Weight Loss & New Ideas: You Make The Call

Have you ever walked into a home or office where the air is stagnant and stuffy?  It’s one of the things that bothers me the most: it’s almost like I can smell the dust!  Nothing is moving; nothing is fresh and everything is stale.

The same thing happens to us when we get stuck in a rut.  We feel safe and we feel at home so we essentially stop there.  We cease forward progress and stop looking at anything that falls outside of that safe comfy rut. We begin to stagnate and stagnation is not a good thing!

It’s not that we want to be close-minded or stagnant: we’ve heard so many times“do what works for you!” That really is a good idea since so many of us bounce from one thing to another simply because it’s trending on Instagram.  If you’re constantly trying one thing or another, how do you know if something is working out for you? So we find the eating plan or work out plan that works for us and we stick to it like we’re victims of a Permanent Sticking Charm out of Harry Potter. “Sticking” to something that works is a good thing as long as it doesn’t keep us from discovering something else that might work better! 

I know people who glom onto whatever is new and trending.  They remind me of a starfish on a clam because they are just as hard to get off.  The problem with most of them is that they stay on it whether is works for them or not.  They tell themselves it “should” work for them since it’s the Idea of the Day and everyone they know on Facebook or Instagram is getting great results! That is, everyone but them.

As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle: we don’t need to be Permanently Sticking Starfish and we don’t need to be ping-ponging from one to another either.  We need to be open to new ideas and be sensible about it. I know: how much more common sense can it get?

But when it comes to weight loss especially, most of us are really not very ‘common sense’ oriented.  We want to have lost weight yesterday! It can’t come off fast enough! And it’s because our emotions are involved. Being emotional usually means we’re not being very sensible since our logic went out the window along with the bags of potato chips. So when someone suggests we only drink high protein smoothies because someone they know has a friend on Facebook who lost 40 lbs in three weeks doing that, the logical part of our brain says “hmmmm” while the emotional part of our brain shouts “go for it!” We start rationalizing how safe or effective this practice should be: it’s protein and it’s low sugar, low carb, low fat so it certainly sounds like it’s healthy. There’s lots of low carb veggies in it, so there should be plenty of vitamins. How bad can it be for me?

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum where we’re suspicious of everything that hasn’t been “proven” to our satisfaction. We examine everything like it’s evidence in a murder investigation: Clinical trials? Independent corroboration? Evidence of efficacy? Any outliers we need to know about? What’s the success/ failure rate?  And before we know it, the door of our mind has slammed shut on that idea! Granted, not every idea that comes down the highway is a good one– we all know there are some real losers out there! But until we keep an open mind long enough to gauge which camp this New Idea falls into, we can be shutting the door on something that could help us.

I see this so many times on My 600 lb Life. One of the key components to Dr. Nowzaradan’s program is psychotherapy and about half of his patients are very resistant to the idea.  They don’t see a connection between “talking about my emotions” or “talking about my past” and their eating.  There are many who refuse to go to therapy until the doctor makes it a mandatory part of the treatment: either they go to therapy or they leave the program. Even some who aren’t resistant don’t completely understand how much help it can be: “I already know I’m an emotional eater!”  It isn’t until they have started therapy that they realize its benefits. For those who are resistant or don’t see the connection, if it were up to them, that door would stay closed and in doing so, their weight loss struggle would continue to be much harder than it needed to be.

By keeping an open mind (and not being a ping-pong ball) we allow ourselves to move forward while keeping an eye on what’s worked in the past.  It’s hard, but we need to remove the emotions from the weight loss process.  I know from personal experience how difficult that is: the sense of urgency is almost overwhelming! But it’s that “hurry up” feeling that gets us into trouble by sending us from one practice to another as fast as we can bounce.  We need to turn off the emotions and turn on the logic: is it safe? is this practice something that is doable for you? Then you need to put a clock on it: how long do you plan to stick with it? and you need to set some parameters. If it’s weight loss, weigh yourself or take a photo or measurements.  If it’s a workout routine (lifting for example), how much can you lift now? You need to decide what your definition of success is. Many times people define ‘weight loss success’ as a lower number on the scale rather than just looking and feeling better and healthier. Many of my fitness friends have been confused by the fact that their clothes fit better or they’ve gotten into a smaller size but the number on the scale is only down a few digits. They’re not sure this new practice is a ‘success.’

You get to decide if it’s working for you or not. How many of us have struggled to keep our calories ‘super low’ so we can lose weight as fast as possible? Does it ‘work for us’? It depends on our definition of success: if losing weight really fast is worth being hungry all day, then yes, you can call it a success, but if your definition includes not starving all day, then it’s a big NO! Many of my fitness friends with the slimmer body or smaller jeans call their new practice a success even if it’s only ten pounds instead of the twenty they wanted. Apparently, it’s 10 lbs in all the right places! (I’m with them!)

I love a new idea as much as everyone else on Instagram but it comes down to how hard are you willing to work, how you measure success and what you deem is reasonable.  A new idea is only a good one if it meets your criteria. There are lots of weight loss gurus who tell us to remove all carbs or keep our calories under 1000 or to work out seven days a week or whatever the trending idea is in the media. Some of those practices may actually work for you as far as losing weight, but for me, if I am completely miserable or utterly exhausted, then it’s not a good idea for me. How thrilled can I be over my weight loss if I’m too worn out or too unhappy to enjoy it?

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning to Fail: Making It Harder Than It Has to Be

We have all failed at weight loss at least once.  If you’re like me, you’ve been failing at it all your life! For most of us, obviously, this is unplanned but oddly enough, there are some people who plan to fail.

Most of us who go into the weight loss arena seriously want to succeed; we want to be slimmer, more fit, less tired and just generally look and feel better.  We unwittingly sabotage ourselves by creating plans and menus that just make it harder than it needs to be.  If you’re like me, you’re in a hurry to reach your goal weight so everyone, outta my way! It’s in our rush to “do everything! and do it now!” that we pile on too many changes, drastically re-structure our eating plans and overschedule ourselves with exercise.  We’ve made it harder than it needs to be by trying to go from zero to 150 in ten seconds or less!  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) likens this to pulling onto the freeway, gunning your car’s engine with the parking brake on.  It’s a good analogy: we want to go as fast as we can but with the parking brake on, all we are doing is burning out our engine and increasing our frustration.  We get easily discouraged because “we’re doing everything right and not getting anywhere!” This is where most of us throw up our hands and resign ourselves either to being fat or to finding something else.

