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!

 

If I Can Lose Weight, You Can Do It Too!

This post is about blatant motivation and encouragement.  I’m not going to sugarcoat anything, because for most of us, losing weight is probably about the hardest thing we’ve ever tried to do. But this post isn’t about how hard it is or how to suffer through the tough times. This post is about success and being healthy and making it easy, because, yes, losing weight can be easy if you choose to make it that way! I don’t mean to tell you that it’s your fault you haven’t lost weight before now, or that you’ve been doing it wrong all these years, but I will tell you that we have all been taught the wrong way to lose weight and that has been our problem! We have all been correctly following the instructions we’ve been given, but the instructions are wrong.  If someone gives us directions to Boise and we follow them to the letter, that’s great, but not if we are trying to get to Boston! This is pretty much what has happened to most of us: we were aiming for permanent weight loss and what we got was only temporary at best!

I seriously never believed I could lose weight for good.  I never believed I could lose a significant amount of weight and if you had told me even two years ago that I would have lost as much weight as I have without surgery, I would have flat out called you a lying insert really offensive expletive here.  But, I have lost weight; I have not put weight back on; I am not miserable; and I am still losing weight.  It’s not a magic trick; I’m not taking any kind of pills or special powders; and I have a lot more energy than I have had in a long time.  FYI: I am over the half century mark and approaching menopause (I’m not there yet, but I can see it from here!) I only mention this because a lot of older adults just don’t even try because they think it can’t be done! I know when I hit forty, I thought I was just destined to be super morbidly obese for the rest of my life! That really is the BMI classification for my condition: super morbid obesity. I had a Body Mass Index of 75 (438 lbs).  Anything over 50 is “super obese.” For reference, the ideal BMI is between 19-25; overweight is 25-30; obese is over 30; severely obese is over 35; and morbidly obese is over 40.  I am still morbidly obese at 44, but it’s way better than 75!

So what did I do to lose weight? I just made some simple permanent changes to my eating habits. I know: it’s kind of a let-down.  Duhhhh!!! Isn’t that what dieting is about?! You aren’t wrong, but the two important adjectives in that sentence are “simple” and “permanent.” I didn’t start doing a whole new routine and I didn’t start doing anything complicated.  I simply stopped eating fast food on a regular basis. Truly, that is how I started losing weight.  Because my work schedule changed dramatically (which had nothing to do with my wanting to lose weight, FYI), I stopped eating fast food and started eating at home more, and I lost about 40 lbs without really even realizing it. That’s how big I was- I knew I had lost weight but I didn’t realize it was that much!  Frankly, I was amazed that such a simple change had made such a huge difference, so I decided to make another healthy change, and then another and it just kept going from there.

Eventually, I did a little research.  Since I had the time, I started looking into some of the various nutritional plans and healthier eating habits.  I decided on Paleo mainly because it’s pretty simple and simple works for me.  I know people who think Paleo is not for them because “it’s just a lot of meat!”  It isn’t a lot of meat- it’s a lot of vegetables, and while it doesn’t “cut out carbs” or “cut out bread,” it does minimize simple carbs considerably.  It’s mostly about eating whole foods, which works for me in so many ways.

