Resources: Sharing is Caring- really!

One of the most important things I have learned on my weight loss journey is that resources are key to your success.  When I say resources, I mean things like a supportive community, reliable sources of information and the right tools for you.  Most people turn to the Internet, but the internet is a double edged sword.  While it can inform, it can also inundate.  Getting washed away by too much information is nearly as bad as having none at all.

When I realized I was actually losing weight and the changes I was making were actually becoming permanent, I went to the Internet to look for a diet that would work long term and be doable.  I also went back to the My Fitness Pal website, but this time, I began to use it!  This is when it started to dawn on me that not only is it easier to do this with friends, it’s practically impossible to do it without friends.  When they say things “it takes a village,” it’s the truth, not a cliché.  Doing the hard stuff is a whole lot easier when you know there are others doing it too!  It also puts difficult situations in perspective when you come home hurting or are feeling like you blew it and look online and see other people are having the same hard time: it’s not just you and no, you didn’t blow it—this is a normal situation and you can make progress!  You are just like everyone else going through this process and it’s not impossible!

I’ve made a list here of resources that I use pretty much all the time.  They work for me and if they don’t feel comfortable for you, don’t worry- it’s just a matter of finding something that does work for you! Hopefully, if these don’t, there’s a resource or a link that can help you find it!

The Paleo Lifestyle

This is more a way of life than an actual resource (obviously!) but I’m listing it because some people don’t know what it’s about, even though they may have heard about it in passing.  Paleo is simply put a whole foods diet.  People call it “the caveman diet” because one of the basic premises is “no foods our ancestors didn’t eat,” but really it comes down to eating as few processed foods as possible.  I stay away from most grains/ grain products because they tend to be highly processed, ie wheat gets turned into flour and turned into pasta or bread.  Some people argue about dairy products not being “Paleo,” but really what I do is eat foods as close to their natural state as possible, and most of my diet is vegetables, proteins, some fruit and a little dairy in the form of cream in my coffee and the occasional cheese or yogurt (I’m a little lactose intolerant).  I actually eat more vegetables than meat.  Most people think that the “caveman diet” is nothing but meat and it’s not- in fact, it’s mostly vegetables (I like broccoli and other cruciferous veggies with the occasional sweet potato thrown in!)  I think even you don’t want to “Paleo,” there is a benefit to limiting processed foods and refined carbohydrates.

My Fitness Pal (MFP)

This website and app is such an incredible source of support for me.  It lets you track your food, calories, nutrition, water intake and exercise.  You enter everything you eat and drink and the app/ website calculates the calories.  It’s got a huge database and if your food isn’t there (rarely happens!), you can add it in. It’s the same with exercise.  There are also forums available if you have questions, if you want to discuss or learn about a particular topic.  This is one place you can go to get information on some other resources & support.  It also lets you make friends.  It’s a lot like a fitness-oriented Facebook.  You get to see your friends’ posts and they see yours.  You can also message them in the app.  As I said, it’s an incredible source of support and information for me; I see that so many of them are dealing with the same issues I’m dealing with (I’m not a freak of nature! Yay!) and I can get some advice or at the very least, some perspective on what I’m going through.

Primal Potential & Elizabeth Benton

She is probably the second most important resource I have.  Incidentally, I got her name from one of my MFP friends.  Elizabeth has been through the same process I’m going through myself.  She has PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) which makes it hard to lose weight and has been overweight all her life.  After reaching nearly 350 lbs, and a lifetime of failed attempts, she learned to make sustainable long term changes, lost the weight and started Primal Potential to help others get healthier.  She has a lot of free information on her website, such as 100 healthy fat loss friendly meal ideas, free supportive wallpapers for your phone and a podcast available on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, and iHeartRadio.  She has other free information available in her free weekly newsletter and is very accessible by email and Facebook.  She has programs that you can purchase and she is hosting a women’s transformational weekend coming this November in Nashville (I think tickets are still available at her site).  She is very straightforward and honest about weight loss.  She does group coaching called Fast Track and the fall/winter fast track waiting list should be opening up sometime this fall.  She uploads new podcasts every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and all of the episodes are downloadable on Primal Potential.