The ‘finding something else’ may not be the wrong idea, if the ‘do everything now’ method has been your strategy.  You probably have a good sound plan for weight loss; it’s the execution/ implementation that’s the problem.  We usually plan to give up things like sugar, ’empty carbs’ (chips, potatoes, etc) and we plan to drink more water and do more exercise or activity.  Those are all great plans (especially if you include more sleep and stress management) but trying to do all of them at once? That hotel website commercial pops in my head- the one with the guy trying to put on his belt, drink his coffee, shave and read the paper all at once. No one tries to do all those things at once- duhhhh! We can’t! Our hands are full! But when it comes to weight loss, eating better and making other positive changes, we don’t realize that our metaphorical hands are full…. until we start dropping things! Such as missing our workout class/ appointment, giving in to the break room cookies and ‘forgetting’ our healthy lunch so we end up eating out the rest of the crew- again!  We don’t realize it, but we are making this harder than it needs to be. We just hamstrung ourselves and didn’t even know it.

Using the analogy of the guy trying to do everything at once, the answer is obviously we do things one or two at a time.  Hello! Makes sense, right? Brush your teeth then drink your coffee or vice versa but not at the same time! We reject this idea because it… takes … too… long! We don’t want to wait- really who does? But the fact is that we built our bad habits and our extra pounds over time, usually a lifetime, and those habits and pounds take time to come off.  It’s not like we spent a week eating pasta three times a day and dessert seven days a week and then the following week we woke up with an extra twenty or thirty pounds on our butts and bellies! These habits changed little by little over the years and the extra pounds snuck up on us the same way.  The bad news is that now they’re firmly entrenched into our lifestyle and our butts.  The good news is that we can evict them, but like any eviction, it takes some time.  The first good habit we need to learn is patience. If we are as consistent and steady with our new good habits as we were with our old bad ones, we will be successful at weight loss.

This means doing things one at a time: we make one change, do it consistently and when it becomes a habit (as in we do it without really thinking about it), we make another change.  Here’s an example from last night: for the last two years, I’ve been going to water aerobics classes Mondays and Wednesdays.  The only time I haven’t made it to the classes is when the gym is closed or I work late. The biggest changes for me involved in this were #1) remembering my gym bag; and #2) remembering to go to the gym!  I set reminders on my phone to help with both of these.  The danger for me was that I would find a way to talk myself out of going to class: it’s a hassle; it’s cold; I don’t feel good; blah blah blah.  I made myself go anyway and it got easier after I made friends in the class.  Yesterday on my way to the gym, I was tired; it’d been really stressful at work lately; it was cold and rainy; and I realized I was talking myself out of going to class.  I was making excuses and justifications for not going and why it was okay to skip it. In fact, I had ‘decided’ I wasn’t going to go but because it had become a firmly entrenched habit, I found myself pulling into the gym parking lot.  Even though my ‘higher brain’ was arguing with me, my ‘autopilot brain’ drove to the gym anyway: it’s Wednesday so it’s gym night!  Oh, well! I’m here so I might as well work out!

By taking my time doing the same actions over and over, I made a habit of going to the gym and unless I consciously think about stopping myself, I do it anyway. This is how we learn to take our healthy lunch, not put sugar in our coffee, and go to bed at a reasonable hour.  I seriously set reminders on my phone (Alarmed app by Yoctoville-it’s free at iTunes!) and they helped a lot: reminders for packing the gym bag, going to the gym, making my breakfast and lunch, etc.

As for those of us who seriously plan to fail, there’s an entirely different psychology at work there.  These are the people who deliberately set themselves up for failure so they can say “I tried but I can’t do it!” and that’s their excuse for never trying again.  They ‘try to exercise’ but will try something they are reasonably certain is beyond their capabilities without being too outlandish, such as me at 430 lbs trying to run a 5k- just plain crazy! But if I tried something like doing an hour on the treadmill, that’s not crazy but at the same time, I’m pretty certain I would have been in a fair amount of pain afterwards because the impact on the treadmill aggravated the arthritis in my knees.  After 20 minutes, my knees were killing me.  If I had been setting up an excuse as to why I can’t exercise, this would have been good enough for me.  I’d already lost 40 lbs and should have been able to do this, but it hurts too much to exercise! I tried and I can’t do it! This would have been my opportunity to ‘get out of exercising’ because ‘my body can’t handle it!’ Instead, what I did was go to my doctor and ask her why my knees were hurting, which is how I ended up in the pool.  I went looking for an explanation and an alternative instead of choosing the excuse.  For the people who want permission to fail, looking for answers is kryptonite.  They don’t want help. They don’t want to succeed. They want to fail, either because it makes them more helpless and pitiable so they either get more attention and/ or sympathy or they don’t have any responsibility for anything in their lives. They can be overweight and helpless with impunity: they’ve tried to help themselves and they can’t do it.

Obviously some of us have flirted with the edges of this: I ‘tried’ to open this jar and I can’t: “hon, can you get this for me?” I ‘tried’ to prune the rosebushes and they look awful now: “look what happens when you let me do! I can’t do it as well as you!” This isn’t the same thing as those who are looking for excuses and justifications not to change.  Change is hard and uncomfortable and it’s a lot of work.  Positive changes are worth the effort.  We just need to remind ourselves that we are also worth the effort when our brains think of reasons to fail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress, Not Perfection in Fitness & Weight Loss

At this time of year, everyone is already bemoaning their weight gain over the holidays and either dreading making their New Year’s Resolutions or gearing up to go hard in 2018!  I know that fitness equipment and gadgets will be under a lot of families’ Christmas trees no doubt with a variety of books on nutrition, diet and working out.  Remember, it’s the thought that counts!

Actually, the thought is nice, but that’s not what counts when it comes to fitness and weight loss.  What counts is action.  Buying or receiving the diet book, kettlebells and Fitbit show your intent to work out, but how many of those kettlebells, step trackers and diet books are going to be gathering dust by March?  Did you actually make it past the first two chapters in that diet book? That Fitbit might be handy, especially if it doubles as your watch.

I’m not trying to be snippy here because I know in college my stationary bike made a great clothes rack and I’ve lost count of the diet books I’ve been given that ended up in the garage never having been opened.  This is what happens with most of us: we have great intent, but massively poor execution.  We know what we want, but we either don’t know how to get there or we’ve convinced ourselves it’s going to be really hard, painful or both, so do we really want to do that?