The difference between the changes I made this time and changes I’d made on other diets before is that I made these changes permanent and they were simple changes to make.  I also didn’t make a dozen changes all at once. Since I wasn’t eating out as much, when I went grocery shopping, I just switched the pasta I usually bought for something like broccoli, salad or squash. As I used up the boxes of processed foods in my house, I just replaced them with whole food items: eggs instead of bagels; broccoli instead of rice mix; sausage instead of cereal; and some items I didn’t need to change because they were already healthy options.  Rotisserie chicken is one of them. I had pretty much always eaten a lot of rotisserie chicken; the problems came from what I ate with it, which was usually a lot of pasta and bread.  Would it be better if it were organically grown chicken? No doubt, but is conventional chicken better than processed meat products? Again, no doubt. This is a key concept with simple permanent changes: make the best choice you can in the situation presented to you.  I do get organic when I can find it and afford it, but if I can’t then I make the best selection I can.  ‘Conventional’ whole foods are still better for you than processed foods.  It’s like that old joke: two hikers are out in the woods when they run into a grizzly bear.  The first hiker drops his pack and starts to run and his friend says “are you nuts?! you can’t outrun a grizzly!” and the first hiker says “nope, I just have to run faster than you!”  You don’t have eat “certified organic whole foods”- you just have to eat more whole foods than processed.  You don’t have to throw out all the boxes and packages in your kitchen at once- you can do it over time. When you run out of boxes of mac & cheese, get zucchini instead! And yes, you can do frozen vegetables! (Canned are up to you but personally, I have never been a fan of canned.)

This is the other big concept: since I was making these changes permanent, I chose what I wanted to change on my own schedule.  I wasn’t doing a planned scheduled diet where in Phase 1, I do X and after two weeks, it’s Phase 2 and I start doing Y and on and on.  There was nothing to ‘phase in or out’ unless I wanted to phase it in or out, and if I changed my mind, big deal! I don’t have to ‘start over!’  My diet, my timeline, my choices! One of the things I used to eat a lot of was bread and when I decided I was going to eat less of it, yes, it was a little tough since one of the few restaurants I went to on a more regular basis has some really great bread.  I chose not to eat it and smelling it, watching my family eat it and not having any was a little tough at first, but after a while, I realized a few things: 1) cravings go away when you stop giving in to them; 2) I was proud of myself for not eating the bread; 3) if I did eat the bread, it wasn’t the end of the world; and 4) when I did eat it, it was a bit of a let-down and just not worth all the drama.  That’s pretty much how it went with most of the foods I decided to pass up: more drama than anything else.  Are there some foods that are still great and fabulous even after not eating them for a long time? Oh, hell yes! (Peanut butter cups are still king!) But when I do decide to eat them, they are as yummy as they ever were, but I can eat one and not eat the whole bag.  I enjoy them but I don’t crave them anymore and if anyone had ever told me that I would be able to keep an open bag of anything chocolate in my cabinet and not fixate on it like my dog fixates on his toy, I’d have called you the same really offensive name as above! It’s taken a couple of years to get to this point, but while it was a longer transition than a lot of diet programs promise, it didn’t cost me any more than regular groceries and I don’t have to worry about “when the diet ends” or giving in to cravings. I don’t have to worry about going back to ‘bad old habits’ because those old habits don’t appeal to me anymore! The last time I had a Jack in the Box burger (and I had been on a first name basis with the drive thru guy!), I didn’t feel guilty about it, but it didn’t taste really great either. It’s the same thing as when I blow off a workout: I don’t feel guilty about it, but I also don’t feel as good as I do when I don’t blow it off. The incentive to go back to the old bad habits isn’t there. but there is an incentive to keep the healthy new habits: eating better makes me feel better and keeping my workouts makes me feel good.

I know it’s not rocket science, but it really does work.  By making simple permanent choices on my own schedule, I have lost 182 lbs since October 2014. I am pretty much the laziest, most unmotivated person I’ve ever met.Honestly for the first year, I didn’t even exercise. But I was consistent with my changes. In addition to being lazy, I like to keep to a routine (less work to do! I made the laziness work for me!) so my routine became my habit. I chose what I liked and that alone is incentive to keep going back to it.  I just kept making one better choice than the last choice I made and over time, I lost weight, developed healthier habits and then decided I felt like being active. I don’t have to outrun the diet industry or Jack in the Box; I just have to run faster than the last bad choice I made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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……

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Your Resolutions Part 1: Change Your Mind- Change Your Behavior!

The most basic truth about permanent weight loss is that you must change your behavior.  We hear that over and over from all kinds of experts: “diets don’t work because they are temporary behavior changes! Losing the weight and keeping it off needs lasting lifestyle changes!” That means we have to make a new habit and we all know how much fun that can be (ugh).

