One Thing: Weight Loss, Patience & Progress

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my dad who has always been a fan of Westerns.  By the time I was in middle school, I was not only familiar with the Duke but also the large cast of cowboy regulars, including (among others) Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Richard Boone, and Jack Palance.

Jack Palance is probably best remembered in the Under-50 crowd for his last movie, City Slickers, for which he won a Best Supporting Oscar in 1992.  (It’s also the one where he did one-handed pushups on the stage!) For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, it’s about a burnt-out executive and his friends (Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern) who go on a modern day cattle drive as a vacation.  They are going to play Cowboys and Jack Palance’s Curly, the real deal, offers Crystal some advice about the meaning of life: to paraphrase, it’s one thing. You find your ‘one thing’ and stick to it.  Everything else doesn’t mean crap (Curly’s Law- One Thing).

While cowboys, cattle drives and crusty old actors might not seem relevant to weight loss, Curly’s Law has a lot to do with it! Most of us– me included– want to get to our goal weight RIGHT NOW! Yesterday is not soon enough for us! All of us have been guilty of trying to rush this but weight loss, health, fitness, whatever your goal is, cannot be rushed. Our bodies need time to burn fat, to build muscle or to repair the damage caused by a lifetime of poor eating and lack of activity. It doesn’t happen overnight or even over the course of a couple of weeks! So, in an effort to ‘speed things up,’ we try doing everything we can to lose as much weight as we can in the shortest amount of time. In short, we try to do everything at once!

Before we go loading up on all the supplements, protein shakes and filling our fridge with the latest superfoods, remember one thing, and that is One… Thing.  Find the one thing you want to start with and that’s what you focus on! Before you start making excuses about how if doing one thing is good, then more things must be better and faster, it’s also harder! If your plan is waking up a half hour earlier so you can spend that time on the treadmill before you jump in the shower and go to work and you opt to have a protein shake for breakfast and then walk during lunch time and then prepare a healthy dinner in the evening, meditate for twenty minutes and turn off the tv or tablet an hour before going to bed along with drinking 8 glasses of water all day and journaling before you fall asleep, that really sounds like a great routine! I know a lot of people who would approve a healthy plan like that, focused on good nutrition, lots of exercise followed by quality rest and relaxation!

If you also think it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is a whole lot of work! It also sounds really healthy so there are probably more than a few of us who are busy drawing up similar schedules to start on bright and early on Monday morning or even for January 1st.  The problem is that after a few short weeks, whenever you start, you’ll find yourself falling behind on your new Healthy Routine.  It’s not that you lack willpower or stamina or are lazy.  It’s that Real Life gets in the way! Because you are starting so many new routines at once (even if you call it ‘one’), you haven’t had the chance to build them up into regular habits.

What happens to your Healthy Routine when you get stuck running an errand during your ‘meditation time’? What happens when you have to work through your ‘lunchtime walking’ to finish a project that goes to the client by mid-afternoon? What do you do when you sleep through your alarm or have to work late into the evening or anything else that happens unexpectedly in our lives? When we get knocked off balance and start missing our new goals, it’s easier to forget to get back on track or worse, we get discouraged and give up on them.  No one likes to hear this either, but it takes time to develop a new habit, just like it takes time to lose weight and build muscle! Remember: One Thing.

One thing is easier to do than two or three or five.  One thing is easier to keep track of than two or four, and when you focus on one thing, you can do your best with it instead of giving it a few minutes of your attention every day.  When you are already in the habit of eating healthy, it’s easier to adjust when you are faced with non-healthy choices.  When you are in the habit of waking up a half hour earlier, it’s harder to oversleep and easier to get back into your routine.  When all of these new behaviors aren’t new anymore and are part of your normal routine, there is actually less to remember and much less work.

Think about it: you don’t make a list of things you need to do when you get up every morning, like shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, find your keys, find your phone, grab your purse/ briefcase, grab your coat, etc.  Likewise, you don’t use GPS to find your way home from work every day either.  In fact, these are the kinds of things most of us do on Auto Pilot because we have done them repeatedly. This is our goal with our Healthy Routine!

