he won the Masters: any pressure there, Tiger?? Once you do what you set out to do, there is enormous pressure to keep winning.  You don’t just “win and leave”: you are expected to keep performing at the same level! A band puts out a fabulous album: automatically, critics put out the idea that the next one might not be as good.  An actor wins the Oscar: the next film is automatically compared to the “Oscar-winning performance.”  While everyone is familiar with the price of failure, there is a hidden cost to winning as well.

With weight loss, it’s pretty straightforward: “she lost the weight, yeah, but can she keep it off?” Anyone who has lost weight knows the mantras: “don’t gain. don’t eat. don’t gain. don’t eat.”  It’s usually followed by the dreaded daily self-interrogation: “are my pants getting tight? why doesn’t my bra/ shirt/ socks fit as loose as they used to? does my face look fat?!” When it comes to weight loss & keeping it off, most battle-scarred veterans are used to the war never ending; we don’t “win”- we just keep fighting.  People tell us the greater the battle, the greater the glory, and they leave off the part about defending that win.  I remember how devastating it felt when I gained back the 40 lbs I had lost on NutriSystem, and then I gained more back as well.  (Haven’t we all been there?)  It’s salt in the wound honestly.  It’s like the weight is dancing on your grave: “yeah, you thought you’d ditched me but now I’m back and I’m bigger and stronger than ever!! bwahahaha!”

It’s not enough to succeed in losing weight and getting fitter; you have to maintain that fitness.  This is where so many people just pack it in and go home, usually because the changes they made to lose the weight were not permanent lifestyle changes.  They monitored what they ate long enough and consistently enough to lose X amount of pounds, but once it’s gone, they go back to the way they ate before which led to the gain of X amount of pounds. This is the “revolving door dieting mentality” that keeps the weight loss industry flourishing. For anyone to keep winning the “weight loss war,” we must make permanent life style changes: we keep making healthy food choices; we stay active; going to the gym and/ or walking daily are now normal habits and eating unhealthy foods are the exception rather than the rule.  It’s not so much that our habits need to change as much as we ourselves need to change.

This is where I find myself: I am changing into someone else and that is causing a little bit of an identity crisis (‘little bit’- eye roll!!)  I find I am experiencing some anxiety when I find myself not falling into my regular old habits.  This is actually a good thing because my regular old habits were the habits that led to my being 438 lbs.  I know what the old me would have done (bought at least two pieces of Safeway carrot cake!) and the new ‘transitional’ me would have looked at the cake, wanted it and walked away from it, but this new healthier me is not even noticing the carrot cake and walks right by without even looking (she’s looking at the eggs of all things!), and when I find myself doing things like not paying attention to things that formerly were important (either as ‘bad for me treats’ or ‘things to be resisted’), I feel a little bit of anxiety, because I don’t know who this person is, and worse yet, I don’t know what her pitfalls are.  The old me was pretty easy: carrot cake, pasta, bagels, cookies and yeah, yogurt, cheese and anything with cream sauce.  The me I thought I was (the transitional me) is a little harder but still a known quantity: bacon, broccoli, salads, chicken and Epic bars.  This new person? So far I know she’s not into carrot cake, apple fritters, chips and cheese toast.  Beyond that, she’s still pretty nebulous.  I get to find out what her strengths and weaknesses are.  I’m not even really sure what she looks like, but apparently, she’s thinner than I am and getting thinner.

I am also having anxiety when I find I’ve lost weight.  (What the hell is THAT all about?!?) I have to admit, this would make me laugh if it didn’t cause so much disquiet in me.  I am actually stressing about LOSING weight and  NOT having a problem resisting the carrot cake kryptonite!! I used to wish for problems like these, so now- wish granted! Frankly, it’s all part of the ongoing transition to someone healthier, fitter and hopefully, happier than the person I used to be.  Yes, there is anxiety involved now with not only learning the new healthier habits but maintaining them and the weight loss as well as finding new strengths and probably the weaknesses as well.  I am becoming someone new and it’s a little hard letting go of the person I used to be.  For so long, she was the devil I knew, even though she was 370+ lbs for more than ten years, wearing size 4x pants and size 24/26 shirts, and could hardly walk from one end of the mall to the other. When I looked in the mirror, I saw someone I recognized even if I didn’t like her very much.  For many months now, when I look in the mirror, I saw someone who surprised me and who still surprises me.  Honestly, I don’t handle surprises very well, but I’m getting used to them.  I suppose I’d better.  This new person looks like she’s making herself at home.