The actual practice of making a new habit is one thing, but here’s a little trick that will help you with that: you need to change your thinking.  All our behavior starts in our head, whether we consciously think about it or not.  It’s been programmed in, usually through years of reacting the same way to the same triggers.  I realized this a few days ago when I was at work and my boss sneezed.  The first thought that popped in my head was “you can’t get sick!” This is a joke leftover from the Job From Hell: whenever anyone sneezed or coughed at that office, my boss would automatically respond with that exact phrase. The meaning behind it was obviously we all had to work until we literally dropped in our tracks and it became a joke among my co-workers since our boss’s concern wasn’t our health but her inconvenience if the office was short-handed.

I have not worked in that office since 2014, but still, whenever someone sneezes or coughs, the same thought still pops in my head. It’s a response programmed over seven years of the same triggers and it’ll probably take a while longer before it disappears entirely.

This is what makes changing behavior so difficult, because in order to change the physical actions, we first need to change how our brain reacts to various triggers.  This is how I ended up staring into the fridge after a stressful phone call from my mom.  I had just eaten dinner and I wasn’t the least bit hungry, but the trigger went off (stress!!) and the brain went into reaction mode (eat something!!) and the next thing I know, I’m in the fridge wondering “what the heck…..??” It’s a lot harder to stop your thoughts and send them in a different direction because they are so fast and so automatic.  If I were to order you “stop thinking!” your brain would still be going forward, probably along the lines of “great! how do I stop thinking about not thinking?” Even when meditation gurus mellifuously tell you to “empty your mind,” how empty does your mind really get? Your brain is a lot like a modern day computer: even when it’s off, it’s on.  The screen may be blank and it may not look like it’s doing much, but the battery is still holding a charge and the clock is still running, the memory is still there and if it’s connected to wifi, it’s probably downloading or updating something.

If you want to change your responses to triggers or even just build a new habit, you need to start in your head.  I’m not going to give you the “you need to see a hypnotist/ shrink / behavior modification therapist,” but you do need to be a little more aware of how you react to things and how you can begin making changes.  It’s not just about triggers (certain situations that cause certain reactions): it’s about changing how your world view and maybe even how you think about yourself.

Way way back when I was in college, I took a women’s health course that required us to do some outside learning, and so I took a self-defense seminar.  One of the things the instructor told us was that, as women, we have to stop thinking of ourselves as victims.  When we walk out into a dark parking lot, if our attitude is “I’m a scared little rabbit trying to get across this big empty field before a mean vicious coyote eats me,” then that’s what others are going to see.  He said we need to walk out into that parking lot with our heads up, aware of our surroundings and if there is a potential threat, we need to make sure we look them in the eye and are not afraid. Many of us, men and women, think of ourselves as victims when it comes to food and eating.  We go to the grocery store and keep our heads down as we pass the racks and racks of potato chips.  We do the same thing in the candy aisle and the bakery and wherever else we see food we used to eat with such pleasure and abandon. We are the scared little rabbit trying not to see the vicious Doritos coyote and slip past without getting caught, but if we look those Doritos right in the label and tell them, “I’m not afraid of you and you can’t make me eat you,”- yeah, I know it sounds silly- but it’s the beginning of changing our thinking and ultimately changing our behavior. There are some things that are obviously beyond our control, but there are many things in our lives that we can control, and we let them take control over us.  Food is one of those things. We hate it when we show up at a potluck and someone has cheesecake on the buffet or if someone brings cookies to the office: OMG! they’re just going to call my name all day! This kind of thinking has already programmed you for several things: 1) it is preparing you to fail at ignoring/ not eating the food; 2) it is telling you that the food controls you; 3) it is telling you that you are helpless to change.  None of those statements are true! We just need to remind ourselves of that.