This is actually how I knew that my gym routine had become a habit: not only did I pack my gym bag in the morning on gym days without a reminder, I also drove to the gym without thinking about it! Yes, it took time to develop this habit, but once it became a part of my routine I had to remind myself not to bring my gym bag on holidays when the gym closed early! The gym is one less thing for me to focus on, which means I can focus my attention on something else I want to work on in my Healthy Routine, like going to bed on time!

There is a bonus once we remember to do One Thing and that is we keep making progress even if we aren’t doing everything we want on our Healthy Routine.  While we may be struggling with the work outs or the meditation, once we’ve got the lunch time walking and the healthy dinners down pat, those habits are still moving us towards our goals! We are still making progress and the more we build on a strong foundation, the faster we progress to our goals.  We just need to be patient and remember: One Thing.

 

 

Where is Your Focus? : Weight Loss & The Complaint Department

Recently, Pacific Gas & Electric shut off the power to tens of thousands of customers in my state due to high winds and the resulting fire danger. My dad was one of those customers without power for two days. My big concern was the cold nights and the dark house but my dad assured me that he had his big flashlight and if it did get cold, he could always light a fire in the wood stove.  One of his phones, thankfully, was not cordless so he still had that since he gets no cell reception at his house.

This reminded me of many instances during my childhood when we had been without power. We lived in the country when I was in college and power failure was common.  I used to remark to friends and family that “we lose power every time there’s a big wind.” As a result, we had hurricane lamps, candles and we all got the big D cell Maglite for Christmas one year!  In fact, I’d gotten so used to doing homework by flashlight, I’d pull it out of my desk drawer as soon as the lights blinked. I learned to turn on the ‘auto-save’ on the computer and to save manually after major changes as well.  When the power went out, if we weren’t doing homework, the biggest inconvenience were things like heat/ AC and water (our well was electric); other than those, we had plenty of books and games to keep us entertained. No worries!

But for my mom, reading and games were never high on her list of Fun Things To Do.  I remember coming home with my dad from the grocery store and as we were carrying the groceries into the house, the lights went out. My mom, in her recliner with the tv on and the cordless phone in her hand, was angry as usual while the rest of us were more relaxed about it. I put the grocery bags on the kitchen counter and began putting the food away while my mom groused about being without power.  At one point she shouted at me “how can you put the groceries away in the dark?!” I grabbed a couple of items out from the bags and walked into the living room. Handing her one of them, I asked: “what’s this?” “I don’t know… cottage cheese or sour cream?” “And this?” “Cereal or crackers?” “So the cottage cheese goes in the fridge and the crackers go in the pantry.” End of discussion.

The point was that my mom just wanted to complain about the power being out.  She wasn’t interested in changing her behavior to deal with no power: she wanted to complain and be inconvenienced.  When most of us begin changing our eating either for health or weight loss, we tend to adopt my mom’s attitude: “It’s hard!” “It’s inconvenient!” “I don’t know how to do it!” “I don’t like that food!” We’d rather complain than make any adjustments or learn new habits.  The problem is that while we are busy complaining, we are not making progress and we are wasting time and energy in unproductive behavior. We get nothing beneficial from complaining and whining and pouting.

We all know that change is hard.  It means unlearning bad habits and learning new ones.  It takes time, patience and– most importantly– consistency! Complaining seems to be easier, since we feel like we get some kind of ‘result.’ A few months ago, the cable box for my tv service died. There were several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts to reboot it before disconnecting it, taking it to the local store, waiting around for a couple hours only to get home and go through the equally frustrating installation process. The whole time, I groused and complained and let everyone know how inconvenienced I was by this. To be honest, I took a kind of self-indulgent pleasure in letting everyone know how inconvenient it was. At the same time, I also knew that if I wanted tv again, this was what I had to do and there was no getting around it! It’s an irritating process but if I wanted to watch tv sooner rather than later, I had to do the work!

Changing our eating habits and how we think about what we eat is not that different: we have to uninstall the ‘faulty equipment’ and install a new, updated, version.  While complaining about it soothed my self-indulgent nature, it did nothing to help me get my cable service back. However, going through all the ‘inconvenient hassle’ not only got my service restored, it also saved me an extra $20 a month! So in the end, which served me better: grousing & whining or going through the hassle & doing the work?  (If you have to think about this, I can’t help you!)