One Size Does Not Fit ALL!

The FDA lied to me (and everyone else)!

I am the first to admit that I am not any kind of health/ fitness expert.  I never have been and one look at my medical records would verify that! But like most people out there, I think, I tried to follow the best advice for healthy living and healthy eating.  So when everyone was freaking out about high fat, high meat diets, and all the benefits of whole grains, I followed their advice.  For years, I could not figure out what I was doing wrong as I continued to gain weight through college and grad school and somewhere towards the early 2000’s, I came to the conclusion, that whatever it was I was doing wrong was way beyond me and I was just doomed to be fat all my life.

About that point, I pretty much stopped paying attention to what I was eating and just ate what I wanted, though I tried to keep it in some kind of moderation (usually failing miserably), and it wasn’t until the end of 2014 (about this time two years ago) that I FINALLY figured out what I was doing wrong, began to lose weight and began to feel like an actual human being who had a chance to live a healthy lifestyle.  As some of you know, it was a complete and total accident that I stumbled onto my huge (no pun intended- well, maybe) diet problem:  I had been following the FDA guidelines on their Food Pyramid.

In the early 1990’s (1992 to be exact) the FDA’s Food Pyramid recommended eating daily 6-11 servings of grains, rice, cereals & pastas, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruits, 2-3 servings of meats & fish, 2-3 servings of dairy and to eat fats and sugars “sparingly.”  (They update these guidelines every 5 years or so.) In 1992, I was in college and literally my weight gain started to soar.  It was seriously out of control and the more I kept eating the low fat, high carb/ high “whole grain” diet everyone was pushing at me, the more weight I kept gaining.  Like I said, eventually I just gave up.

It turns out that everyone else following the same diet was also gaining weight at a high rate too.  We had an epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes by the time I finished college.  It kept right on rising (I think it still is) and now the doctors know why: it was the low fat, high carb/ high whole grain diet that everyone was eating– at their recommendation!!  Now the best doctors are telling us something very different than what they told us 25 years ago. Now they are telling us that high fat does not cause heart disease; it’s sugar that causes the most damage in the body.  What they are not explaining fully is that all those “whole grains” & grain products (this includes rice, cereals, pastas, corn & corn products, etc) turns into sugar in the body.  When you eat a candy bar, your body breaks it down into glucose, which is a sugar, and the body releases insulin to remove it from the blood stream and it is stored in the body as fat or glycogen for later use as a fuel.  What the doctors aren’t telling you is that all those grain/ grain products they were advising us to eat 6-11 servings of each day, are made up of starches, which are long strings of sugar, and are turned just as quickly into glucose by the body and the body goes through the same routine.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a bowl of pasta, a bagel, an ear of corn or a candy bar: it all turns into glucose pretty fast in the body and it’s stored as fat or glycogen.  (They may as well have told us to have 6 candy bars daily- the effect would have been the same!)

So there we all were: eating lots of grains, cereals and pastas like they said to do, and we were gaining weight, and becoming insulin resistant to boot too!  I figured out (22 years later!) that one of the reasons I was gaining weight was that all of those carbs were being stored as fat in my body, and they weren’t being burned later on because in order to burn fat, the blood stream needs to be cleared of insulin.  If there is glucose in the blood, there is insulin in the blood and the body can only store fat when insulin is present.  It’s an either-or situation: either the body is storing fat (insulin is present) or it is burning fat (insulin is not present). There was always insulin and glucose in my blood stream because I was eating those recommended grain products for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks: bagels, cereals,  breakfast sandwich, pasta, sandwiches, granola bars; cereal bars, etc.  (Does this sound like the stuff everyone else was eating??) My body was clearing the glucose from breakfast only to have it replaced with the glucose from lunch and then once that was cleared, there was the snack glucose and then the dinner glucose and knowing me, probably dessert glucose as well!!