No matter if we plot out a day by day approach for our fitness or weight loss goals or if we just decide we’re going to ‘play it by ear,’ none of it matters without execution.  This is the fancy way of saying ‘just do the dang work!’  Plans or no plans, we need to get our hands dirty to reach our goals, or even make progress.  Unfortunately, when it comes to doing the work, most of us chicken out.  We use any excuse we can find to put it off, no matter if we roll our eyes when we say it, even to ourselves. Excuses aren’t going to move us forward but ‘we’ve got plans!’

The truth is that fear of doing the work is usually inflated, meaning we make it out to be some horrible, awful, painful task that’s going to cause all kinds of hassle for us and results in our dreading it. It can be that way, if we try implementing a major master plan all at once.  These are things like cleaning out all the sugar in the house, or starting a ketogenic diet on Monday after eating the Standard American Diet on Sunday. Going from a plate of fettucine alfredo with garlic bread on Sunday night to a super low carb diet the next day can be beyond tough, especially if your normal breakfast is a breakfast sandwich and venti latte! “You mean three ounces of cheese is my entire breakfast?”

This is why we need to focus on making progress rather than trying to execute the Master Plan all at once (perfection).  When we look at our nutrition books and diet plans, most of them give you a step by step approach, but who wants to wait? That takes too long! Let’s skip to the end and bypass the ‘busy work!’ That usually ends up being the fatal flaw in our Master Plan: our haste to avoid all the intervening steps and ‘just get it done and over’ makes it too hard to execute! The plan generally isn’t a bad one, whether you designed it or you are following something from a book. We are usually the problem because of our poor execution of that plan.

When I was a teacher, I used to tell my students “when all else fails, read the directions!” I find that motto works pretty good out of school as well, because we like to take shortcuts, and we do it with everything! Most of the time, we can get away with it: we bring home a microwave, plug it in, set the time and we’re done! No need to read that manual- microwaves are pretty self-explanatory! We’ve gotten used to it in other areas of our lives, so why not fitness and nutrition?

Because fitness, nutrition and our health aren’t an appliance! We may think that eating Paleo and working out five times a week is a great plan for us, but if you’ve never done anything like those things, it’s too hard to start all at once.  The plan is great one, but we get lost in the execution. After a couple of work out sessions, our muscles are not going to be happy with us and if we’ve eaten bread at every meal, our cravings are going to be out of control! After a week or so of no bread, no grains and back-to-back work outs, we’re going to be very grumpy and probably pretty miserable, and the obvious response will be “this is too hard! If being healthy means being miserable, I don’t want to do it!”

Another important technique I learned as a teacher is that any new habit or activity needs practice. I taught Basic English Skills at college and many of my students weren’t avid readers. These are people who don’t read books for pleasure: they read because they have to, so they were pretty out of practice.  The books I assigned to them were generally short (200 pages or so).  For me, given a quiet afternoon, I’d kill that book and move on to the next one, but I’m pretty much a professional reader (I get giddy over history books that would make my students groan!) So I told my students to read for at least five minutes every night. If you aren’t a reader, it takes practice to focus and to sit still.  It also takes a little time to get pulled into the subject.

When we begin making changes to our eating plan or begin working out, we need to do the equivalent of five minutes of reading a night, because- like my students- eventually that five minutes turns into ten then fifteen and then they want to read for as long as they can.  When we get used to eating more veggies, or eating less sugar or less bread, we start looking for other changes we can make, because we aren’t fighting the cravings for the foods we stopped eating days ago and for most of us, we feel better overall too.  We start looking for opportunities to go to the gym or other activities we can do, because our bodies want to move more. It’s a natural progression.  We’ve mastered the basics and are ready for the next step. We trip ourselves up when we try to bypass those basic steps and go right for perfection.  We miss the importance of progress because our eyes are on the end goal.

One of the things I really enjoyed about teaching was seeing how many of my students learned that they liked reading. I’d see them in class or on the campus and they’d be much farther along in the book than just the chapters I’d assigned, and the look on their faces plainly showed they were into the story.  If they’d tried to read the whole book at once, they’d likely never finish it and think that reading was just too hard, but taking it five minutes at a time, they’d built the skills it takes to read and for a lot of them, the skills to read well. We can do the same thing with fitness and healthy eating habits, but first we have to learn to take it five minutes at a time.

Seeds of Confidence: Growing Slowly

We’ve all heard the saying “nothing succeeds like success.”  It’s one of those sayings we can all parrot but don’t really think about what they mean, if they mean anything at all. But, in my opinion, the idea is that success builds upon itself.  Think about it: we invest with companies and people who have a proven track record.  We know they can do what they said, so we feel confident in giving them our trust and our money.

The same is true with confidence: it also builds upon itself. I remember watching yet one more episode of My 600 lb Life in which the patient Erica was having difficulty getting help from her family with her weight loss.  She needed someone to help her set up a new living situation, and one of her biggest problems was her lack of self-confidence.  Basically, she didn’t believe in herself and when you saw her family dynamic, it was easy to understand why.  Her brother had essentially written her off as a lost cause and her sister and brother in law pretty much treated her like something they stepped in and had to scrape off their shoe.  Her father (who did not appear in the episode) had called her Godzilla when she was growing up and her brother admitted that their father was probably embarrassed by Erica’s size.  The only one who had believed in Erica and tried to help her was her mother, who had passed away a few years earlier.  Essentially, with the exception of her niece, Erica was ignored by her family, the overall message being she’s a failure at life and isn’t worth their time or effort to try to save.

Paradoxically, once Erica starts on the diet, her sister makes it clear to her that she completely expects her to fail and at the same time taunts her for not staying on the diet.  This is the atmosphere that Erica grew up in and this is probably the biggest and truest reason that she weighs 600+ lbs.  When you are told repeatedly by the people who are supposed to love and support you that you are worthless and a failure, you begin to believe it.  It’s a living example of my favorite line from The Simpsons: “Can’t win- don’t try! Got it!”

Erica is just an example of what so many of us internalize: “I can’t do this.”  Whatever ‘this’ is doesn’t matter, because we go into the project believing we have already failed.  It can be running a marathon, doing your taxes, painting a room- it does not matter if we approach it as if it’s an impossible task.  We make a token attempt and when we fall flat, we aren’t surprised and shrug it off as “I was right!”  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: I know I can’t do this; I try to do this; and I fail. “Told you so!”