We find ourselves in a similar situation when we have to change out how we eat and how we think about food. Most of us separate food into two camps: ‘Healthy Food’ and ‘Food That Tastes Good.’  The idea that food can be both good for you and taste good is nonsense to this way of thinking.  Either it’s something healthy that obviously tastes like grass, cardboard or is utterly flavorless, or it tastes good and is full of fat, calories and sugar! This kind of binary thinking is why most of us do well on a diet for a few days or weeks and then we binge on a bag of grocery store cookies.  It’s not that the cookies are delicious or yummy: it’s because we’ve been eating tasteless bland ‘healthy’ food for the last ten days! We need to stop that kind of thinking! If what you are eating doesn’t taste good, THEN STOP EATING IT!  It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘healthy’ or not: if you aren’t loving (or at least liking) what you are eating, you’re doing it wrong. Not everyone loves salads or vegetables but that doesn’t mean that you have to eat dried up cauliflower or wilted iceberg lettuce. Seriously, neither of those veggies are high on my list of foods, even when they’re fresh, but I do enjoy broccoli, Brussels sprouts and butter or red leaf lettuce, so when I make veggies at home, those are usually somewhere on my dinner plate. Just because everyone is eating ‘cauliflower rice’ doesn’t mean you have to eat it in order to be healthy or lose weight!

A lot of us start out not knowing what to eat that’s healthy and so we default to The Usual Diet Foods, such as ice berg salads with low cal dressing and dried out skinless chicken breasts.  Those are also on my list of Unfavorite Foods, so I eventually learned to change that meal into something I do enjoy.  My healthy ‘chicken and salad’ dinner consists of a chicken thigh with a spinach-butter lettuce mix with oil and vinegar.  Not a major shift, but it’s enough of a shift so that I actually enjoy my dinner instead of suffering through a meal that’s going to leave me unsatisfied.

When I started eating healthier, it took some time to figure out how to swap out unhealthy or unfavorite foods for healthy food I enjoyed but again, it wasn’t a complicated process.  It just took practice and consistency!  It also means that you have to give up the self-indulgent complaining and whining about it.  If your focus is constantly what a hassle and inconvenience this process is for you, then you aren’t going to be able to focus on any better options available to you.  Seriously, if you want to focus on how awful it is eating skinless chicken breast with dry cauliflower every night and complain about how much you hate it to everyone you know, that’s your choice. However, your energy can be better spent finding something just as healthy and nutritious that you really enjoy eating.  Unfortunately, when your focus is on eating healthy food that you really love that helps you lose weight, there’s not a whole lot to complain about it– darn it!

 

It Really IS About What Goes In Your Mouth!: Weight Loss, Food & Nutrition

I recently watched a rerun of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now? featuring an update on one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s most challenging patients, James K.  Like most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, James grew up struggling with obesity and by the time he was in his ’30’s he was already over 500 lbs.  That’s when a leg injury left him bed-bound and he has not walked since that injury.  Unfortunately, being bed-bound has added to his weight gain and by the time we meet him in his initial episode, James estimates his weight at around 700 lbs. Speaking with James via computer, Dr. Nowzaradan gave him the basic diet he gives to all of his patients (1200 calories a day and no carbs) and advised him to begin losing weight immediately.

Getting to Houston to meet with Dr. Now was a struggle in itself as James needed a bariatric ambulance to take him from Kentucky to Texas and his insurance would not cover the cost.  James’ father ended up financing the transportation, but once in Texas with his daughter and girlfriend Lisa, he continued to struggle with the diet.  After four months in Kentucky, James arrived in Houston weighing 738 lbs. Dr. Now admitted him to the hospital to begin running tests and to put him on a controlled diet to get his weight down.  Unfortunately, after losing over 100 lbs in the hospital, James moved to his apartment to continue losing on his own, but what followed was the beginning of a vicious cycle of weight gain followed by hospitalization and controlled weight loss only to regain again at home.  Despite Dr. Now’s warnings regarding his deteriorating health, James and Lisa were unable to control his eating and he continued to gain weight. His constant gaining was followed by heart problems, kidney problems, and cellulitis infections in his legs.  After one arrival at the hospital, James and Lisa are shocked to learn that he’s at 843 lbs.