You know that old saying that  if you have Chinese food, you’ll only be hungry again in an hour? This is why:once your body clears the glucose from your blood stream, obviously your blood glucose is low, and it’s usually lower than it was before you ate whatever it was you ate, so your brain sends out a signal that you need to raise your blood glucose, and that signal is hunger.  This creates a vicious cycle: you eat carbs (either because they’re “good for you” or you like them- whatever reason); your blood sugar spikes; your body releases insulin to clear the glucose; your blood sugar bottoms out once the glucose is cleared and your brain tells you that you need to eat.  This is why you can eat a huge meal of pork fried rice, chicken chow mein and broccoli beef over rice chased down with a fortune cookie and be hungry an hour later.  You know you just ate, but your brain says you’re hungry.  This is how you can have a breakfast full of good for you whole grains and then munch on a granola bar about an hour and half later.  You have a sandwich and whole wheat crackers for lunch and then munch on a bunch more crackers a couple hours later.  You have pasta and shrimp for dinner and then have a couple of cookies while watching tv an hour or so later.  By the time your body has cleared the glucose from the prior meal or snack, you’re dumping more glucose into the system!  It’s not your fault- this is what we were all told and this is not unusual for most people!  That is a perfectly reasonable daily diet laid out above and it’s a diet that will most probably keep you gaining weight.  It’s not that different from the diet I was on for most of my college years and I kept steadily gaining weight, until I just gave up and ate all kinds of junk food because NOTHING WAS WORKING FOR ME!!

As much as I would love to lay all the blame on the FDA, I can’t.  They meant well.  Even though I was following their guidelines, which were made with the best of intentions for everyone, I was simply eating too much and it was too much of the wrong things, so it was a perfect storm of weight loss chaos for me (and everyone else it turns out as well)! After I reached around the 370 mark, my weight pretty much stayed in that neighborhood for several years.  I would periodically try dieting, again using the low fat high carb model, and I would lose weight and then slowly gain it all back.  It wasn’t until things got really bad with my job and my eating habits that it really began to rise again, and it took a major life crisis to stop it.  The only good thing out of that crisis (aside from leaving the job from hell) was that I learned how to eat for weight loss and overall health.  It involved making permanent lifestyle and eating changes.

As the title of this post states, one size does not fit everyone.  The FDA, in putting out guidelines, is trying to help people eat better, which is to be commended, and obviously they cannot tailor a plan to fit each individual: that’s why they are called “guidelines.” It would be a whole lot easier if we could just take a simple test and get an easy to follow instruction manual on how to eat for our body type & lifestyle, but unfortunately we have to find out through trial and error, mostly.  What works for one person may not work for someone else, even if you are related.  My sister is a vegetarian and she is also losing weight eating a lot of the foods that I don’t eat.  The same is true for me: I eat a Paleo/ Primal diet now which includes a lot of animal products she doesn’t eat and I am also losing weight.  My sister’s diet includes a lot of starches and simple carbs and mine includes a lot of meat & fish.  Pretty much the only things we have in common are dairy (although mine is much less than hers) and non-starchy vegetables.

You would think it would be easy to figure out what to eat.  I mean, if you have a cat, you know you don’t feed it oats and grass, just like you don’t feed your rabbit meat and eggs.  Because humans are omnivores (meaning we eat everything), we think our diet must include “everything.”  Humans have been trying to figure out what we eat for as long as we have been humans; basically, we eat something and if it makes us sick, we cross it off the list and don’t eat it again.  This is fine if you are a caveman (or cave person) but with our big brains and modern conveniences, we techno-savvy homo sapiens think we should know better.  We can literally touch the stars but we can’t figure out what we should be eating?! As a wise and savvy engineer once remarked, “the more you overhaul the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain” (Mr. Scott).  He was right: just because we can make computers that fit in our palms doesn’t mean we should be eating “super techno franken foods.”  The shortest distance between points A & B is still a straight line.  1 + 1 is still 2.  One of the other things my Paleo/ Primal “cave man” diet has in  common with my sister’s animal-friendly vegetarian diet is that we both eat very few processed foods.  Most of what we eat is pretty close to its natural state: the vegetables are as fresh and organic as they can be and so are the eggs, dairy and in my case, the meats too.

