Breaking the Code: Weight Loss & The Secret Formula

On the surface, this looks like another No Brainer: how do you lose weight? Eat less, move more! Duhhhh….. except anyone who’s tried that knows it doesn’t work for long. Besides not working, it’s hard and it’s miserable!

If you were to ask ten random people of random weight on the street “why do people gain weight?”, you would likely get a variety of answers such as eating too much, eating too much sugar, eating too much junk food, eating too much fat, eating too many carbs,  not enough cardio, not enough weight lifting, not enough vegetables, etc.  There are as many answers as there are people on the street to ask! Are all of them wrong? Some of them have to be right, …right?

Well, yes and no.  I’m not being a smart-ass here. Because there isn’t just one reason we gain weight! Think back to some of the excuses we’ve given about why we’ve put on “a few extra pounds,” such as too many Girl Scout cookies; it was the holidays; missed a few workouts; been out more with friends than normal; a lot of stress; bad sleeping/ late nights, etc.  While most of us know they are excuses, we usually feel there’s a germ of truth to them and we are right: those are all possible reasons why we’ve gained a few pounds, but they are all just as likely not to be the sole reason we’ve gained weight!

In reality, it tends to be a formula: we mix a few sleepless nights, with some extra work related stress, throw in some missed workouts, a few (boxes of) Girl Scout cookies and other sugary carbs and then mix in some extra snacks and ta-daa! We’ve gained some weight! Congratulations on winning the Chubby Award! Now: how do we get rid of it?

We get rid of it pretty much the same way we got it: we have to undo that formula! The problem is that we didn’t take notes when we were gaining weight because we weren’t really paying attention. (If we’d been paying more attention, we probably wouldn’t have gained the weight we did!) Essentially, we need to follow a basic formula for weight loss and tweak it to fit our individual metabolism, and that formula is most definitely NOT “Eat Less, Move More!”

Remember those excuses listed above: cookies, holidays, stress, sleepless nights, snacking? Those are all part of the reason we gained weight. We all know that sugar and refined carbs such as bread, pasta and cereals are all broken down into sugar by our digestive tract. As quick carbs, they boost our blood sugar and insulin and then they get stored as fat in the body.  We also know that stress boosts our cortisol levels which means there is more glucose in our blood stream and glucose means insulin again, so again being chronically stressed translates to “stored as fat” by our bodies. The busy holidays and sleepless or late nights translate to “stress” so again: “stored as fat!” Constant snacking? “Stored as fat!” In order to convince our bodies that it is okay to burn fat and lose weight, we need to do a few things consistently! 

The simple formula to lose weight? 1) Reduce stress; 2) Avoid processed foods; 3) Stop snacking; 4) Fast more often.  A couple bonus tips: 1) Add a little vinegar to your diet; and 2) Add more fiber. Before you start rolling your eyes about fasting, this is not my weight loss formula. This is from The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. Dr. Fung makes a few simple suggestions such as adding in more natural fats, more fiber, moderate protein consumption, managing stress and above all, avoid processed foods and constant snacking.

Geez, that almost sounds too simplistic! And a little nutty too! But before you cross off Dr. Fung as another kooky diet doctor, he’s arrived at this simple formula after years of working with diabetes patients.  Dr. Fung is a nephrologist, which means he’s a kidney doctor, and as anyone with diabetes can tell you, one of the biggest problems diabetics have is kidney failure. What’s the best way to stop kidney damage? Don’t get diabetes! What’s one way of not getting diabetes? Don’t get obese! After treating thousands of obese diabetics, he’s learned a few things about what makes people fat. His simple answer is insulin resistance (insulinemia). In short, chronically high insulin leads to insulin resistance which leads to weight gain. If you want to lose weight, you need to reduce your insulin resistance. Most of us jump right to cutting out refined carbs and sugars (which is a great idea) but we usually don’t think of the other two major culprits with insulin. It’s not just about keeping your blood sugar low: it’s about keeping your insulin levels low too.  We mistakenly believe that if our blood sugar is low, our insulin is too, and it’s not the case.

We all know the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.  Most of us have been taught to avoid fat at all costs, and many of us also avoid carbs too, so that means we go whole hog on the protein! What we don’t realize is that too much protein gets converted to glucose. Our bodies can store fat and carbs but they can’t store protein, so it gets converted to glucose and then it’s converted to fat! (Yes! That healthy protein ends up on our butt!) Protein also raises our insulin levels, though not as much as carbs, and fat has nearly no effect on our insulin at all.