From the outside, it’d be easy to say “what the heck is wrong with you two?!” but they were as mystified as Dr. Now was frustrated.  Despite his repeated attempts to explain to them what they are doing wrong, they remained as confused and frustrated as Dr. Nowzaradan.  Obviously, something was going wrong, but they could not understand what it was.

Quite simply, it was the food. I know you are thinking “no sh*t, Sherlock!” right now, but for James and Lisa, it really was mystifying.  While they were obviously cheating on the diet more than they admitted, it wasn’t really the “cheat meals” that were causing the problems as much as it was all the other food he was also eating.  While I obviously wasn’t there with them and only know what I saw on the tv, I’ve got a pretty good guess as to some of the stumbling blocks tripping them up: 1) nutritional ignorance; 2) portion  distortion; and 3) cravings.

As a former Basic English instructor, I learned early on never to assume that people know “The Basics.” I remember going over a lesson on sentence construction, explaining how each sentence needs a subject consisting of a noun and a predicate consisting of a verb.  When I casually asked “does anyone have any questions?” I was promptly asked “what’s a noun?  Judging by the confused faces in the class, I gathered her question was echoed by most of my students. My carefully constructed lesson was pretty much wasted on them since I was essentially speaking gibberish!

I have a strong suspicion that this was part of the problem with James and Lisa.  While it’s one thing to pass out a diet plan with recommended and/ or ‘forbidden’ foods listed on it, it’s another entirely to learn to read nutrition labels or simply to identify what other foods should be included on that list of ‘forbidden foods.’  I remember a very long time ago when my dad’s doctor advised him to lower his sugar intake and my mom complained about his eating bread. I asked “what does bread have to do with how much sugar he eats?” At the time, I had no idea that bread (a starchy carbohydrate) is metabolized like sugar in the body.  In essence, a starchy carb like bread is viewed as a long string of sugars in the body. While it doesn’t look like sugar, technically our bodies turn it into sugar. It’s one thing to look at a slice of bread and think “starch” and see that one slice is allowed on the diet and it’s another thing to look at a bowl of brown rice and think it’s okay. If it’s not specifically mentioned on the diet plan, then where does that go? Is it allowed? Not allowed? For some people, it’s common sense but for others, it’s a mystery.  While those of us who’ve spent a lifetime eating off one diet plan or another know what to do, for those who have never ventured into “Diet World,” it’s literally foreign territory.  Having the doctor tell you “no carbs!” might as well have been “no finkerrupz!” for all the sense it makes to you. (Let’s not mention ‘total carbs’ vs ‘net carbs’!)

While some of you are rolling your eyes, let me remind you that we all start somewhere different when we begin this diet journey and even though a nutritionist may have been sent out to help James and Lisa learn more about food overall, not all nutritionists and/ or dieticians are created equal.  I remember my own dietician basically giving me a list of rules to follow (again regarding carbs) without ever asking me if I knew what a carbohydrate was! However, as a reader and an information-gatherer in general, when I started asking questions about nutrition, I decided that the internet (though convenient) wasn’t comprehensive enough for me and I went off to the bookstore and came home with Nutrition for Dummies.Nutrition for Dummies ) I am a big fan of the Dummies books because they assume you know nothing about the topic, so you can start at your own level.  I also realize that some people are offended when you suggest these books to them (“she called me a dummy!”)  Frankly, I have a large library of Dummies books because in my opinion, there’s a whole lotta stuff I don’t know crap about and pretending that I know more than I do is the only thing that really makes me a Dummy!

There’s also another pitfall that catches most people unawares: “I thought I knew what I was doing but I really didn’t!” This was my error when I was teaching sentence construction: I thought I was giving my students The Basics but it turned out it wasn’t basic enough! In short, I thought I knew where to start but I didn’t! Hospitals have also learned this lesson the hard way.  When patients arrive for a procedure, they make the patient explain to the nurse what’s going to happen to them.  This is the best way of making sure the patient understands what is really going to happen! I am sure James and Lisa thought he was following the diet and only cheating a little bit, when  in fact, he was probably cheating more than he wanted to admit and also eating foods that weren’t on the diet although they thought that they were.