I know it’s hard to look at or smell something you really enjoy.  When I came to work at this office, almost every morning my cubicle neighbor made crunchy sourdough toast in the office.  I’d smell it and hear him crunching it almost all morning and truly, bread was my hardest craving to break (sometimes it still is!)  But now when he makes it, it’s not as big a distraction as it used to be.  In fact, I made it into a game: we’d swap cooking stories or discuss the various jams we both like. Yes, the warm bread smell triggers a biological reaction in my digestive tract because that’s what food does, but when I don’t focus on it or eat anything in response to it, it eventually goes away.  The food does not control me because I have changed how I think about it.  It takes a long time, because thoughts are hard to change and on top of that, we are working on building a new habit, but it’s work worth doing.

Elizabeth Benton likes to remind her listeners that between the stimulus and the reaction, there is a pause, even if it’s just a microsecond, and in that pause is the power to change our reactions.  I admit, that it’s hard to stop our automatic reaction and decide to do something different (hence, my staring into the fridge), but once we know what our triggers are and we learn to use that pause, we are the stronger for it and it’s the beginning of changing what we used to think of as “helpless” reflexes. Knowledge really can be power, if when we feel the urge to do something we know it’s good for us, to make a thoughtful effort to use that pause to stop ourselves and do something more constructive.

Easier said than done, right?  It always is! This is what makes it so hard for people to change their habits.  We need to learn what our triggers are and plan a response that is different from what we normally do. For example, instead of eating something when I get stressed, I make a conscious effort to do something other than eating that relieves my stress. This can be posting a rant online, playing with my dog,  calling a friend or cleaning something.  It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it distracts me from my stressed out situation and it doesn’t involve eating something.

The triggers also don’t have be stress-related.  Sometimes they are in response to a celebration or just plain opportunity, as in the cookies at the office or the cheesecake at the buffet.  Those can be a bit harder to counteract, since it may involve more than just distraction, but we know ourselves better than anyone else. The key to success in these cases can be something as simple as reminding ourselves that we are not helpless when it comes to food, that it does not control you and that you are more than capable of making changes.  If you choose to eat a cookie or piece of cheesecake, it does not mean you are weak: it means you made a considered choice.  Choosing to eat something is very different than helplessly giving in because “I know I’m going to eat it anyway!” I have noticed that when I was struggling with things like cheesecake and cookies, it helped if I had one or two bites and then threw the rest away.  It reminded me that I chose to have only those two bites and decided not to eat the rest. When it comes to cookies, I get mine from a store that sells individual cookies, so I buy two and only two. I don’t want more than that and I’m not stuck with ten more cookies growing stale in the cupboard. This way, I get used to eating only two (actually one and a half, since I split one with the dog) and I only get the cookies I think are really great, because why waste the calories on a treat that’s only so-so?  And if the bakery is out of the great cookies that day, oh well, no cookies for me!

As I said, it takes a little work and a lot of repetition before we finally manage to change our programmed response.  It took me a long time before I was able to look at the cookies, cupcakes and breads and make a considered choice rather than slink by without getting caught by the bakery coyote. My automatic response was to start choosing what I wanted most and how many calories is it and what can I swap out to make it fit? Or worse yet, start rationalizing why I needed or deserved it: “it’s one piece of cake/ cookie/ bread!” Very true and even if I ate it, it’s not the end of the world or a catastrophe.  It just means that I need more practice.  For a long time, I didn’t eat any of those things and even today I still don’t eat them very often. The difference is that now, when I eat them, it’s not because I gave in or that I couldn’t control myself, it’s because I chose to eat it and enjoy it as the treat it was meant to be.  These are treats for me now, not major portions of my diet like they used to be. But slinking by them in the store didn’t really help me change my response to them.  It took a lot of looking at them, agonizing over why I was choosing not to have them, and walking away without them before I was able to walk by the bakery without even noticing.  Now when I look at them, most of the time I walk away without them without the agonizing, because I really don’t want them, no matter how stressed I am, no matter how much I want to ‘celebrate’ or whether I ‘deserve’ them or not.  They don’t taste as good as they used to, mainly because, for me, the whole ‘stress relief’ aspect is no longer there.  They no longer have the same ‘rush’ they used to have because I am no longer eating them in response to a trigger.  They are regular food to me now, and not the sweet taste of stress relief.  This is actually a good thing for me, because when I do choose to eat them, they don’t have the same pull and as a result, now it’s easier to ignore them in the stores.