Metabolic Radio/ Taylor Empey & Shane Pace

This is another podcast and website that I heard of through MFP.  Shane Pace, who is one of the hosts, is actually an MFP friend of mine.  He is a massage therapist and life-long lifter (weights).  Taylor is a fitness trainer and is in the process of becoming a registered dietician.  (They are both in Utah and I’m not sure what the certifications are there since I’m in California.  Their bios are available on the website.) Metabolic Radio is less centered on fat loss or weight loss like Primal Potential and is more focused on fitness and nutrition.  They have a private forum on Facebook that you can join once you send a request and you can ask them questions there or submit them to the podcast, where they do a weekly Q&A as well as episodes covering what’s trending in the fitness world and cover topics related to fitness, strength training and nutrition, such as supplements, how to choose a trainer, and probiotics, for example.  You can also sign up their free weekly newsletter or submit questions on the website.  They are relatively new to the podcast world but are growing fast.  They are so dedicated to giving you the best advice and if they don’t know the answer to your question, they will either find it or point you in the right direction.  They are much more oriented to fitness and training than Primal Potential and I think these two podcasts complement each other well.

Paleo Solution & Robb Wolf

You cannot have heard about Paleo without hearing about The Paleo Solution written by Robb Wolf.  This was one of the breakthrough books on Paleo (I blush to admit that I have not read it! Gasp!) I do however listen to his podcast.  One of the great things about his podcast is that he focuses on guests who cover different topics in the Paleo, health and nutrition world.  While Primal Potential and Metabolic Radio focus more on informational topics and questions from listeners, Robb’s guests cover various topics and tend to be experts in their fields, such as Dr. Mark Hyman, Katy Bowman and Dr. Jason Fung (to name a few!)  It’s a great way to keep up with the current trends in nutrition, Paleo, fitness and also get more background in the areas in which I am not well versed.

Paleo Magazine, Paleo Magazine Radio and Tony Federico

I was so excited to find there is an entire magazine dedicated to the Paleo lifestyle! This is a huge resource for me because it covers what’s new, what’s getting updated and it’s full of advertisements for Paleo friendly products! One of the problems with eating Paleo is that it’s hard to find products that aren’t highly processed or that come from non-GMO sources or aren’t full of things I don’t like eating.  (I don’t like eating crop oils, and most things have soybean / canola or corn oil in them.) So this magazine gives me all the latest information in my little nutritional niche, besides having a podcast (hosted by Tony) with guests who are at the forefront of new ideas and approaches in living healthy.  He recently attended the Ancestral Health Symposium and gave a great talk on the history of sedentarism (sitting) and how it’s not really healthy for you, and he also had several interviews with some of the big names in the AH and Functional Medicine arenas, not to mention a rousing discussion on the great Pokemon Go opportunities at the Symposium itself. Seriously! (I don’t play but it sounded like a lot of fun, and if you can’t have fun being fit, what’s the point?) Even if you’re not eating Paleo, it has some great info on healthy living in general.  I think it’s worth a look and I got my first copy at Barnes & Noble.  They also offer a digital version via a smartphone app!

The Paleo Women, Noelle Tarr and Stefani Ruper

This is a podcast I recently started listening to, so I’m still learning a lot about the hosts.  I do want to note that shortly after I started listening, I realized they had placed #2 in the “Best New Podcast” category in Paleo Magazine.  Number 1 (Nom Nom Paleo) is also an excellent podcast but they do not seem to be producing new episodes.  The Paleo Women seems to be geared mainly for younger women (I am 50) but I still think they have a lot of great ideas for healthy nutrition (they had a long discussion on apples! Lol) and just general fitness.  They are also a lot of fun to listen to.  It’s a lot like having coffee with a couple of friends and chatting about fitness, health and nutrition.

Some Helpful Tools

Everything is easier to do when you have the right tools and why make things harder on yourself? Getting fit and/ or losing weight is hard enough!  The list that I have here is by no means comprehensive and they are definitely not specific for Paleo, but I’ve found they are enormously helpful for me, especially when I was starting out.