Most of us approach weight loss with the same kind of baggage- we bring all our past failures with us along with an attitude of “why should this time be any different?” It’s our internal dialog more than anything that kills our success. We tell ourselves that we aren’t good at diets; that we can’t make the kinds of changes to lose weight; and sometimes we tell ourselves that we are just destined to be the “fat one.”  It’s a bizarre attempt at protecting ourselves from the failure “we know is coming” because if we don’t get our hopes up, we don’t get hurt as bad in the fall.  We feel comfortable with failure- it’s a known quantity.

We have no confidence in ourselves and it is this lack of self-confidence that keeps us eating gigantic Costco muffins all day.  It keeps us from getting up out of our chair and making the changes we need to make.  The changes themselves are not difficult to make: walking around the block; eating more veggies and less starches; not grazing through a bag of chips or crackers all day.  Obviously, there’s a lot more than these simple changes to losing weight, but don’t forget: nothing succeeds like success.

This is where confidence, success and motivation converge. When we start getting things right, we start building confidence, and the more we get right, the more we want to try getting other things right too! The more we accomplish, the more we realize what we can do, and this is motivation.  We want to try more things and the more we succeed, the stronger our confidence becomes.

But confidence doesn’t happen by accident.  One of the pitfalls is that it takes a long time to build confidence.  It’s one of the reasons this blog is titled “Taking the Long Weigh to Skinny.”  It doesn’t happen overnight, but we have to believe in ourselves just to make the attempt- and I don’t mean that token try just to show that we ‘tried.’  Confidence is hard for most of us.  Some people are born either with a great deal of self-confidence or the pigheadedness to keep getting back up after falling flat.  No one succeeds all the time, no matter how confident they are, and when we find ourselves face down on the floor, we can either stay there or get back up to try again. It’s our choice.

For me, that’s what it comes down to: whatever I want to do or not do is ultimately my choice.  (For the record, I’m one of the pigheaded ones.) For most of my life, my choice was “I’m just destined to be the fat one” as I kept getting bigger and bigger.  I was going through the photos on my phone a couple of nights ago, and I found photos of me I didn’t know or had forgotten I had and I was seriously shocked at my size.  Even in a selfie from just two years ago, I could not believe how big I was- and I had already lost about 50 lbs by then! It was a series of choices to just keep making more positive changes until it was no longer “I think I can do this” but rather “I am getting this done!” It wasn’t an easy process learning to believe in myself when I’d spent a lifetime telling myself that I was the ‘fat one.’ I chose to believe that was true, until I chose to believe that I could be someone else, but getting there meant I had to believe in myself.  It meant trying again and again until I got it right, but it also meant giving up that comfortable feeling of failure.

 

Perspective: Seeing the Elephant in the Room

One of the best things about being an eminently employable English major is that I come across a lot of different literature from many different cultures.  One of my favorites is “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”  It’s an Indian parable about perspectives found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, so all we really know about its origins is that it is ancient.  The story goes that six blind men learn that an elephant was brought to their village and having not experienced one before, they go to “see” the animal with their hands.  Each man touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with a different viewpoint than the others.  One feels the tusk and determines that an elephant is like a spear; another feels its tail and concludes it looks like a rope; another feels the ear and thinks it looks like a fan; another feels its leg and says it looks like a tree trunk; one feels its side and believes an elephant is like a wall; and the last touches its trunk and believes the elephant is like a snake.  From there, the story varies with the text but the point is that each is seeing only one part and one perspective of the elephant. In order to really determine what an elephant looks like, they need to see the whole creature or at least compare their findings, because each of them is correct about the part that they touched, but none of them is correct in what an elephant truly looks like.

Perspective is massively important when it comes to weight loss, health and fitness, and it’s where so many of us get in trouble.  It’s easy to lose weight if you don’t care about being healthy, and the same is true about fitness. Most of us think in terms of “losing weight” or “getting fit,” but neither of those are important if we don’t think in terms of Being Healthy (the whole elephant.)  When I was in college, I had a roommate who was also overweight.  We really commiserated over it because we both liked a lot of the same foods and we both tried being vegetarian and both of us ended up gaining weight.  I ran into her a few years after she moved out (both of us were in the pharmacy line, FYI) and I didn’t recognize her because she had lost so much weight.  Unfortunately, it was due to Type I diabetes.  Her pancreas had stopped functioning and now she was insulin dependent. She had to check her blood sugar several times a day and inject insulin before every meal to control her blood sugar. I remember her telling me she had always dreamed of losing weight, but this was not how she thought it would happen.  She was over a hundred pounds thinner than she had been when she lived with me but she certainly was not healthy.  Even worse, she was pregnant with her second child which put both her life and her baby’s at risk!

When we approach weight loss or fitness, we can’t just focus on the one aspect that we want to prioritize, otherwise we lose sight of the whole elephant. “Being thin” or “being muscular” is of no importance if you aren’t healthy also.  Some of you know that I lost an aunt in 2003 due to complications from anorexia.  She’d had a gastric bypass, which in my opinion she did not need as she barely weighed 200 lbs, but the end result was that she stopped eating, which is not an uncommon side effect of the bypass.  Ultimately, she ended up collapsing, catching an infection and dying. She was the same age as I am now, and while I’m not exactly young anymore, I have a lot to look forward to and so did she. But she had also always dreamed of being thin, and for months prior to her death, family members had been begging her to see a doctor, because it was so painfully obvious that she was not healthy or happy.  Unfortunately, no one could help her.

Some of us do the same thing with exercise: we lose sight of our overall health, which is what really matters.  We’ve all heard the stories of people who over-exercise, or eat and then work out super hard to burn off all the calories they ate.  Some of us try to “out exercise” a bad diet, but most nutritionists and doctors will tell you that 90% of weight loss comes through your food choices and the remaining 10% is your activity. Basically, you can exercise until your arms fall off but if you’re eating donuts and drinking Pepsi every morning for breakfast, you’re not going to be accomplishing much!