Most of us also know that whole food carbs such as fruit and veggies have less of blood sugar spike than processed carbs like bread and sugar. Whole foods have a lot of fiber so they are absorbed more slowly and there is less of a spike. Also, all that fiber makes us full faster and we stay full longer. Ever know anyone to eat a whole pound of Brussels sprouts at one meal? Compare that with someone eating a whole box of cookies or an entire pint of ice cream. Fiber = full!

So we moderate the protein, cut back on the processed foods, add in some healthy fats (avocados have healthy fat plus plenty of fiber too!), manage our stress and we still don’t lose weight? That’s because most of us are still doing the number one behaviors that keeps our insulin levels high: we snack. How many of us have been told that ‘constant grazing’ will keep us thin? As Dr. Fung states, “if we were meant to graze, we’d be cows!” To be blunt: any food raises our insulin, and when we keep snacking all day long, our insulin never gets the chance to drop! Because it never goes down, our bodies become resistant to it, and the vicious cycle continues.

Here’s a simple example of what happens with insulin resistance. I live between two churches which both have schools, behind a hospital with a helipad and within two blocks of a fire station.  When I am home, I hear school bells, church bells, helicopters and sirens all day long. I have heard them so often that I don’t pay attention to them anymore. In fact, a few years ago, I took a trip with some friends and our motel room was literally across the street from a fire station (we could see it from the room’s door).  The morning after our first night, everyone was complaining about the constant sirens during the night- except me! Because I heard them all the time, my brain stopped noticing them! When our insulin is high all the time, it becomes the sirens which we eventually stop hearing, so we have to make them louder to get noticed. That means we secrete more and more insulin to be effective. The only way to get insulin low and keep it there (so we notice it) is to stop eating! It means no snacking! It also means skipping a few meals now and then.

It doesn’t mean we have to starve ourselves in order to lose weight, but it does mean we need to be sensible about how often we eat. Most of us have been told that we need to eat three meals and three snacks during the day. In fact, my favorite food journal comes with Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner headings, along with Mid-Morning Snack, Mid-Day Snack and Evening Snack! Even if they are ‘healthy whole foods,’ I am sure Dr. Fung would agree with Dr. Nowzaradan’s emphatic proclamation “there is no such thing as a healthy snack!” (My 600 lb Life, TLC) Even a healthy snack keeps our insulin levels elevated, and the only way to lose weight is to lower our insulin and keep it low! Three meals a day are more than enough. It also won’t kill us to skip a meal or two, especially if we aren’t hungry! Dr. Fung makes a clear distinction between ‘starving’ our bodies with chronically reduced calorie intake vs. intermittent fasting, which is periods of low to no calories in-between periods of regular calorie intake.

This idea of not eating every two hours or so might seem kind of weird since a lot of us grew up being constantly fed. Skipping a couple meals or more probably seems crazier, but the simple truth is the more often we eat, the bigger we get. To drop those “few extra pounds,” we have to drop our insulin levels, and that means making some changes to what and when we eat. In his book, Dr. Fung offers some level-headed advice: “Listen to your grandma! ‘No snacking!'”

For a quick summary of Dr. Fung’s book, see Fast Life Hacks: The Obesity Code

 

 

 

 

Working Through The Blues: Weight Loss & Your Attitude

In a recent post I mentioned how my own bad attitude and self-pity got in the way of my making positive changes with my health and eating. The other night at my water aerobics class, I saw another example of how a bad attitude can get in our way.  Two of my classmates were discussing the effect of exercise on our health and one of them confessed that she just didn’t feel motivated or like any of it was doing her any good at all.  Her friend tried hard to motivate her and give her some encouragement but nothing was getting through her negativity. As much as I wanted to encourage her, I didn’t feel quite right about butting into their conversation.  Though, if I could have, I’d have given her some of the benefits that I have seen in my own life.

One of the statements I heard them discussing was the benefits of raising our heart rate and how our water aerobics class didn’t always do that.  I also heard one of them poo-pooing walking as not good for our hearts, unless we are walking at a fast pace.  Raising our heart rate is good but it’s not the only benefit of being active. Most of our class is made up of people who are forties and older, some of them probably in their 80’s.  There are also quite a few who are there because they want to lose weight.  When I started going to the gym regularly, weight loss was a goal, but there were other reasons as well.  Mainly, I wanted to build strength and stamina in addition to burning calories.

I have gained a lot by working out regularly.  I am not sure how it has or has not affected my weight loss, but as far as stamina, strength and balance go, it’s all been positive! Moving is much easier; balance has greatly improved and my muscle tone overall is better. Aside from just having fun, I find I can do more activity with less pain, tiredness or muscle fatigue. We are all familiar with Newton’s First Law of Physics: a body in motion stays in motion. The more you move, the easier it is to keep moving!