Then there is the whole issue of portion size.  This is one of the reasons I recommend a food scale in the beginning at least (Ozeri Food Scale). When someone is used to eating a slice of cake that weighs in at a half-pound or a sandwich the size of a loaf of bread, they usually have no idea what an actual ‘portion’ looks like.  The idea that a sandwich consists of two regular slices of bread, 2 oz of meat and maybe one ounce of cheese is a real shock.  A hamburger patty really isn’t supposed to be one-third of a pound or more; it’s supposed to be about 3 oz! The same thing with a chicken breast or a piece of steak– about 3-4 oz is a ‘serving size.’  The general rule of thumb is that your protein is supposed to be about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand, not the size of your head!

It’s easy to jeer at someone weighing 700 -plus pounds who clearly doesn’t understand why he weighs so much, but the truth is that a lot of us are in the same boat.  The only difference is that while James can’t understand why he’s still over 700 lbs, we can’t figure out why we still can’t lose these same twenty pounds we’ve been trying to lose since college.  It’s usually that Terrible Trio I mentioned above: a combination of nutritional ignorance, portion distortion and cravings.  We think we are eating healthier foods in the right amounts but until we do a little investigating, we may not realize that while sweet potatoes and brown rice are better for us than white potatoes and white rice, they still have a lot of carbs and starch in them.  We also think that a serving is one whole sweet potato no matter the size or that we can eat twice as much brown rice as white rice. The truth is while we are eating healthier, we may not be eating healthy enough to lose the weight we want.

Cravings are another story entirely.  Everyone who’s tried to lose weight has fallen victim to this one, some of us more often than others.  It really doesn’t matter what the craving is for, either.  Whether it’s chocolate, bread, nuts or even something healthy like a salad, if we eat too much of it, it’s not good for us.  If it’s something not on our ‘recommended foods’ list, it only adds to the problem.  While it’s not usually a disaster when we give in to the cravings, we don’t often realize that giving in prolongs the problem.  In short, if you ‘indulge’ once a week, you begin to expect that indulgence and when you try to skip it after repeatedly giving in, it only makes it harder to resist.  For someone like James, who’s probably never resisted a temptation, the cravings can be unbearably difficult. For someone like Lisa who is used to giving him what he wants, the response is probably close to automatic: he wants it? he gets it.

Making the changes James and Lisa need to make to lose weight and improve his health likely requires more adjustments and education than they anticipated.  It means a complete restructuring of their home life and habits.  It not only means throwing out all the foods not on the diet, it means re-learning how to eat, how to buy food that’s healthy and how to think about what we eat. Like most of us, James thought he could out-exercise his cheating and bad food choices, but we all know we’d be jogging all day to ‘cancel out’ that burger and fries lunch or the pie or whatever ‘indulgence’ we had.  Losing weight permanently takes significant changes and these need to be permanent if our weight loss is to stay permanent.  That means re-thinking what’s normally on the menu and what’s not, what a real portion size is and what’s too much, and whether that slice of carrot cake is really worth it.  It means keeping an open mind about The Basics and even changing those Basics if need be.  It’s not an easy adjustment to make but when your quality of life depends on it, are you really going to trade that for carrot cake?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & The Cheat Meal: It’s All About Mileage

There is not much more in dieting and weight loss that is more controversial than The Cheat Meal.  There are advocates who swear a Cheat Meal keeps you from going off the rails (and eating a whole cheesecake) and then there are detractors who swear that it creates cravings and leads to you eating the whole cheesecake you were trying to avoid! Depending on who or what you Google, you can find flood of “research” on both sides.  So, The Cheat Meal: yes or no?  My answer? “Eventually.”

I like to compare a Cheat Meal to taking a long road trip. Obviously when you are learning to drive or just gotten your license, are you going to take a long car trip?  Those of you with teen drivers, take a good look at them: are you going to let them drive a hundred miles by themselves with that brand new license in their pocket?  Of course not! They don’t have the experience! They might think that they do, but you and I both know that there are a lot of situations out there that they’ve never encountered. Once they’ve been around the block a few thousand times and maybe driven some distances with an adult, then they can set out on their own, when everyone is a little more confident in their ability to handle a car a long way from home on their own.