Food Journal

I know a lot of people don’t like keeping a food journal.  They think it’s a hassle or it’s a little embarrassing.  It’s not about tracking calories, although you can; it’s about finding out what foods work better for you.  Elizabeth Benton (see above) recommends tracking what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat it and how it makes you feel (ie, low energy, really hungry, sugar spike, etc).  She has some great templates on her website if you want to check those out.  MFP  (also above) is essentially a calorie & food tracking app.  You enter in what you ate and how much and it automatically tracks your calories and your macros for you.  There is also a place where you can add food notes, like “ravenously hungry after breakfast” or “really worn out after workout,” etc.  The drawback is that it’s a little tough to page back to look at the trends.  I like a paper book journal.  The one I use is DietMinder from Memory Minder and they are available on their website or at Amazon.  I got my first one from Barnes & Noble.  It’s made mostly for tracking things like calories, macros and fiber, water, exercise, but it’s got some open spaces where I take notes and add in what I’m currently tracking.  The point of the journal is if you aren’t going in the direction you want, you can look at what you’re doing to make changes.  I was eating very low carb at one point and I was getting very tired so when I looked at my journal, I saw that the tiredness started when my carbs dropped 100 grams or lower.  I find now that when I keep my carbs around 135, I have energy and I still lose weight.

Nutrition for Dummies

This is important no matter what diet or lifestyle you try out!  As I’ve mentioned before, I like the Dummies books because they assume you know nothing and are laid out in a pretty straightforward manner and are easy to navigate.  This book covers the basics in nutrition and lets you know what you need to eat to stay healthy as a human being, and if you are going vegetarian or vegan, where some pitfalls might be hiding.  A lot of times, I’d see patients on My 600 lb Life who are eating badly and think they are doing great but they are actually malnourished, or eating high carbohydrates.  This book explains what all those macros are in detail and why we need to get certain vitamins and minerals.  If you haven’t looked at nutrition since high school biology and you’re starting a new eating plan, you might want to give it a look.  It’ll explain to you why something like the pasta lover’s diet might not be your best option!

Scales (Yes! The infernal Contraptions!)

I’ll be honest: I hated scales!  Food scales, me scales, any kind!  I really didn’t want to get one to weigh me, but I figured I couldn’t track my progress without one, since I only got weighed at the doctor’s office.  I finally broke down and ordered one off Amazon (the ubiquitous supplier of everything in my life!).  I got an EatSmart brand scale that has an extra wide platform and will weigh up to 500lbs.  It’s digital and it’s got an auto-shut off and calibration.  I like it (as much as I can like a scale!) and it’s been pretty reliable.  The best thing is that I can check my weight at home.

The other scale I finally bought is an Ozeri digital food scale (again from Amazon).  I’d actually had this one for over a year before it got reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen and it was their best buy! (Whoo hoo- I did good!)  This scale is flat so it’ll fit in a drawer, has clear tare and unit buttons (so you can switch between grams & ounces & milliliters) and an easy readout.  It’ll weigh up to 11 lbs and also has an auto- shut off.  The reason I bought the scale wasn’t so much obsessing about accuracy of how much I ate, but to help me determine portion size.  When you go to a restaurant, the amount of food they give you is not a portion for one meal; it’s usually for several meals, but if that’s what you’re used to seeing, you have no idea (I didn’t anyway!) of what one serving of meat/ veggies/ pasta looks like.  I got it so I could get an idea of what a serving of nuts looks like (0.25 cup) or what 4 oz. of meat looks like.  Now I have a pretty good idea, but I still use it almost every day, mainly out of habit, but it helps me stay on target with portion sizes!

I also bought a cheap whiteboard for my fridge to help with the food scale.  I discovered shortly after I got the Ozeri that I was having to write down the amounts on scraps of paper and then having to gather up the scraps when I wrote the numbers in my journal, or I was bringing my journal into the kitchen ( and getting it full of gunk!), so when school was starting up, I got one of the $5 whiteboards (made for student lockers) with the magnetic pen with the eraser tip. It hangs easily on my fridge right next to the scale; I write stuff down, and it makes this a lot easier.  Since I’m posting this in September, there should be a lot of these whiteboards available out there right now!

Living Paleo for Dummies

Again with the Dummies!  I got this because I was interested in this lifestyle and it definitely answered my questions!  It also has sections on movement and work outs (with pictures!) and a recipes section!  There are a lot of Paleo books out there but this one doesn’t espouse one particular field or author.  If you are interested in Paleo, I think a lot of my other resources can help you find your way, especially Paleo Magazine and the Paleo Solution and Robb Wolf.