Changing your thinking can take a long time, but it’s definitely worth the effort.  In changing our thinking, we change how we view ourselves and our reactions to food (among other things) and this is the first step in developing healthy new responses to old painful triggers. Be patient, be consistent and the changes will come.  Too often, people give up in the middle because they think they aren’t doing it right or that it’ll never come, but we learned these responses over years and it may take nearly as long to undo those learned responses.  Seriously, it’s taken me almost two years before I could not look at carrot cake and really really want it.  Was it worth all that agonizing in the grocery store? YES!! Now when I have it, it’s because I want it- not because it was a bad day and I need it or “it somehow ended up in my cart.” I know the urge is to make changes as fast as we can so that we can lose as much weight as we can in the shortest amount of time, but in order to make the results last, we need to make the changes permanent. We need to make the healthy new responses as automatic as the unhealthy old responses were. We are worth the effort and the agonizing.  After all, it’s a really just a piece of cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Basics: Don’t Make it Harder than Necessary!

Occasionally, I see posts about people ‘starting again’ or I hear people talking about how they want to get started eating healthier and being more active and sometimes they seem a little bit lost or a little vague about how they want to or how they can do this.  Sometimes they start by ordering some exercise DVDs or they’ve joined the gym and went to the XYZ class which really kicked their butt! Apparently, their idea of being healthier and fitter involves getting their butt kicked regularly.

Really, there are only a few things you need to do in order to be healthier.  These work whether you want to lose weight, be more fit or just be healthier in general, and you don’t need to buy boxes of supplements, exercise DVDs or expensive shipments of diet food.  All you need to do is 1) eat better foods; 2) be more active; 3) get good sleep; 4) stay well hydrated; and 5) manage your stress.  If they sound simple, it’s because they are.  That is, the concepts themselves are simple; it’s the putting them into practice that gets a bit complicated!

Eat Better Foods: This is number one because nothing matters more than what you put in your body. I usually compare this to putting cheap gas in your car and expecting peak mileage.  We all know that ain’t happening!  Cheap gas = bad mileage! It’s the same with your own body: cheap processed foods yield poor health.  Yeah, you can eat the boxes of pasta mix and the potato chips and the frozen dinners, and just like your car, your body will still function, probably with a few knocks and pings just like your car.  You won’t have the same acceleration and after a few miles/ hours, you will need to refuel because that mileage just ain’t there.  Face it: there’s no substitution for the good stuff!  I hear some of my fitness friends commenting on how they stopped eating ‘insert processed food here’ and started eating ‘insert healthy whole food here’ and wow! they feel so much better! they have much more energy! they aren’t hungry after a couple hours! That’s because they put in the premium fuel, whether it’s cage free eggs, grass fed beef or organic sweet potatoes.  When you stop eating food that is full of chemicals, preservatives and already broken down, your body gets more nutrition from it and it runs better for longer.

Stop and think for a moment what happens when food is processed.  The food is made to last longer than it normally would, so chemical preservatives have been added, and it is made to be easily prepared and eaten, so in some cases, it is essentially “pre-digested.”  It takes your body less time and energy to break it down to extract whatever nutrients might be left in it, since processing removes a lot of the nutrition naturally in the food itself.  This is why much of our processed food has been fortified.  In many commercial breads, for example, the wheat used to make the flour has been broken down into a literal powder.  All of the fiber and germ and most of the vitamins have been stripped away, leaving essentially only the starches.  After the flour has been mixed with the other ingredients to make the dough, the manufacturers add vitamins, minerals and fiber to make it more ‘nutritious.’