The Cheat Meal is the metaphorical Road Trip of your weight loss experience.  You remember the first time you had to back out of parking space into traffic? Just a little bit hairy! Remember the first time you got lost in a strange town? (Even scarier before Google Maps!) Or how about the first time your car died on the highway on the way to somewhere else? (“How can I call AAA when I don’t even know where I am?”) The first time these things happen to you, it’s scary and confusing and, let’s face it, you are more likely to make a mistake.  The same thing happens when you try indulging in a Cheat Meal too soon!

When you have been following your weight loss plan for some time, you develop consistency.  We all know that’s the cornerstone of weight loss: if you eat better 95% of the time, then you are going to be healthier simply because you aren’t eating a lot of unhealthy food. That is pretty much a given: healthy whole foods 95% of the time beat junk food 5% of the time.  The problem is, like our teen drivers, we think we know what we’re doing! We think we are consistent when our consistency is still pretty new. We think a few months is enough time for us to be “consistent.” When we compare it to driving we know that a few months behind the wheel is nothing! I don’t mean that you have be consistently eating healthy for five years before you can have a Cheat Meal, but let’s face it: when you get excited about having a Cheat Meal, that’s probably a clue that you haven’t been consistent long enough!

Most of us get a little apprehensive when we are planning a long road trip but how much of that anxiety is directly related to driving the car? I don’t mean being anxious about things like packing the car or confirming hotel reservations or making sure you brought sunscreen.  Other than plugging the hotel’s address into Google Maps or Garmin, most of us don’t think about the driving other than maybe “I’ve got gas, right?” That’s because at this point in our lives, actually driving a car is not a big deal.  We fuss over the little things like the cord for the iPod or the phone charger for the car, which are not really related to driving the car in traffic on the highway.  If you get anxious about passing someone on the highway or making a U turn at an intersection, maybe you aren’t ready to take that road trip behind the wheel.

It’s the same philosophy about weight loss and Cheat Meals.  When you have been consistent long enough, the actual food is less of an issue.  Usually, a Cheat Meal is connected with some kind of celebration or you’ve made a conscious decision to try something that looks as if it’s worth the calories or carbs. You decide to have a small piece of cake to celebrate someone’s wedding or you’ve never had real Cherries Jubilee, so you decide to take a taste. You aren’t worried that you’ll go back for more or eat too much because the food is about taking part in the celebration/ occasion going on around you and not really about the actual food.  If you get more excited about eating garden variety macaroni & cheese, pizza or birthday cake, then you probably don’t have enough “consistency mileage” to try a Cheat Meal.

At the risk of sounding like a Negative Nancy, when you don’t have enough experience being consistent with your healthy eating, Cheat Meals can lead to some major setbacks.  It really can lead to cravings or too many indulgences.  We get lulled into that false sense of security because we’ve been consistent for so many weeks or months and “we’ve got this!”  Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t, but getting all anxious about what you are going to be eating or afraid of having cravings afterwards are some pretty good signs that you haven’t been consistent long enough to indulge in a Cheat Meal.

Unfortunately, most of us reach this conclusion once we’ve eaten an entire pizza or a bag of Oreos and we feel like we’ve blown our weight loss plan to smithereens! Remember the first time you put a big dent in Mom’s minivan or Dad’s SUV? You and they were probably a bit upset at the time but ultimately, it was all okay. They forgave you because you were a new driver and hey, mistakes happen! That’s why we have insurance and, frankly, the only way to get better at driving a car is to get behind the wheel.  Realizing you don’t have the experience for a Cheat Meal is part of getting better and gaining more experience.  When you’ve dinged your weight loss plan with a Cheat Meal, it’s not the end of the road with your weight loss: it just means you’ve got to go around the block a few more times!

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Cravings: The Pause Before You Go Over the Edge

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you make a well-thought out decision to share a dessert with a friend and then a few days later, you start craving something similar and before you realize what’s going on, you’ve eaten way more sweets, desserts and other not-so-good for you foods than you have in the last few months! Can you all see me waving my hand in the air like Hermione Granger in class? Except my answer is actually the wrong answer! No one wants to be in that situation, like a car skidding out of control before sliding into the ditch. It’s a disaster waiting to happen!