I’m also going to give a plug for cookbooks.  I don’t particularly like cookbooks because I’m not that kind of cook.  If it needs a recipe, it’s too complicated for me, but I know lots of people use them!  One I did buy is Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong.  They are definitely not chefs and so their style of cooking is pretty simple and easy and their food is great! (They also have an app and a blog!)  Elizabeth Benton also has 100 Fat Loss Friendly Recipes on her website for free and she also did a podcast on fat loss friendly meals under $1.99 a serving (mostly available from Trader Joe’s but I’ve got one, so yay!)  The point I’m trying to make is that if you are starting something new or something very different from how you have been cooking/ eating, you want to have some kind of framework (which is what these tools & resources are supposed to be!)  They’re kind of like training wheels until you can get your balance! You don’t have to use them, but if they help, why not give them a look?  I’m not associated with any of the above except as an average consumer.  I’ve tried these products and I like them.  You might not, but hopefully you can find something similar that will be helpful to you!  As always, if you have any questions, you can leave a comment here and I will get back to you!  Thanks!

Processed Foods as a Whole (or Should That Be ‘Hole’?)

When I was a kid, I got a cookbook for Christmas one year and I was pretty excited.  (It was the Betty Crocker cookbook, FYI & before I finally killed it, it was covered with all kinds of spills and notes!) It seems kind of funny now to think that I used to cook regularly and I never thought twice about it.  Making pancakes on Sunday mornings consisted of milk, oil, eggs, baking powder, whole wheat and all purpose flour.  I think there was a little salt in there too!  People would look at me funny sometimes when I said that I did things like make tapioca pudding from scratch as well as the pancakes and other things most people make out of boxes and mixes.  It’s not that I’m some master chef– Hah! Hardly! I had these things on hand because I used them regularly (the tapioca also went in apple pies), and in retrospect, I think they tasted better than the stuff you get packaged and already made.  But more importantly, now that I look back, even though the food I was making may not have been the healthiest, it started mostly with whole foods: apples, butter, whole wheat flour, eggs, milk.

I’m going to take a page from the Oldster’s Handbook here: I remember when microwaves first came out.  I was a kid, maybe about 8 or so, and the 7-11 store near my house had one.  It was about as big as a conventional oven and no one was allowed to touch it except the store clerk.  If you wanted something that had to be microwaved like popcorn or a burrito (FYI: even the microwave popcorn was kept frozen back then!), you paid for it at the counter and then the clerk nuked it for you.  It was amazing! (My mom was convinced you got cancer from the microwaves, of course.) The idea of making food in minutes instead of hours was something out of Star Trek.  We were used to food taking, if not hours to prepare, at least a fair amount of time.  Processed food in the 1970’s mainly consisted of canned foods like soups, stews, chili beans, sardines, etc, and boxed items like pasta (mainly spaghetti back then) and rice.  There weren’t a lot of jarred sauces and certainly nothing in aseptic packaging or MREs.  If it wasn’t frozen or canned, your choices were limited.  (FYI: the bagels we got as kids were also frozen! And they weren’t the size of softballs, either!)  Most of us still made food that started out as something fresh from the meat counter or the produce section.

Of course as technology got better, processed foods became more prevalent.  I suppose consumers would say the quality of the product improved as well.  The TV dinners I had as a kid were definitely not high quality, usually consisting of overdone mystery meat, a puffed up mashed potatoey substance, shriveled peas and carrots, and a sticky gluey sugary mess.  They were pretty bad and they took almost an hour to cook but to us they were the height of technology and we ate them because we didn’t have anything else. We were more concerned with how they tasted rather than whether they were good for us.  We didn’t look at them as a regular part of our diet either: they were something on hand because we couldn’t get to the grocery store and make a real dinner before bedtime.  We knew that our “real” food was stuff like roasted chicken and homemade mashed potatoes, or spaghetti and salad.  But sometime in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, that changed.  Meals became something that started with a box of flavored rice or flavored pasta mix.  We still cooked it in a pan or a pot but it began and consisted mostly of something processed that came from a box or a jar.  We might add something else to is, like mushrooms or vegetables or meat, but the bulk of it was now something processed. And it proceeded to get more processed from there.