This doesn’t mean that you have to give up your snack cakes or whole wheat toast and snack solely on crudité! As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) often reminds us, it’s a spectrum: all you have to do is begin to make improvements. This can start as simply as giving up the breakfast bagel and eating a banana for breakfast (this is what I did). Yes, the banana still had a lot more sugar and carbs than I needed in the morning, but it was a whole food and it was better than the bagel. I stopped eating takeout for lunch and started bringing a lunch with leftover meat and veggies from dinner the night before.  You don’t have to make changes according to anyone’s schedule except your own.  When you are ready to take the next step, take it and if if that’s a week or a couple of months or longer, no problem!  You are still moving forward eating better foods!

Be More Active: This concept generally gets misinterpreted as “exercise your butt off!”  It’s part of the Calories In Calories Out (CICO) mentality: “if you burn off more than you take in, you are going to lose weight.”  The disclaimer is “until your body and metabolism adjust to the extra activity and lower fuel intake.”  Your body is designed with one primary goal: to survive as long as possible.  To do that when you are working your butt off four nights a week in the gym and eating only chicken, broccoli and protein shakes, it will lower your metabolic rate so you burn less calories to make those few you are taking in go farther; it will make you as hungry as a bear emerging from hibernation; and it will leave you absolutely exhausted. This is why the CICO method usually doesn’t work long term for most people. After losing some weight, you start to plateau and unless you make some changes, that’s where you stop.  Unfortunately, the lowered metabolic rate is usually permanent.  This is how Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up having to limit their calories to ridiculously low amounts to keep from regaining all the weight lost.

So how do you do this without causing metabolic damage? You make slow changes.  Yes, to lose weight you do need a calorie deficit: you do need to burn more than you take in, but it doesn’t have to be a crazy high amount of exercise or crazy low intake of food.  Generally eating the same amount of calories (or a normal amount) is still okay and then you just put in some healthy exercise two or three times a week, or maybe just increase your daily amount by a small margin.  For example, if you normally get fewer than 5000 steps a day, try upping your steps to 10,000.  Even if you don’t make it that high (it can be tough if you have a sedentary job), your increased activity will burn more calories and your body won’t freak out since you are still eating a good amount of food. Lifting weights (strength training) is also a good way to be more active.  While it doesn’t have the intense calorie burn that cardio has, it has the added advantage of building muscle (you won’t blow up like Arnold- I promise!) and as we’ve all been told a thousand times, muscle burns more energy than fat, so while the act of lifting will only burn a few calories, you will put on more muscle which will raise your metabolic rate.  This means that just sitting around at your desk, your new muscles will burn more calories than your love handles do! The more muscles you have, the more calories you burn and smaller your love handles become!

One caveat here: if you don’t do a lot of exercise now, it’s extremely important that you don’t jump into an intense workout regimen all at once. That’s how people get discouraged, and more importantly, it’s how people get hurt! Going from a couch potato lifestyle to a spartan-type exercise program at best can leave you thinking you’ve bitten off too much (because you have!) to actually causing a serious injury to a muscle, joint, or worse, a heart attack! You need to take some time to learn the proper techniques, especially if you are going to be lifting.  There are ways to do exercise correctly, not only so that you get the maximum benefit but also so that you don’t injure yourself.  If you can’t afford a personal trainer or a gym membership where classes are taught by trainers, there are a lot of training videos available free on YouTube or you can invest in a DVD that is reputable and within your abilities.  Finding someone reputable is key!  Generally, if I have questions about training, I go to MetabolicRadio.com.  The hosts (Shane & Taylor) have been in fitness nearly all their lives, and if they can’t answer your questions, they will point you in the right direction!