I can’t tell you that “eating Paleo/ Primal” is the way to go anymore than I can say “eating vegetarian” or keto or low fat or any other diet is the way to go.  All I can tell you is what works for me.  Before I starting eating Paleo, my weight was out of control, I had high blood sugar and I was always hungry, always tired and felt pretty awful in general.  Now that I eat very few processed foods and grain products, my blood sugar is completely normal, I’ve lost 163 lbs and I have a lot more energy and feel pretty good overall. I wish I could tell everyone that I found the magic potion that makes us all feel wonderful and lose weight, but, alas, not so.  I honestly believe that some things I’ve learned are true: that too many processed starchy foods cause high blood glucose which prohibits fat burning and that processed foods are less healthy for you than organic whole foods.  Beyond those, I think everyone needs to decide for themselves what works best, and we need to remember that what works for one does not work for all.  I’ve had many people tell me that “keto is the way to go!” and I know that keto is too hard for me and it does not make me feel good.  I’ve also had a lot of people tell me that Paleo did not fix my blood sugar problem because “I bet if you ate a bagel, your blood sugar would go up!” Duh!!! That’s how blood sugar works! When anyone eats anything, your blood sugar goes up!! (That’s why you test it 2 hours after eating- if it’s still high after 2 hours, then you have a problem!) Some people really don’t enjoy eating Paleo/ Primal even if they lose weight. I know when I tried going vegetarian in college, I really didn’t like it. I like veggies but not that much! My sister on the other hand doesn’t like eating meat or fish (especially fish!)

I think the most important thing I learned after this lifelong struggle is that when someone tells you they have The Answer, don’t believe them!  Either they are flat out lying to you or they are making a good faith honest mistake. This is why the weight loss & fitness industries flourish: every few months someone has The Answer and they’ll be happy to share it with you for $19.99 plus shipping and handling! All I’m going to do is tell you to listen to your body (for free!) and be patient.  Take notes in your diet journal about what you are eating and how it makes you feel.  Record your measurements and/ or weight every couple of weeks.  Take notes about your activities/ exercises and how they make you feel (same journal).  If you like how you feel, if you are losing weight, getting fitter, then keep going.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a specialized “diet with a name;” what matters is that you feel better! But the one caveat I’m going to put out there is that you need to be patient and give your body some time to adjust and time to lose weight and quite possibly heal.  I had to stop eating dairy for a long time before I could eat it again without feeling wretched from lactose intolerance.  I still have to be careful not to have too much too often, but a little is okay for me.  I know I was really addicted to starches and I’d really crave bread for days after eating one piece of toast.  It was a long time before I could see it and not want it.  I’ve learned that while bread tastes really good, it’s not good for me.  My sister on the other hand enjoys it without feeling awful afterwards.

It’s a little ironic that humans pride ourselves on our individuality, but when it comes to eating and exercising, we still look for the One Size Fits All approach.  Most of us go through the majority of our lives crammed into the One Size diet- and we all know how well those One Size sweatshirts fit: some of us have to roll up the sleeves and the some of us end up ripping a seam! It’s not comfortable wearing someone else’s clothes, so why would you want to eat someone else’s food?

 

 

 

 

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step~ Lao Tzu

I would call this cliche trite except for the fact that, besides being absolutely correct, this is where so many people get stuck.  They know they need to lose weight and/ or get healthier.  They’ve read the blogs and the websites and the books.  Their doctors, friends and family members have been harping about it. They want to do it.  They just don’t know how to get started!  “Do I exercise more?  Do I need to do anything before I start exercising more? What exercise should I do?  Does yoga count?  What about walking? Do I need a treadmill?  Do I have to go a certain pace?  Maybe I should try to lose weight before I start exercising? What diet should I use?”

This kind of waffling and confusion frankly reminds me of when I was a kid and we were going out to dinner as a family.  My parents would wait until we were all packed in the car and then begin asking each other: “Where do you want to go?”  “I don’t know.”  “Where do you want to go?”  “How about this place?”  “What about that other place?”  Aaaaahhhh!! JUST PICK ONE!! That’s pretty much what it comes down to: it doesn’t matter so much where you start as long as you start somewhere! None of this is carved in stone.  This is very much the journey that Lao Tzu mentions above.  I personally like to think of it as an adventure.  I know the destination, but as to how I get there, that’s pretty flexible.  If you make a wrong turn, find another way! Leaving it fairly flexible is a good thing. So maybe you try the yoga and it works out pretty good.  Fabulous!  You’ve started! Once you’ve got the yoga down, think about adding something else to the routine, like cardio or maybe changing your eating habits. Or maybe the yoga doesn’t work out for you; it’s still great! Now you can cross that off your list and try something else, like swimming or cardio or Zumba!  You are out there making choices and making progress, learning what works for you and what doesn’t! You are on your way!