Most of us are in a hurry to reach our goals- I know I am! But over-training and starving ourselves isn’t the way to “get cut” and/ or “get thin.”  Drastically cutting calories and working out really really hard are stressors on the body, so our body goes into conservation mode if we stick with these practices for a long time.  We will probably lose some weight and maybe build some muscle at first, but the longer we stick with it, the more the body begins to conserve its fat stores.  This looks like it might be a famine or some kind of catastrophe: basically a lot of hard work and not a lot of calories coming in.  The body’s first priority is survival: nothing else matters if it (i.e. YOU) don’t survive another day, so it takes steps to make sure you last as long as possible.  This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up gaining weight eating 1000 calories a day: their bodies have slowed their metabolisms so much after a prolonged period of starvation and hard exercise (i.e. the tv show), that now any calories coming in over the subsistence level gets stored! The body is trying to protect itself against another catastrophe where it (the ‘winner’) drastically lost weight.

Obviously, that is not a healthy situation to be in.  I really want to lose a lot of weight and I’d really like to have more muscles, especially as I’m getting older.  I don’t want to be the helpless old lady (with the zillion cats!) but I also know that it’s going to take some time to lose weight and gain muscle in a healthy way.  That means growing long term healthy habits like eating for nutrition without starving myself and being more active without over-training or injuring myself.  Both of those mean that it’s going to take some time, since my body and metabolism are going to make slow healthy adaptations to my new lifestyle.  I need to keep my eye on the ultimate goal of Being Healthy rather than my chosen perspective of Being Thin.  As I’ve learned the hard way, being thin doesn’t count for much if you’re too sick to enjoy it.

A House of Cards: Building Tolerance

This is a tough topic for me.  I try very hard to cultivate patience and tolerance, mainly because letting circumstances stress you out is just so unhealthy in every way.  There are some situations that I tolerate that make other people absolutely nuts and they think I am some kind of Zen meditation guru because I don’t flip out. These are mainly things like traffic or the general public.  I commute two hours each way five days a week and flipping out whenever there’s an accident slowing everything to a crawl or complete stop isn’t going to speed things up one iota.  Dealing with the public takes a little more patience, but people are people. When I was in college once, I was reading in the cafeteria and a small group of students sat down right next to me (although there was plenty of space) and they started pawing through the parts of the newspaper I had finished and they were chatting loudly, and I just ignored them.  It wasn’t until one of them grabbed a napkin off my tray and sneezed that I started to leave.  That’s when I found out they were actually psych students and they were testing personal boundaries: how much do people tolerate others invading their personal space.  They asked me a lot of questions because I had put up with a lot, and basically when you are in public, you are in a shared area, so I put up with it.  Just like in traffic, I am one of many in a shared environment.  I do like a bit more manners than I used to (meaning use your blinker when you change lanes, dammit!!) but like the table in the cafeteria, it’s not all mine and I am not the boss.

Believe me, I am not as patient or as tolerant as I seem. There are a lot of times where I am swearing under my breath or I am biting my lip to keep from saying something rude.  I just have no tolerance for a lot of things anymore.  I remember one day I was at the supermarket and a family with a lot of young children was basically letting them run wild through the store.  They were really running through the aisles, and one little girl in her pretty frilly Sunday dress was happily poking a rainbow trout in the meat department, calling out “Mami!  Mira! Mira!” (Mommy, look, look!”).  I have no patience for situations like that (it happened again just the other day).  It’s not that I don’t like kids: what I don’t like is when people don’t exercise a few manners.  I feel the same way about people who let their dogs run wild: you aren’t doing the kids or the dogs any favors by not teaching them manners or self-control.  It just makes things harder for them later on. When I go to someone’s house and their dog jumps on me, I doesn’t bother me. Odds are, I already have dog and cat hair all over me, their dog is smelling my pets and unless they have muddy feet, I’m okay with a big ‘doggie hug.’ But I have to take my cue from the dog owner: if they are telling him to get down or lie down, I have to back them up and tell him no because they are trying to teach their dog manners.  Not all guests are as dog friendly as I am. The same is true with kids: we’ve all been talking to a parent when the kid comes rushing in and interrupts. The kid doesn’t know any better and a responsible parent will gently instruct him. What tries my patience are the parents (of kids and pets) who don’t teach manners: it creates problems for the kids/ pets who don’t understand why people react negatively to them as well as creating problems for the rest of us who have to deal with out of control kids/ pets.

Usually, those kinds of situations just result in me swearing quietly and rolling my eyes.  It’s the ‘trigger’ situations where I really need to build tolerance.  Those are the situations where I usually have to deal with someone difficult.  I don’t mean someone in the general public, although it can be. It’s usually someone who is inconsiderate or self-absorbed or who is just plain rude and/ or ignorant. One of my little mantras used to “I have no tolerance for the intolerant.” Yeah, it’s pithy but it also doesn’t mean much! Rude intolerant people are the ones we should be most tolerant of, and they are the ones who cause me to lose it almost every time. Being rude back to them only reinforces their wrong behavior, while being more accommodating to them and ignoring their rudeness (ideally) should make them more aware of how wrong their actions are.  In other words, it makes them feel stupid. I find this is pretty much the only thing that makes them aware of how inconsiderate and foolish their behavior really is.  Basically, someone is being obnoxious and when you don’t rise to their bait, it only emphasizes how childish they are.  This is the person in the store who is obnoxious or condescending to the person behind the counter (and you are standing right there next to Ms. Loudmouth), or this is the person who has a tantrum because you won’t drop everything to handle their problem.

I would like to say that I handle these situations with grace and aplomb and I make them feel stupid and ignorant every time.  Oh hell no!! I usually do the exact opposite and have a fit at them. I feel my stress level starting to rise; my sighs grow deeper; I start grinding my teeth and then I usually snap at them.  I just lose my patience.  These are the times that I really need to work on building more tolerance.  It’s easy to be tolerant in difficult situations where everyone else is being calm and understanding. I’ve been the caller who’s trying to get information and the person on the other end trying to give me what I want is having a hard time finding it. It’s easy to listen to apologies and commiserate patiently with them. When someone is polite, even if you are not in a good frame of mind, it’s easier to be patient and understanding, but when they are rude or childish and you are not in a good mood, this is when it’s hardest to be tolerant of bad behavior.