Get Good Sleep: Yeah, I know I sound like a broken record, but this is something that really gets overlooked and it is personally one of my own bête noires.  As most of you know, I am a night person and keeping ‘normal’ hours isn’t normal for me. If I could do my job at night, I would, but there is no denying that when I get enough sleep time and it’s quality sleep (meaning I’m not waking up every couple hours or lying in bed playing mah jongg on the tablet), I have more energy, I am more alert and I feel better overall.  I also lose weight more consistently. Sleep in an important restorative component of health for your brain and your body.  When you are sleep deprived, your body is not producing the hormones necessary to repair your body and keep everything functioning at its best.  Using another car analogy, if you don’t get the oil changed on a fairly regular basis, you end up broken down on the freeway with some big expenses for towing and repairs!  Seriously, sleep deprivation is a torture technique used by some of the most ruthless regimes in history. Why do you want to do that to yourself?

There are a lot of books, blogs and podcasts that will give you some good tips on how to get quality sleep, but since I know I am atypical and that I am not alone in being atypical, here’s my advice to you: track your sleep patterns.  If you have a Fitbit, most of those will track for you as far as hours asleep, waking, and restlessness, but you will need to make your own notes about how you feel the next day. Most experts will tell you that you should sleep in a cool, dark, silent room and avoid electronics, eating and drinking for about an hour or two before you go to bed. Personally, that would be torture for me: I prefer a warmer room, with some kind of noise (even if it’s just a sleep sounds app) and I usually have some kind of nightlight showing (pets who like to sleep on the floor). I have tried the typical scenarios which usually leave me wanting more blankets on the bed, waking at every small sound I hear and staring wide awake at the dark (FYI: the pets don’t think much of it either!) Whatever works best for you, do it, even if all the ‘experts’ say it’s wrong: I have been known to sleep comfortably and well while my pets literally have a wrestling match on the bed. You will feel better when you get good sleep, your exercise will be easier and you will lose more weight (it’s a hormone thing)!

Stay Hydrated: This is my bête noire le deux! I generally don’t drink enough water, and by water, I don’t mean soda (diet or otherwise), coffee, tea or any other beverage.  I mean plain old H2O. Getting enough fluids overall is important, so even if you drink several bottles of diet soda, you are doing yourself more good than not drinking anything at all, so if it’s a choice between nothing and tea, soda or any kind of beverage, take the beverage, but if it’s a choice between ‘beverage’ and water, choose water.  It has no calories, no preservatives and it’s good for the body!  It keeps joints, muscles, the digestive tract and the brain happily humming along. We are mostly water, don’t forget, and we expel more water than we think on a daily basis.  I don’t just mean through the urinary tract and sweating: every breath we exhale has water vapor in it.  Try exhaling on a mirror: that fogginess on the glass is water vapor. We all know that dehydration will kill you, but just being chronically mildly dehydrated puts a strain on the brain, heart, kidneys, and digestive tract.  The body shows the lack of water in your hair, skin, eyes and mouth. (This is another torture technique.)

There are just as many sites that will tell you how much you should drink a day and the various formulas and minimum requirements. If I followed the last formula I found, I’d be drinking nearly 22 glasses of water a day (171 oz)! Most people follow the 8 glasses a day rule or 64 oz.  The rationale is that if you drink other beverages in addition to the eight 8 ounce glasses, you’ll be well hydrated.  Other people go for the urine test: if it’s clear or light yellow (barring any B vitamins you just took), you’re okay.  The darker the urine, the more dehydrated you are.

Personally, I have noticed that poor sleep and poor hydration go hand in hand for me: when one of them is bad, the other usually is also, and my weight loss stalls, my energy lags and my mood is pretty cruddy.  Conversely, when I get enough water, my sleep is better, my energy level and my mood improve and I lose more weight.