Too many people either don’t know where to start and so they never start, or they go the other direction and try everything at once, get overwhelmed and give up. So many people are afraid of making a “wrong” choice, but this isn’t a test.  If you choose something that doesn’t fit for you, no one is going to dock you points and kick you out of the “getting fit” club!  Like the journey old Lao Tzu speaks of above, we have to get there one step at a time, one choice at a time.  If you choose wrong, you get a guaranteed do-over so don’t be afraid to try something new!  Choose one thing and try it out! (I don’t mean that you can’t do two or more things at once, like cutting out dairy and hitting the gym twice a week.  If you can handle multiple changes without feeling overwhelmed, then go for it!)  If it works for you, keep going and start adding to your list.  But for so many people, just knowing where to begin is overwhelming and I blame it on information overload.

Picking the Right Path (or Maybe Going Left?)

Yeah, it’s a feeble attempt at a joke, but I think this is genuinely a part of the problem.  When we decide to look at our options for getting healthier or working out, most of do one (or more) of three things: 1) we google it!; 2) we go to a bookstore/ gym/ health food store; 3) we ask our friends! I know in my case, I was honed in on google, watched all the tv shows on weight loss that I could and yelped the heck out of the local gyms.  As for friends, none of mine are into health and weight loss, and my sister goes the vegetarian route (which is not for me), so I was left out there, but this is where most people get their information.  Some of us do go to our doctors, but sadly (as I’ve mentioned in other posts) doctors do not have a lot of training in nutrition and for most of them, the Calories In- Calories Out model is what they use (also known as “Eat Less-Move More”).  This model has really come under fire lately.  So there you are, standing in the Weight Loss section of your local Barnes & Noble, looking at about a hundred different titles on losing weight, eating healthier, going Vegan, going Paleo, going Veggie, going Mediterranean, Low Glycemic Diet, Blood Sugar Solution Diet, Always Hungry? Diet, ad infinitum!  It’s hard to choose which one you want to look at, let alone which one you want to buy!  And let’s face it, you don’t have time to research all of them, so if you’re like me, you do some googling, or pull some books off the shelves and start crossing some of these off your list.

This is where most of start into uncharted waters: we need to choose a healthy weight loss/ fitness lifestyle and we need to know where to start or at least which direction to go.  This person says X, that one says X+1, and this other “guru” says avoid X altogether and go straight for Z! Who do we listen to, or do we scrap all of them and “listen to our bodies?” Ideally, listening to our bodies is the way to go, but as I recently posted, our bodies and our brains don’t communicate very well (my body used to tell me on a regular basis that it needs more Jack in the Box and tortilla chips!)  Some of us really want a detailed road map and for some of us, all we want is a push in the right direction- we’ll figure out the rest on the way, but frankly a lot of us feel lost and defeated before we ever start.  This is pretty much where I was when I just decided I’m destined to be the “fat woman” forever.  I knew where I didn’t want to go and what I didn’t want to do, but as for what I really needed, I had not a clue! (Honestly, I literally stumbled onto the right path, and I don’t want you all stumbling around in the dark, hoping for a lucky break!)

To Thine Own Self Be True

Polonius was an old blowhard (it’s a Hamlet quote again-sorry!) but in this case, the old windbag was exactly right.  My mom spent a great deal of my adult life throwing the newest fad diet books at me; I was always coming home and finding them hanging on my doorknob and “s/he really knows what s/he’s talking about!”  These books were how I knew what not to do and what I didn’t want. Many of them involve eating special foods or using special “enzymes/ powders,” following some regimented exercise and eating plan, and this is where the above advice chimes in: is this something you want to do? or like to do?  and are likely to do for a prolonged period without problems?  My answer:most definitely not! I don’t like having to make anything complex, something where I’m always checking my calendar “do I start phase 2 today or tomorrow?- ah, damn it was yesterday!”, something that requires me going to a special store to get the “miracle enzyme” (eye roll). Nope, even if I started it and I really really wanted it (believe me, I did), I know me pretty good and I am ultimately a lazy bum with a lot of things, and this one will start slipping away pretty quick and then I’ll be right back where I was to start with, only without all the money I spent on the miracle enzyme and none of the benefits left!  If it’s not something simple, easy to follow and easy to shop for, forget it- because I won’t do it! I’ll eventually mess something up (like most people) and then I’m off track and I may even have to start all over again!  None of these are conducive to success!