So why does this matter? Because stress has such a negative effect on our health: it manifests in things like poor sleep, poor concentration/ focus, poor food choices (as in “I’m having a bad day so I need a treat!” or “I don’t have the patience to cook tonight!”) It also effects our blood pressure (no kidding!), our cortisol levels (which lead to fat storage and increased hunger) but also other things that we may not attribute to stress.  In my case, I have noticed that the more stressed I am, the more I am likely to grind my teeth (bruxism) when I sleep, which leads to jaw pain and toothaches, which in turn makes it hard to eat, especially things like healthy crunchy vegetables. Aside from having trouble eating anything that isn’t highly processed, walking around with a painful jaw isn’t a whole lot of fun either!

We can’t always avoid unpleasant situations, so the best action is to be more tolerant of obnoxious people.  When we allow them to trigger our stress and our own obnoxious behavior, we are the ones who suffer. Our quality of life is less because we allowed their bad behavior to influence ours. Their quality of life is most likely not good to start with: can you imagine how it must feel walking around all day every day believing that you are constantly under attack? (I think this is how most of them feel because in my experience this is how most of them act.) Unfortunately, we learn how to cope in bad situations by living through bad situations.  It’s how I learned to be more ‘Zen’ about traffic and it’s how I learned to be more tolerant of the public in general.  Maybe because I am around the ‘problem people’ in my life so much that I have lost patience with them.  Maybe I should try taking advantage of all the opportunities to practice and be more grateful for the practice, but so far, it just keeps getting harder…..

 

Running in Place: Getting Nowhere FAST!

I am not talking about a treadmill, or elliptical or even a stationary bike here! This is when we are frantically trying to make progress, busting our butts to move forward and we aren’t going anywhere at all!  This is the most frustrating position we find ourselves in as we try to lose weight or become more fit.  It’s even more frustrating than figuring out where to start, because at least in that situation, you have some kind of direction: how do I get started?

When we are ‘doing everything right’ and not making progress, it’s almost unbearable.  Obviously, we aren’t doing everything right, but what is it we are doing wrong?  Maybe it’s nothing we are doing but what we aren’t doing.  Maybe it’s something external that’s affecting us.  Maybe it’s a plateau. Maybe, maybe, maybe!! Still not helping us move forward!! What do I do? How do I fix this? Can I even be fixed??

I know you don’t want to hear this but the best way to figure this out is to slow down.  We need to approach this like a detective or a doctor and ask a few simple questions to narrow down the culprit: 1) When did I stop making progress? and 2) What has changed since that date?  If you are tracking your progress, this should be a matter of looking back through your journal or whatever you use.  Of course there isn’t going to be a big red flag proclaiming: THIS IS WHEN YOU WENT OFF TRACK! so you need to look back at the last date you know you were on target and then move forward to the present.  This is why you need to slow down, because even though it’s only two questions, there are a lot of things that come into play and if you aren’t tracking all of them, or at least making notes, then it’s going to be a little more complicated.  Another big reason you need to slow down is that if you just start making arbitrary changes, like “I’ll eat more protein and less carbs!”; “I’ll add more reps/ time to my workouts!”; “I’ll switch up my workouts from cardio to weight training!”, you might not be addressing the problem.  If the problem is too many indulgences, working out more might help, but not as much as cutting back on the indulgences.  Also, if the problem is over-training, adding in more workouts is just going to make it worse!

Like I said, it helps if you are tracking and depending on your personality.  I use the My Fitness Pal app but I also use a paper journal. The MFP app is good for nutrition calculation, water, counting calories and it’s awesome for support.  I also use the Fitbit app for calculating sleep and activity and the paper journal is also where I track my food, portions, macros, calories and all the little incidentals that I don’t put in MFP simply because it’s easier to write a little note and it’s a whole lot easier to flip through.  The paper journal I use is the DietMinder from MemoryMinder.com, although I get mine from Amazon.  It’s two pages per day and it’s good for 90 days.

When you start looking at your notes or journal, what you want to look for are things like the obvious and then move on to some of the more stealthy culprits:

  1. Too many calories, even if it’s just creeping up or down by a few calories a day or are you not being accurate with your portion sizes?
  2. Macros (fat, protein, carbs)- did your ratio change?
  3. Activity- are you moving more, less or did you change your routine?
  4. Sleeping less? Or more? Not good sleep?
  5. Stress level: up or down
  6. Water- how much are you getting?
  7. Other changes in eating habits, like eating out more, eating more or less salty/ sugary/ different foods; or fasting
  8.  Injury or illness: obviously if you’re hurt or sick, your body is going to put most of the focus on repair and recovery or it could affect your activity level
  9. Medication changes: this can have a huge impact on how your body burns or stores fuel!

One of the stupidest (and yes, I mean STUPID) statements I heard on My 600 lb Life is when a patient poo-poohed Dr. Now’s calorie limit, because she said “I can look at a food and immediately calculate the number of calories, the protein and the fat in it.” Seriously!! I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that! I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating portion sizes, but I still weigh my food to make sure that I’m eating the amount I think I’m eating, because calories sneak up on you this way.  They also get away from you the same way.  I fry some bacon and I think it’s about two ounces but it’s more like three, so there’s a lot more calories than I had estimated.  At the same time, if I think I’ve eaten more veggies than I have, then there’s less calories, but also less fiber and less vitamins.  Macros matter mainly because fat and protein tend to keep you feeling fuller longer than carbs do, so it may be that you think you’re getting enough of those necessary nutrients but you aren’t and as a result, you feel hungry and eat more.

It can also be that you’ve stopped being as active as you used to be while your calories have stayed the same.  That can be really confusing, because it may feel like you’re really busy, but that can be the stress playing tricks on you.  Stress and lack of sleep will also mess with your progress in big ways: your body goes into survival mode even if the stress isn’t physical.  The brain is still sending the Under Attack signal to your hormones and as a result you tend to store fat instead of burning it and you can also feel more hungry since the body is trying to hold on to everything it can, including food, fat and water.

Changes in medication can be really stealthy culprits and one of the biggest is insulin.  Many people who are obese are type 2 diabetic and if your doctor has you on a medication that produces or mimics insulin or suppresses your satiety hormone leptin or increases the hunger hormone ghrelin, you could be storing more fat due to insulin or insulin mimic, not feeling full when you’ve eaten enough (leptin) or feeling hungry all the time (ghrelin).  Several of my family members have been on steroids, especially Prednisone, which makes you feel hungry all the time! You never feel full while taking it! If your doctor has given you a new prescription or made changes, read the pamphlet that comes with it or look at some of the side effects that come with it.  Talk to your doctor or your pharmacist, because it may be a drug interaction that is behind it and not just the drug itself.  FYI: this includes herbal supplements and vitamins!