Listening to a podcast the other day (Paleo Solution & Katy Bowman was the guest), she said schools had put whole apples on the menu for the kids’ lunches and the kids were complaining that the apples were not only hard to hold, they were hard to eat because they had to bite into them and chew them.  I guess apples today for most kids come sliced up in plastic bags.  (Frankly, it’s a little scary to me to think that people don’t know what raw food looks like.) I guess for them oranges come in cans, unless they are the super sweet easy peel seedless mandarins.

The point of Ms. Bowman’s episode was really about movement, and how we are becoming a completely sedentary culture (I would use the word “lazy”) but my point is real food takes time to cook and to digest.  There’s a big movement now towards “slow food” and “whole food” but I would just call it “real food.”  That’s what it is: it’s food that has been as unaltered and unadulterated as possible.  It used to make me chuckle a little when I’d read the label on the loaf  of white bread: it had vitamins and nutrients added to it because the processing destroyed whatever vitamins, fiber and nutrients were in the whole food ingredients.  The reason processed food takes less time to cook is because it’s pre-cooked and for the most part, pre-digested.  There’s less work for your body to do because the work is half-done in the factory.  The food has been broken down into an easily accessible and easy to use form and then the manufacturers have mixed it with preservatives or whatever system they are using to extend the shelf-life so it can be shipped off to a store or a warehouse for however long it takes before someone decides to “heat and eat.” The farther the food is away from its natural state, the easier it is for the body to break down (meaning metabolize) and the fewer nutrients it has in it because most of them are destroyed during the processing (that’s kind of what the word means).  Some companies add nutrients to the food after processing, but there are issues with what’s known as “bio-availability.” (Just because your protein powder has x grams of protein per serving doesn’t mean that your body can actually absorb that protein!)

When experts and doctors and other health gurus talk about the obesity epidemic and the type 2 diabetes epidemic, they are quick to point the finger at sugar, trans fat, fast food & junk food (the “usual suspects”), but they are missing the rest of the gang.  These usual suspects are only the more visible culprits in the “bad food” mafia.  It’s processed foods in general that are the real guilty parties.  The sugar, trans fats, fast food & junk food are part of it, but it’s also the boxes of macaroni & cheese, the microwavable ready to eat meals, the canned soups, stews and meats, the frozen dinners, pies and cakes and the processed bakery goods. Basically, if it has an “ingredients” list and comes in a box or a bag, it’s been processed. That means the food has been broken down in some way, had chemicals/ preservatives added to it and probably things taken out. The more processed a food is, the farther away it is from its natural state and that’s what is making us unhealthy.  When you eat a processed food, like a bagel and cream cheese, the wheat has been broken down into a powder (flour) and it’s in an easily digestible form, so instead of getting all the nutrients from the wheat berry (as well as the indigestible fiber that goes through your body), your body only gets the starch, which is quickly turned into glucose which causes a rapid spike in your blood sugar, which causes a rapid spike in insulin, which then leads to a blood sugar crash once the glucose from the bagel is cleared from your blood.  Your body does not have to work for the glucose- it’s like getting dessert without having your dinner.  When you eat a whole food, even something like those big troublesome crunchy apples, you do get the natural sugar in the fruit, but you also get the fiber and the nutrients, since it’s a raw apple.  The fiber in the apple takes longer to process than the bagel, so the glucose hits your blood stream more slowly than the bagel’s starch.  There is less of a spike in your insulin secretion and that means your blood glucose levels stay steadier longer.  That’s a good thing, because one of the reasons we get hungry after eating a big plate of spaghetti or a bowl of cereal, or a bagel, is because once the blood sugar crashes, your body wants to raise it (in an effort to keep it steady) and it triggers your hunger.

This is how eating a lot of processed foods can cause weight gain: you eat the pasta, the potato chips, the crackers, insert processed food here, and then you get hungry an hour or so later, so you eat something else.  You are usually consuming way more calories than you need because your body is always trying to keep your blood sugar steady, but the processed foods keep causing  highs and lows: bagel= spike= crash; chips= spike = crash; fries= spike= crash.  You keep getting hungry, you keep eating, your body gains weight.  And worse yet, you’re getting fewer nutrients in the processed foods.  This is how overweight people end up suffering from malnutrition, because, really, how much nutrition is there in burgers, fries, and soda?