Manage Your Stress:  This is another stealthy saboteur. Personally I think it gets away with sabotaging us because we let it.  We hear all the advice and it’s “yeah yeah yeah, I know!” and then we don’t do anything about it. Stress is another one of ‘those hormone things’ that ends up robbing our sleep and keeping our cortisol elevated and we stop losing weight and we keep feeling really lousy.  Cortisol and adrenal fatigue aside, stress robs us of our happiness in life. We are always on edge, always worried about whatever is stressing us out and it leads us on a vicious circle- a seriously vicious circle! When we are always worried and stressed, all our bodies feel is the cortisol surge.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the suspected mugger in the parking lot or the boss buzzing us every day about that report she needs on her desk.  It’s like the goofy robot from that old tv show flailing its arms around: “Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger, Will Robinson!” It may not be life and death, but it could be, so your system is on high alert. The problem with always being on high alert is that it doesn’t get any rest.  Think about it: if you were told that at any time, a killer could jump out of the shadows, so you had to be on the lookout for this killer ALL THE TIME, how would you feel after a couple of hours?  Would you just want this situation to be over already?  I know I would. This is why people get so stressed in hospital waiting rooms: they are waiting for news on their loved ones which could come AT ANY MINUTE! They are on heightened alert and it wears on the body, even though they are literally just sitting there!

When you don’t manage your stress, the same thing happens to you.  You don’t have to start transcendental meditation or yoga in order to manage your stress: you just need to find some way to relax for a few hours every day. There are a lot of law enforcement and other high stress job professionals who make a practice of leaving work at the office.  Whatever they have going on at the office, when they come home, there is no “office talk” and they don’t bring work home with them.  I know not everyone can be that lucky, but if you don’t have to bring your work home with you, leave it at the office.  This was one of my problems when I worked the Job From Hell: when I left the office, my boss would call/ email/ text me at home, evenings and weekends, and telling her “no” was a hard thing to do. It’s on me, because I rarely told her no and just put up with all of this stress, until it began to kill me and I quit.  My boss now is much more sensible (he respects boundaries!) and when something pops in my head when I am out of the office, I just remind myself that I can take care of it tomorrow and there’s nothing I can do right now, so stop worrying about it!  I admit, it takes a little practice, but it’s worth it!

Sometimes, it’s not the office that is stressing you out and this is where an OFF switch comes in handy.  Find something in your life that is relaxing and enjoyable to you, and make a practice of doing it regularly.  For some people it’s going to the gym, reading a good book, walking the dog, or just some alone time.  It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s enjoyable to you!  I spend a lot of time playing with the pets, reading, doing my water aerobics, even just taking my time doing the weekly shopping.  When I am feeling particularly stressed after work, I take off the Bluetooth to my phone and turn up the music on my playlist. No one can reach me and I’m in my own little happy place at least for a little while.  In fact, one Friday night, I got stuck on the freeway behind a particularly messy car fire and it took me four hours to get home (instead of the usual hour & forty-five minutes).  There was nothing I could do about it, so I rolled down the windows and turned the music up really loud (I remember thinking “I hop they like The Lord of the Rings, because too bad!”)  Didn’t help move the traffic along, but it made me feel better! Letting go of the stress not only improves your health but it improves the overall quality of your life.  Being the most stressed out person in your family or office is not a badge of honor, it’s a slow and painful death.  It robs your life of joy and peace and makes spending time with you miserable for your loved ones.  It’s not worth it to lose what you love most in life.

So, getting started is as simple as going through the list above and making positive changes.  Take a look at the list: better foods, more activity, better sleep, staying hydrated, managing stress.  Find the areas where you can make improvements and start making them!  Don’t do a whole transformation at once: that will just add to your stress!  Try making one or two positive changes a week, and be patient.  The goal is not to change as fast as you can: the goal is to make permanent lifestyle changes that will improve your health and your life overall.  You will also find that the more healthy changes you make, the easier they become and you will be able to move faster once you get started.  It’s in trying too fast when starting out that most people stumble and give up.  Don’t try to run before you can walk and even if you stumble, don’t give up.  Just get up and keep going!