When I considered “going Paleo,” I approached it the way I approached all of the “fad diets” I’d been given by my mom: I poked it with a stick to see if it bit me!  It’s a metaphor, but it’s one that works! I didn’t want to invest time and money in another money pit that wasn’t going to work for me.  It had the general simplicity that I liked: no regimented schedules and really no “weird/ miracle” foods.  Most of the books and websites on Paleo I looked at all had the lists of foods that are Paleo, the ones that aren’t, the gray areas (Paleo v Primal, etc ) and most offered the same advice when it came to transitioning to Paleo.  There were a couple that offered the “30 day reset” mentality, but most of them suggested just begin by eliminating one or two non-Paleo foods at a time and keep adding to the list.  It’s a slow and simple transition: stop eating one food that isn’t Paleo (like bread) and add in something that is (like cauliflower).  It wasn’t drastic and it allowed for gradual changes but with gradual progress, so even if I wasn’t “completely Paleo,” I was still going forward and still noticing positive changes that were very encouraging! The biggest and most difficult factor in this decision was taking a good long look at the list of “forbidden foods” and asking myself, in all seriousness, if these were foods I could give up for good.  These are foods like bread, cereal, grain-products, most legumes (including peanuts), sugars and some other foods. For me the biggest hurdle is the grain products. (Dairy is one of the gray areas.) I love breads and pastas and crackers/ chips probably more than sugar.  Actually, they are much yummier with sugar and dairy added to them!  (Waffles with butter and syrup- yay!!) Give me a choice between bagels and bacon & eggs for breakfast, I’ll take the bagel every time. Or oatmeal.  Or pancakes. Or just plain toast.  I was a confirmed carboholic, and the more processed and refined the carbs, the yummier they are.  I can’t tell you how many nights my dinner was a bag of chips and salsa with cheese.  So looking at a list of foods that were my undoubted favorites, not to mention basic staples of what I ate almost every day, it was a big question for me: can I really give these up on a long term basis (code for “the rest of my life”)? Of course, if I ate them once in a while, I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the tribe or banned from any website.  In fact, a lot of websites advocated the 80-20 rule (you eat Paleo 80% of the time). (Personally, I don’t think it works for me, but that’s my choice and I’m happy with that!)

It might seem like it’s a silly meaningless question for someone who’s never tried to lose weight, but it is actually a very serious question.  This is the question most people don’t ask themselves when they start on a crash diet or when they decide they are giving up a particular food or going to hit the gym/ work out five days a week: “Is this behavior something I can do long term?” This is why most of these fad/ crash diets/ exercise programs fail: it’s hard to stick with extreme behavior on a long term basis.  (This is also why those tv show contestants gain it all back!) If it’s not something you enjoy doing, there is no impetus to keep it going.  Even if you do lose weight or get stronger, if it’s just too hard, you are tempted every day every time to skip it “just this once” which turns into more and more often until you are totally off track and back to where you started.