In addition to consuming more calories than you need, you never get a chance to burn off the fat your body is storing from the processed foods, because your body can’t burn fat and store it at the same time, and it only burns fat when there is no insulin in the blood, but if you are always eating easily metabolized starchy foods (like rice, pasta and chips), there is almost always insulin in the blood to clear the glucose the digestive system is pulling out of the processed foods.  So, you keep eating, keep getting hungry and keep putting on weight.  It’s a difficult and frustrating vicious cycle to get out of : you keep eating but you keep feeling hungry! (I was trapped there for most of my adult life! It’s hell!!)

So how do you get out of this metabolic nightmare? Eat as few processed foods as possible! That’s not to say you can’t ever have a bagel or a donut or pasta again; you just have to be a savvy consumer (literally)! If you do eat the bagel or the pasta, make sure you eat it with something that is not a simple or refined carb (that would be the bagel/ pasta), like broccoli or cheese or meat.  So if you have the pasta, have pasta primavera with lots of veggies and some meat, or have the bagel as part of a sandwich with meat or cheese or veggies.  The protein, fat and fiber in the non-processed foods help to delay and even out the metabolism of the processed foods.  If you eat the donut without a protein, fat or fiber, just remember that once the insulin clears the glucose from your blood, there’s going to be a crash and you’ll probably be hungry, not to mention low energy and maybe even drowsy. The best thing to do is to get away from eating things that are processed: no boxed foods, no refined carbs, no canned or frozen prepared foods.  The farther away it is from its natural state, the less nutrition it has and less time it’s going to take for your body to break it down. That’s not to say all things in boxes or bags are bad; I remember the last time I bought a bag of frozen cherries.  When I looked on the back the ingredients list read: “dark sweet cherries (may contain pits).” Your goal is to keep food as natural as possible. It’ll have more nutrition and take longer for your body to metabolize.  This is what you want because the longer it takes to hit your bloodstream, the steadier your blood glucose stays.  No spikes mean no crashes and that means your body can clear the glucose and move out of storage mode and into fat burning mode.  It means more nutrition for your body and less calories that get stored as fat.

This is how I finally managed to get out of that vicious carb cycle of hell: I phased the processed foods out of my diet. You don’t have to go cold-turkey all at once (I’m really not a fan of cold turkey, figuratively or otherwise!) It’s not difficult at all to do: when you run out of whatever processed food you had at home, buy a whole food instead when you go shopping! So if you are out of pancake mix or cereal or oatmeal, buy a whole breakfast food instead like eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurt or cottage cheese.  When you run out of pasta, buy veggies instead.  It takes a little meal planning and usually weekly shopping because whole foods tend not to have the same shelf life, but over time, you wind up with very few processed foods and more whole foods.  I buy a lot of bagged salad kits personally, because it’s just me at home and a whole bunch of salad greens are is too expensive besides the fact that they would probably go bad before I ate all of them (even eating salad five days a week like I usually do!) Even the bottle of salad dressing tends to go bad because I am not a fan of vinegar & oil.  I also buy sausages, bacon and cheese, but that’s about as processed as I get.  Everything else is fresh meat, fruits or veggies.  When you make this a practice over time, you transition slowly so it’s not a huge shift and it becomes a new habit, a healthier one.  If you want some great whole food meal ideas, there are a lot of websites with great information: Elizabeth Benton’s Primal Potential; Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry; Paleo Leap; and Mark Sisson’s Mark’s Daily Apple. If you want to read more on this topic (from an actual professional with letters after his name), there is the aforementioned Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry?; Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution; Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint; and Jason Fung’s Obesity Code as well as  Living Paleo for Dummies (which is what I started with).