If you think you’ve found the culprit sabotaging your progress, you not only need to make changes, you need to track those changes! Note the changes you’re making and then give yourself some time to see if there is improvement.  Again, I know you don’t want to hear that we need to slow down, but seriously, if you’ve upped your workout times or changed your macros or calories, are you really going to see a change in three days or even a week? It may be the right change for you but if you wait a week and nope- not improving! let’s switch to keto!, you may have just sabotaged yourself!

Slowing down really stinks, but if you don’t take the time to figure out what’s going on and what you need to do, it doesn’t matter how “fast” you go or think you are going- because you still won’t be getting anywhere! Patience, tracking and a little investigation can go a long way to fixing problems that result in progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it.  Most of us would rather be fast than thorough, including me! When I feel like that, I look at Wyatt Earp’s quote stuck on my cubicle wall: “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Bulls-eye!

 

 

Wait a Minute! This is Hard Work!

One of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard about losing weight came from a patient on My 600 lb Life: after gastric bypass surgery, she was recovering in the hospital and the orderly brought in her lunch.  It was the 1200 calorie bariatric diet, which she was not pleased to see: “No one told me I would have to lose weight after I got here!” Okay, so that magic surgery you had is going to melt off all that fat from your body while you continue to eat whatever you want as much as you want?? Dang! Sign me up for that procedure! What an idiot I’ve been doing this the hard way- being more active, eating more healthy nutrient dense foods and less of the processed sugary carbs! Wow! If I knew I could eat all the bagels, bread, cookies and ice cream I wanted and still lose weight, I’d’ve done it years ago!

So would everyone else who’s overweight! But the reason there isn’t a waiting line going around the block for gastric bypass is because it’s not a ‘magic surgery.’  Procedures like gastric bypass, gastric sleeve and the lap band only limit how much you can eat at one time; if you want to eat constantly all day, you can still do it, and the surgery has no effect at all on what you choose to eat. Sorry! Not magic!

Since there isn’t a magic pill (or surgery), that pretty much leaves the hard way: eating healthier foods, being more active and not eating the junk that we’ve learned to love! It’s definitely work and it certainly is hard getting started.  But here’s the trick that usually gets overlooked: the longer you do this, the easier it gets!  It’s like learning anything new- it’s tough at first, but the more practice we have, the easier it gets.  I was thinking about Shakespeare recently (the cost of being an English major!) and about the graduate course I took about his plays.  The professor began with Titus Andronicus, a lesser known, seldom performed play of The Bard’s. Odds are unless you are another English and/ or drama major, you’ve not heard of it.  Why? Because it stinks! In fact our class referred to this play as “Texas Chainsaw Shakespeare” because it was the equivalent of an Elizabethan slasher film, full of rape, murder and mutilation! The professor wanted us to realize that everything Shakespeare wrote wasn’t golden and like everyone else, he began at the bottom.

When we start weight loss or fitness or even just making healthier changes, it’s hard at first because we are also starting at the bottom.  We can really screw up at times and it’s not because we’re failures- it’s because we’re beginners! Yes, learning new things is hard and it takes time and it takes practice, but the more we work at it, the easier it gets and the better we get at it.  I’m sure Shakespeare wrote a lot of crappy plays that no one ever remembers and were probably burned, but the fact is he’s still popular four hundred years later (as evidenced by TNT’s Will) because he didn’t give up.

The particular patient referenced above lost a grand total of about 30 lbs after her bypass; her weight was about 490-500 lbs at the end of her second year.  She was still confined to a wheelchair.  The same night I watched her episode, I watched another: this patient was a man about 10 years younger but weighing 200+ lbs more (777 lbs).  At the end of his second year, he weighed about 350 lbs.  They had the same bypass; they had the same opportunities for physical therapy and nutrition changes.  In fact, the same nutritionist visited both of them.  The difference was attitude.  Both of them were frankly stymied when it came to making changes to their eating habits, and the nutritionist gave them the same information, but their attitude made all the difference.  When we are learning something new, most of us go into with an open mind and an optimistic attitude: we want to learn how to do something, so we are open to learning.  The woman (Penny) did not want to learn how to make changes and most importantly, she did not want to change, so she didn’t make the changes and in fact told her husband the nutritionist was full of BS.

The man (Joe) listened to the nutritionist, and after meeting with her, he went to the grocery store to buy foods that she had recommended.  He made the changes and lost the weight.  While Penny complained that she had not gotten the ‘appropriate tools’ or a ‘specific diet’ and continued eating whatever she wanted and not losing weight, Joe didn’t complain and did the hard work.  Yes, he acknowledged it was hard and he even had doubts that he could make it, but instead of making excuses, even when he failed the first time, he modified his approach, listened to the nutritionist and was successful.

The point is that we can look at weight loss and fitness/ improving our health as hard work, with a lot to learn and a lot of new (and probably difficult) changes we need to make.  We need to rearrange a whole bunch of things in our lives and if we have a family to care for, there’s probably also going to be a lot of strife. We can complain that “no one told us this was going to be so hard,” or “no one said we had to make XYZ changes,” and we can complain 24/7 if we want, but all of that complaining and all those excuses aren’t going to help you lose weight.  You can look at this as a problem, or you can look at it as an opportunity. Every time we try something new, it’s going to be hard and there is a learning curve involved.  We can look at it as something insurmountable, or we can look at it as a challenge. It’s okay to admit that it’s hard: that is a fact of life, but your attitude affects how you approach it and ultimately, how successful you are.  When you make the most of your opportunities, you grow as individual but when you complain that life is unfair, you get to stay in the same place you don’t want to be.  Be open and be willing to learn or what’s the point in trying?  You make all the difference here.

“Instant Gratification Takes Too Long!” And It Only Lasts an Instant…

We all know that getting started is the hardest part of anything.  It takes time to build some momentum, to feel secure in what you’re doing, even just to learn your way around the block, so to speak.  Most of us are looking for a quick fix, too, so waiting is really really hard!  We want instant results!  I love the quote above from Carrie Fisher because it is so true! We want what we want and we want it NOW! Most of us have grown up in an “instant” society.  When I was a kid, microwaves were the “new thing” (yes, I am that old!)  Most of them were the size of compact cars and they cost just as much, and everyone thought they would give you cancer or kill people with pacemakers.  But it was the beginning of “instant” everything.  We could get our popcorn and burritos and tv dinner right now instead of waiting 20 minutes or an hour.  Anything you ordered took 6 to 8 weeks to come in the mail.  Now we get impatient if it takes more than two days! “What do you mean it’s arriving Monday?? I ordered this on Tuesday!!”