You would think that the problem was that well-considered decision to share a dessert: “if only I hadn’t had those three bites of cheesecake!” That may be one way of dealing with it. I know there are lots of people who just say no to things they consider triggers.  They choose to view it as an addiction and anyone who knows addicts knows “you can’t have just one [fill in the blank here.] If you were okay with never having cheesecake or chips or whatever your particular weakness is ever again, that would solve your problem. If you don’t want cravings for bread, just don’t ever eat bread again.  Never ever.

For some people, that can be a pretty bleak view, looking at the rest of your life without ever eating things you like, such as cheesecake, brownies, bread or cookies along with a host of other things! On one hand, it’s just food. It isn’t like you’re giving up electricity for the rest of your life! There are thousands of people who’ve lived their entire lives without ever tasting a brownie or cheesecake! (Come to think of it, there are thousands of people who live their lives now without electricity!) Seriously, it’s not the end of the world, but it is something that brings a little bit of happiness into your life.  At least it does for those few minutes you are eating it!

If we are being truthful, it also brings a lot of pain into our lives too. I remember in college there were times I’d come home from the store with a frozen cheesecake and as soon as it was thawed out, I’d eat the whole thing.  Of course, I didn’t intend to, but…. We all know how that story ends: “I just couldn’t stop once I started eating it!” And once I was stuck holding the empty tray for a seven inch cheesecake, I’d feel awful. Not only did I feel horrible emotionally, but physically, I felt like a beached whale because obviously I wasn’t hungry when I ate it! I ate it because it was there!

This is what most of us are afraid of when it comes to cravings: once we start, we can’t stop, so it’s easier just never ‘starting.’ The problem is that we blame our cravings on self-control and that’s only a small part of the problem. When we don’t have cookies in the house and we start craving cookies, how many of us are going to leave the house to buy cookies? But, if the cookies are in the house already, it’s all too easy to ‘wander’ into the kitchen and grab one or two. Or three or four.  If they’re small, maybe five… And that’s where we blame our lack of self-control or we blame the cookies for being so good or we blame the family member who brought them home!

Part of the problem is the craving, especially if it’s something sweet.  Sugar really is addictive (Gary Taubes’ book The Case Against Sugar is a great resource!) Foods like bread (my own private weakness) are simple carbs, which the body metabolizes like sugar, so even if it’s garlic bread, to my body, it’s a ‘sugar’ and just a leetle bit addictive! So blaming self-control for not being able to stop ourselves eating a whole bread basket or cheesecake can be a legitimate defense.

However, the plain simple truth is that we knew better when we ate the cheesecake or bread that started our latest sugar binge! If you know that you’re going to be craving sugar within a week of sharing that dessert at lunch with your friend, is it really so difficult to tell your friend “no thanks” when she offers? A friend will understand when you say no to the dessert and you are under no obligation to indulge in something that will cause problems later.  So not starting is one way of dealing with the cravings: no trigger = no craving = no binge.  Problem solved! Yeah…riiighhhttt!

However a trigger food like that shared dessert is not the only reason we develop cravings.  In my case, a lot of the cravings come from boredom. How many of us binge in the evenings? (Hermione Granger here again!) I’m watching tv and I’ve got nothing to do with my hands, so let’s wander into the kitchen and see if there’s anything to snack on! Danger, Will Robinson!  Believe me, if I had a robot, it’d be stationed in the kitchen door each night after dinner! I’m obviously not hungry because I just finished dinner; my problem is I’m feeling bored! Somehow my brain equates boredom with the need to eat something, preferably sweet! “Find something sweet to eat and eat it until it’s gone or you feel like you’re going to throw up!” Really, that was my evening operation for most of my life! In the event I had nothing sweet in the house, Plan B substituted ‘salty’ for ‘sweet’ and the Last Ditch Back Up Plan was substitute ‘salty’ for ‘anything in the house!’ I really really wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I’m not.

But the good thing to come out of this debacle is that since I know what triggers my cravings, I can take steps to stop it before it skids wildly out of control. If bored and feeling the cravings start, I look for something to do other than eating! Even if it’s something like scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or– even better– My Fitness Pal! It can be logging my food and reminding myself how much I’ve already eaten, so how can I be hungry? It can be writing notes for this blog, playing with my dogs or doing my nails (my most recent distraction). It just needs to be something to keep my hands busy so I’m not eating to satisfy a craving that has nothing to do with hunger.