Some of the other effects, which may not be so noticeable, are better sleep, more energy and better mood. When I come home from the gym, I am not exhausted, and while I may be hungry, I’m not ‘starving.’  I tend to spend some time taking care of other things around the house, run an errand or two, and spend some quality time with my pets. I just plain feel better, and not just physically!

When it comes to improving our mood, attitude, and mindset, exercise is usually not on the list of possible remedies. We look at things like meditating, journaling, gratitude, or prayer.  We focus on non-physical approaches to fix what are considered ‘non-physical’ issues.  We forget that our minds, attitudes and feelings are all contained within our completely physical bodies. Have you ever tried to be happy, perky or upbeat when you are in pain? Conversely, how much energy do you have when you are sad or depressed? Both our physical and emotional halves are hardwired to each other and what happens with one, for good or bad, affects the other.

We are not surprised that we find it hard to be happy when we’ve got a toothache, or that we feel totally drained when we are emotionally upset, but when it comes to exercise or activity affecting our mood or our attitude, we tend to believe it has little to no effect on how we feel or think. We use exercise to relieve stress but to boost our mindset or attitude? Athletes know the truth: movement, exercise and activity boost your mood through endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters which can improve your mood, your sleep and make you feel better overall (Endorphins & Mood). The effect of endorphins on our brains and bodies is sometimes referred to as the Runner’s High because of how good it can make you feel. In short, regular exercise is good for the body, the mind and the spirit.

However, in order to get the long term benefits of exercise on your mood, you have to take the long term approach. No one expects to lose weight if we only eat better for a week or two, but how many of us have worked out for a few days or weeks and given it up as “not working for me?” We try it for a while and when we don’t see our waistline getting smaller, our muscles getting bigger and especially if we have muscle soreness, we are quick to bail on the exercise regimen.  We know diet, nutrition and exercise are long term investments which means that we have to give them time to yield results, but we get impatient and we quit before we begin to see any positive changes.

This giving up before we see results just confirms our false belief that “exercise doesn’t work for me or my mood.” It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like my water aerobics classmate above, we think ‘we aren’t getting anything out of it,’ so why waste our time? We have to go back to the long term investment approach. Any financial guru will tell you that investments take time to grow and if you want a ‘quick & big’ return, you are a sucker looking for a con artist because any Get Rich Quick Scheme is really a Get Robbed Quick Scam! It happens with money; it happens with weight loss and it happens with exercise? Want real returns? You need to give them time to grow!

Obviously exercise isn’t a cure for a bad attitude any more than it is a cure for obesity, but it is an important component of health nonetheless. Like all investments, good nutrition, healthy eating and exercise build on each other.  The better you fuel your body, the better your eating practices (i.e. not overeating) and the more you move, the healthier your mind and body become. The more you move, the more you want  to move because all that movement stimulates your brain, your bones and your muscles. Our bodies were made to be used and when they languish, they begin to fall apart. Why should our attitudes be any different? People who take care of themselves tend to be happier people and happier people tend to take better care of themselves. It’s that mind-body connection again, but building the momentum to get the cycle started takes faith.If you really want to boost your mood, build some stamina and burn a few calories, then move it! (And don’t stop!)

 

 

 

 

Changing Directions: Weight Loss & Getting There

We’ve all heard the expression “dieting doesn’t work.” We know it’s a temporary solution to a permanent situation but that still doesn’t help much.  We know we shouldn’t eat the entire giant burrito at lunch, but we do anyway.  We know that eggnog latte we sucked down this morning was at least 500 calories so we really don’t need another this afternoon, but here we are ordering one! The solution to weight loss is simple: permanently change what we eat and how much.  But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy!

Professionals debate whether Food Addiction is a real addiction or not, and there are the inevitable comparisons to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Overeaters Anonymous takes the ‘Twelve Step’ approach to weight loss and while I am not a member of such a program, I do have family members who are. One of the first things they did when they started their recovery is to change their environment. Specifically, if all your friends drink or do drugs, you need some new friends! When it comes to drugs and alcohol, we expect that. We recognize that we can’t expect recovering alcoholics to hang out at the bar not drinking with their friends who are any more than we can expect drug addicts to hang out with their friends who are always getting high.  There’s simply too much temptation to fall back into the addiction they’re trying to break!

So what do we do about weight loss?  As Food Addiction believers like to point out: you can live without alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but sooner or later, we all need to eat! It’s not like we can hang out without people who don’t eat! It gets even harder when there is a holiday or celebration, since nearly all cultures celebrate with special foods! How are we supposed to deal with our addiction when we have to go back to it to survive?