We do the same thing when it comes to weight loss or fitness- especially weight loss!  If we don’t see results in a week, then “there’s something wrong this diet!”  In fact, advertisers specifically state, usually in a loud voice with descriptive graphics, “get results fast!” They not only know we don’t want to wait, they are counting on the fast results pitch to sell you their program! What most people don’t realize is that it’s easy to drop a few pounds really fast if what you are losing is water weight.  Basically, if you dehydrate yourself or flush all the sodium and electrolytes out of your body, you will lose a few pounds of water and the number on the scale will go down.  Is it healthy? Oh definitely not!  In fact, flushing out your electrolytes can cause some serious reactions (like a heart attack).  This is why athletes get muscle cramps after strenuous exercise: they have lost significant electrolytes through sweat, ergo sports drinks were invented. However, the heart is also a muscle and when your heart ‘cramps,’ that’s not a good thing!

One of the arguments often made against the Paleo diet is that it eliminates most starchy carbs (bread, rice, pasta, etc).  Carbohydrates are little water-retaining sponges, so the more carbs you eat, the more water you hold on your body.  People arguing against the Paleo diet say that yes, you lose a lot of weight fast because once the carbs and the water they hold are gone from your system, “it looks like you’ve lost weight, but when you go back to eating those carbs, you put that weight back on.”  The part after the ‘but’ is the key part of their argument for me: why would you go back to eating those carbs if they weren’t really good for you to start with?  Some people can go back to eating them in limited amounts after they’ve repaired the insulin resistance those carbs have caused.  But, if you don’t go back to eating them or eating them as much as you used to, then the water weight associated with excessive carb consumption is pretty much gone for good.  [FYI: your muscles will also store water to repair themselves after you’ve exercised, so if you do weigh right after working out, it can look like you’ve not lost weight or even gained.]

There are other diets out there that are formulated to give you ‘fast results,’ but fast does not always mean sustainable.  A lot of times these are what we think of as ‘fad diets’ because “everyone is doing them and they are losing a lot of weight super fast.” But do you really want to eat only cabbage or grapefruit all day every day?  You think you’re going to get all your vitamins and nutrients from eating one thing all day every day? This is what makes fad diets and other quickie diet promises not only unhealthy but possibly dangerous. Eating only one or a few foods can cause malnutrition (another argument leveled against the Paleo and the ketogenic diets!) Also, any time you have rapid weight loss, it can cause problems with your gall bladder, which can mean painful gallstones or gall bladder removal.  Unless your weight is endangering your life, as is often the case with Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, it’s healthier to lose weight slowly and steadily while maintaining good nutrition.

It’s not fun and it’s not fast, but it has the advantage of being permanent.  Essentially, it took you some time to put the weight on and it will usually take a little longer to take the weigh off, but if you do it right (slow, steady and sustainable), it won’t come back.  This is because it isn’t a temporary fix.  We have all done the ‘temporary fix’ where we don’t eat anything for two weeks before the special occasion so we can look great in the photos.  It was really hard and we were starving most of the time but one of the reasons we were able to stick with the torture is because there was an End Date!  We only had to last until the day of the event and then we could go back to ‘eating normally,’ which usually meant the weight came back on!

When you take the time to make sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle, it’s more of an adjustment, because there is no End Date.  It takes longer to make the changes part of your routine and longer for the results to show up, and just to rub a little salt in the wound, the discomfort is Johnny-on-the-Spot! You are usually craving whatever it is that has been ‘adjusted’ out of your diet or you are sore and uncomfortable because of the workouts you’ve added to your routine. Everyone around you is probably eating what you used to eat and the time that you’d spend scrolling through Facebook or something else more sedentary is now spent being uncomfortable, embarrassed and sweating in a gym or some other public place. Oh yeah it’s giggles galore!

So, why am I doing this again? Because even though the changes are permanent ones, it’s the discomfort that is temporary this time! Yes, in a quick fix, the discomfort is temporary but so are the results, and we end up doing repeated ‘quick fixes,’ hoping for something permanent. Once we begin earning the results from our slower sustainable cbanges, the discomfort begins fading. Then, we begin picking up momentum as the changes become part of our new normal routine and less of a struggle. The workouts not only become easier, they actually become fun! The cravings go away and if we should eat something that used to be ‘so yummy,‘ we’re usually surprised to find it’s not as yummy as we thought it was! It gets easier to say no to foods and behaviors that aren’t as healthy and easier to say yes to those that are. It’s a triple win: the results are coming faster, the work is getting easier and the weight isn’t coming back!

This is what makes instant gratification so insidious and so tempting: we don’t have to wait for the results.  We fool ourselves into thinking that ‘this diet is the right diet,’ and that the temporary fix really isn’t temporary ‘this time.’ But unless the changes you are making to your eating and activity are permanent changes, odds are the results will also not be permanent. These ‘instant result’ diets have still more fallout: disappointment and the toll that takes on your self-esteem.  Remember the last time you tried one and how happy you were to see yourself losing weight? Now remember how crushed you felt when you realized you’d gained it all back, and maybe more? That crushing sense of failure and disappointment also weigh on you. Truly it does, because it makes us feel hopeless, like we are failures, like we are destined to be fat forever, that there is something inherently wrong with us either physically, mentally, or morally because we “just can’t lose weight!”  Are we broken or are we just gluttons? How many times have we cried ourselves to sleep because another instant result diet wore off as soon as we stopped following their unsustainable program?

Slow and sustainable isn’t definitely isn’t glamorous.  You aren’t going to meet your friend for lunch after a two week absence and have them oohing and ahhing over your dramatic weight loss.  Heavens knows that’s always fun! You will probably have to wait a couple of months before they notice you’ve lost a little weight, but the great part is that four months down the line and six months down the line and longer still, they will notice that the weight has not come back and that you are looking, feeling and acting so much happier and healthier! The instant gratification will be instantaneous but it will only last an instant.  If you want real success, it’s going to take a little longer, and it will last forever!