Another trigger for a lot of us is emotion.  How many of us have heard and used the expression ’emotional eater’?  Again, it’s a legitimate issue but once we realize it’s our trigger, we need to take steps to cut off the craving/ binge before it starts.  This issue is obviously more complex than just alleviating boredom.  If emotion or stress is a serious problem in your life, you might need to meet with someone to help you find constructive ways of dealing with it that don’t involve eating. For most of us who find ourselves staring into the fridge after a fight with a loved one or opening a surprise bill not in our budget or some other stressor, it can be less problematic. We have to find a way to alleviate our anxiety that doesn’t involve eating. In some ways, it’s easy and in other ways, it’s not so easy! Suppose your method of ‘coping’ with a problem is eating an entire bag of chips. While you’re eating the chips, you’re not feeling anxious or stressed (as much), but when those chips are gone, the anxiety and stress come back, usually coupled with the guilt for scarfing down a whole bag of Ruffles! Now what do you do? This is where some of us will find something else to eat and  repeat the cycle while others of us will either find a way to deal with the cause of our anxiety or we find something else to soothe it.  In my case, after eating a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s or the bag of Ruffles or King’s Hawaiian, I’d turn to my pets. My pets are a huge source of comfort to me! Depending on what the problem is, there is also venting on Facebook or calling a friend to share the anxiety and frustration.  Most of us who have normal every day stress and anxiety in our lives have methods for dealing with it; the problem is our knee-jerk reaction to eat our emotions first! What we need to learn is to cut off that reaction to ‘soothe’ our anxiety with food.

You’re probably thinking, “Duhhh!  So tell me something I don’t know!” It’s not rocket science, but it does take patience and practice. We all know the trick about not losing our temper by counting to ten and this isn’t much different.  It involves taking a couple minutes to see into the future: “I’m emotional and I want to eat something, but how am I going to feel when I’m done eating?” Usually the answer will be “pretty cruddy!” or “worse than I do now!” The object is to step into those few seconds between feeling the anxiety-eating trigger and the actual eating! As I said it takes practice and it takes patience. It’s a seemingly simple behavior modification technique. The actual action is simple: stopping the knee-jerk reaction to eat by switching it with another action; it’s ‘seemingly simple’ because changing behavior can be a difficult process. This is where the patience and practice come into action.

We have to remember to ask ourselves that question when we feel like eating because of our emotions and then simply skip the eating! Instead of eating all the potato chips and then holding my dog, I just pick up the dog! Or I start venting online or to my friends or whatever I can do to relieve the anxiety and emotion without eating.  The good thing about this technique is that is also works with those sugar-addiction cravings I mentioned at the beginning.  When we feel the urge to eat whatever it is we’re craving, we need to remind ourselves of how cruddy we’re going to feel after we’ve eaten it.  It can be we feel guilty or ashamed or physically terrible.  In my case, sugar or simple carbs like bread really cause pain in my hands. When I stop eating the sugar, I can feel the improvement within a couple of days. When I start craving something either because of boredom, anxiety or just wanting that not-so-healthy forbidden food, I ask myself how I’m going to feel after eating it. Remembering how bad my hands felt is an obvious deterrent!

It still takes a lot of patience and a whole lot of practice.  There are some times I really really want it and eat it anyway, and when I end up regretting it, I remind myself there’s a reason it’s on my not-to-be-eaten list, especially if my hands start hurting! The craving for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is followed by “is it worth your hands aching for a week? Remember how smushed and stale the last ones were? Not to mention 400 calories!” Changing our behavior takes time and we have to be patient with ourselves.  Remembering to pause before grabbing the King’s Hawaiian takes practice and when we screw it up (because we will!), we have to be patient and forgive ourselves. Cravings are what kill most weight loss practices and that’s what this is: it’s a practice!  We won’t get it right the first time we try it but the more we do it, the easier it is to remember and the longer that pause becomes. The knee-jerk reaction to eat our boredom, anxiety and cravings becomes less of a reaction and more of a decision.  That’s what we are really looking for: the ability to make a decision instead of being out of control.

 

 

 

Weight Loss & New Ideas: You Make The Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress, Not Perfection in Fitness & Weight Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeds of Confidence: Growing Slowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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