Whatever you believe about Food Addiction, anyone who wants to lose weight without gaining it back has to accept making some permanent lifestyle changes, not unlike the recovering alcoholic or addict. You may not need to ditch those ‘food-eating friends,’ but you will probably need to change how you interact with them! It doesn’t even have to be major changes but we all know that if you are going to San Francisco, you don’t enter a San Diego address into your GPS! If you want to change your destination, you have to change your route.  Doing things the way you did before is only going to get you somewhere you don’t want to be!

Easier said than done! If only it were as easy as plugging in a new address into Google Maps! Unfortunately, a lot of weight loss gurus like to tell us that it really isn’t too difficult. I always wonder how many of them had weight problems, because they usually look really fit and thin! I know that does many a great disservice, but all of us who struggle with our weight know how hard and painful it can be.  Watching a spokesperson with a chiseled six-pack tell us that we can lose 15 lbs in 6 weeks by making ‘5 easy changes!’ makes me want to kick in my tv! Or scarf a whole pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk…. Either way, it’s not a good feeling.

Psychologists like to call this behavior modification and we have all used it and had it used on us before.  Remember when your parents grounded you for getting home late? Remember when you scolded your puppy for wetting on the floor? Those are some simple examples: you do X and Y happens to you, so if you don’t want X to happen to you again, then don’t do Y! With weight loss, the X we are trying to avoid is gaining weight but it’s more complicated than that.  We are not only trying to avoid weight gain, we want to go in the opposite direction!

We not only need to figure out what Y we need to avoid, we need to map an entirely new route for somewhere else. For a lot of us, this feels like trying to climb Everest with only a windbreaker and some walking shoes– totally impossible! The truth is that it’s not impossible if we know what we’re looking for and that skinny six-pack guy on the infomercial with his 5 easy changes is more interested in your money than helping you find the answers.

One of the easiest ways to find out what changes you need to make in order to make your weight loss permanent is to track what you eat.  I know everyone hates doing it, but we all need a starting point, especially if we want to measure how much progress we’ve made.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.  You can use any notebook or pocket diary and there are a lot of free popular apps on available. It’s up to you how detailed you want to be with your food descriptions but you do need to be consistent.  After a couple of weeks of writing down everything you eat and drink, you’ll have a realistic idea of how much and what foods are typical for you.  Then, you can start making changes!

Most of us eat more than we think we do and we have unrealistic ideas of portion size and calorie count.  You don’t need to weigh everything but if the hamburger for lunch was two patties bigger than the palm of your hand, you need to write that down.  Also, if there were three parts to the bun and two slices of cheese, those need to be written down!  So when we start to make changes, we shouldn’t plan sweeping global changes to our food. Telling yourself “I’m starting keto on Monday” or “I’m going Paleo tomorrow” is going to make you feel like you’re back on Everest in that windbreaker!

The best approach is a little like Google Maps: you know how the app shows you both the whole route with the next turn highlighted at the top? That’s the way you need to do this! You know what your ultimate goal is but your focus needs to be on your next turn, not that freeway offramp by your destination! You’re not even on the freeway yet! Focus on getting to the onramp first!

Start with a small step.  Elizabeth Benton suggests starting with breakfast (a good idea!) but it can be something as simple as cutting out the sweets or giving up soda.  It can also be something like cutting your portion sizes in half.  Once you’ve gotten the first step under control, whatever you’ve chosen, then you can move on to the next step.  This can be working on a better lunch, cutting out more carbs, or replacing more processed foods with whole foods. However you choose to eat (keto, Paleo, Whole 30, etc), most of us are in a hurry to get there but rushing is another bad step.  To use the Google Maps analogy, when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, it’s easier to get lost because you aren’t focused on following the directions.  You want to take shortcuts that don’t always work. Our bodies don’t change overnight so any changes we make won’t show results overnight either!

Remember back to that Twelve Step program I mentioned earlier? Another important point is “one day at a time.” You can’t go from getting drunk on Friday to being sober four years on Monday! You have to earn those four years one day at a time! By being patient, dealing with situations as they come up and learning from mistakes, we eventually figure out what triggers our cravings, what our weaknesses are and how we need to avoid them.  It’s the same, whether we’re trying to stay sober or lose 50 lbs.

By being patient and learning what we are doing now that’s not healthy for us, we learn how to make positive changes to our eating and our behavior.  Our focus needs to be on making positive changes and taking positive steps. We can look at the distance we have to travel and wish it didn’t take so long, but wishing isn’t going to get us to our goal weight.  The only thing that will is making those changes and making them day after day after day.  It’s not a quick trip but the best part about it is that once you get there, it’s for good! Welcome to the neighborhood!

 

 

 

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.]