This is why I ignored the diet books my mother kept giving me: I knew none of the programs was sustainable for me, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake with any “program” I started, because they would be just as ineffective.  This is where you have to come face to face with yourself when you consider what course you are going to take to get you to your goals: is this something I can do for the long haul? Whatever diet/ exercise program you choose, this is the first question you need to ask yourself, because this will ultimately determine your success.  If you cannot be consistent and make long term lifestyle changes, whatever progress you make will be short-lived.  My mom, for all her “dieting expertise,” was almost always following one diet program or another and none of them involved long term lifestyle changes: they were all “eat our food, lose weight and feel great!” Until she stopped eating their food and gained the weight back.  Or they were “follow this schedule with these smoothies” until she got off schedule and the weight came back.  If you decide to go Atkins, South Beach, Zone, or whatever you decide, you need to be consistent!  If you hate it, or don’t feel good on it, then it doesn’t work for you!  If you have to force yourself to eat what’s on your plate, it probably is not the food for you.  I know one of my biggest problems with Paleo is that most of the cookbooks and websites were full of egg recipes. Ugh!! If you were to ask me the one food that I hate more than any other, it would be egg yolks, hands-down!  (I used to make egg salad sandwiches in college and my Yorkie always got the yolks- it was more eggwhite salad sandwiches!) The chefs would give advice like “leave the yolk a little creamy so it can blend with the rest of the salad/ veggies/ whatever” and I’d want to throw up- seriously! So for probably the first year I did Paleo, I made all the recipes with egg whites and egg substitutes.  Eventually, I got around to eating real eggs (still yuck) but I cook the yolks extra hard and kill the taste with hot sauce.  My dog likes them a whole lot better than the egg whites (he likes a runny yolk)! But if I could not find a work-around for the eggs, Paleo might have been something that I had to give up because I really can’t eat eggs every day.  For example, my sister is vegetarian and she really likes tofu.  I can’t stand the stuff (luckily, soy is not Paleo) so this was not a good choice for me when I tried it back in college.  Between not eating meat and not eating tofu, I actually became anemic. Not good for health or consistency!

Commitmentphobia

Most of us want to be healthier, whether it means losing weight and/ or being more active, and the health/ weight loss industry feeds on our confusion.  There are trainers and experts out there who will tell you the truth: if this isn’t something you can do consistently, DON’T DO IT!  There are also a lot who just want your money and don’t care if you are successful or not.  Part of the problem is obviously us:  too many of us pick a diet or exercise program the way we pick out a new shirt or shoes: we look at it a little bit, try it on, bring it home and it sits there in the closet because it “doesn’t fit like it did in the store.”  We need to treat it more like we are buying a car or a house: the investment is comparable because this will be something we are living with for a very long time! You can’t put your car, your house or your health in the donation box for Goodwill at the end of the year! Gym owners love the New Year when everyone signs up to make good on their resolutions, but come March and April, the crowd has really thinned out as “real life” starts getting in the way: it’s not convenient; there’s too much going on; it’s not fun anymore.  This is why you have to make the commitment to be consistent.  This is also why I was b*tching at myself last week- I was blowing off half my workouts and avoiding the gym! (The new Monday night trainer isn’t fun- waah waah…) I know what I need to do but I just wasn’t doing it, and this is where I had the ‘come-to-Jesus’ talk with myself about what really matters to me.

I matter to me.  More importantly, (since I don’t have kids) I matter to my pets! Who do you matter to?  When I was 438 lbs, I was no fun at all for me, my family and friends, and my pets.  I sat in my recliner because my knees hurt, my back hurt and I got so tired just trying to walk anywhere.  I slept a lot because it hurt to do anything and taking the pup to the park or for a walk or even to play in the yard was a major undertaking for me! My inability to move ruined my trip to Disneyland and ruined a lot of my life.  Once I started losing weight and was able to move without pain (and breathing hard from exertion), it was a big incentive to me to stay committed to my goals.  I may never be a size 10 but it’s important to me to stay active and keep working to my goals.  I just plain feel better!  I know there are people out there who think “the hell with the dog/ pets,” but as much as he likes doing things with me, I like doing things with him! It’s important to me! That’s why I stay committed to eating what’s healthy for me and being active.  Yeah, tortilla chips, Jack in the Box and peanut butter cups are good, but they are not as good as playing ball with my dog or taking a tour with my sister around Long Beach or just shopping all day all over the outlets with my friends! These are things that matter to me and my quality of life.  These are the reasons I stay committed to my weight loss, however grumpy it makes me.  Whatever the reasons you have for becoming a healthier you, you need to commit to them and to you!  You are the one living in that body and if it hurts or is awkward, you are the one who has to deal with it. Some people post their reasons for getting healthy where they can see them every day; some keep them in their pocket or their purse;  mine sit on my lap and sleep on my bed.  They might not have been the reasons I actually started but they are the reasons I do it every day.  This can be a great adventure and I intend to enjoy every moment of it (even if the Monday night trainer isn’t fun!)