Honestly, when I went looking for a more nutritious lifestyle, I had no intention of moving away from processed foods (I seriously had about 10 boxes of mac & cheese in my cupboard).  I decided on Paleo because it was the simplest and it used real “normal”food. I thought it was something I could enjoy long term, and so far, I am! Over the course of the last year and a half, what I have learned is that processed foods (not carbs or fat or red meat, or sugar, etc) are the real problem.  We eat too much of them because they are too easy to prepare and they are cheap and last forever on the shelf! I have had a few processed foods since I went Paleo, but the majority of what I eat now are whole natural foods.  I’ve learned not only do they taste better, but they are better for me and the health benefits I’ve gained from them are monumental to me: I have lost 160 lbs, no longer take medication for my blood sugar and my mobility is far better than it ever was at 438 lbs. FYI: I threw out the last two boxes of mac & cheese!

 

TMI: Buried by Information Overload

I’m an info junkie.  I completely subscribe to Erasmus’ attitude: “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Every time I go to the bookstore, I’m always looking at the nutrition books: oooh! there’s one on Paleo that I haven’t looked at yet! Look- there’s one by so-and-so on fitness! (eye roll) Like I really need another book! Or magazine.  Or article or website or podcast.  Usually when we talk about TMI, it’s because someone just told us something we really didn’t need to hear (usually it’s something gross or waaay too personal). But TMI (too much information) can be a real problem, especially when it comes to something like weight loss, fitness or nutrition.

The health industry is a huge ever-evolving entity.  There’s always a new study or a new gimmick hitting the internet.  (I heard someone today mention the “taco diet.” Really?? A taco diet?!) While a river of free flowing information is a good thing, it can also turn into a flood that washes you away or at least your good intentions.  If you tried to follow everyone’s advice, you wouldn’t get very far at all.  In fact, it’d be kind of tough to eat your carbs in the morning to make sure you have time to burn them off and then to eat your carbs only in the evening so you don’t get an exaggerated insulin response by eating them in the morning.  Yeah, you read those statements right; one school of thought advocates carbs in the morning and another advocates carbs in the evening.  Nutrition and health are a lot like religion: there are a lot of them out there so you need to find the one that speaks to you and that’s the one you follow.  That doesn’t mean the others are wrong or that yours is wrong; it really a matter of faith and finding the one that works for you.

My sister chooses to be vegetarian.  It works for her and she has been following that for several years with great success.  I however like being an omnivore and lately I’ve had a lot of good success with that.  My sister eats more refined carbohydrates than I do and she doesn’t have any problems.  I however do have problems when I eat too many refined carbs.  They really don’t agree with me. She also eats a lot more cheese and dairy than I do and again has no problems.  Dairy doesn’t like me very much, so I keep it to a minimum, mainly because I like it so much in my coffee and the occasional snack, but too much is not good for me.

I generally follow a Paleo/primal diet.  Again, depending on who you listen to, my eating patterns could be considered Paleo (minimal processed foods) or primal (because there’s dairy in there!) but does it really matter what you call it?  If I adhered to a strict Paleo philosophy, I might leave out the dairy altogether and probably a few other foods that I occasionally eat (like rice and a few other occasional anomalies). Others might say that I’m actually a primal eater, because I do include dairy and the occasional legumes and grain products.  The important thing is that my way of eating works for me: I like it and my body seems to be healthier.

The hard part isn’t what I decide to call my “diet”; the hard part was deciding what to choose.  (I really don’t think of it as a diet.  To me, this is a permanent lifestyle change and the word “diet” implies it’s a temporary thing.  Ooops! TMI!) There are a lot of diets and weight loss plans out there, literally bookshelves full of them!  When you go through the health/ fitness/ nutrition section of the bookstore or library, you can easily been overwhelmed by information overload. Too much info jamming your brain’s servers! How do you know which one to pick?! Where do you even start?! This is why the weight loss industry is a booming industry: people start something, it doesn’t work for them (for whatever reason), so they ditch it and go on to the next one. Unfortunately for them, it usually means spending not only time but money on whatever approach failed for them. This not only puts money in the pockets of the weight loss industry, it breeds discouragement and frustration in the buyer.  (Right now in my garage, I have boxes of Nutrisystem packaged foods that didn’t work for me that I still need to throw out!)

Just sorting through the various books and websites and programs can be a daunting task.  This is why so many people opt for the simple solution: they ask a friend or relative what diet they are on.  This has some advantages and disadvantages.  Obviously one of the good things is that they now have a “diet buddy” and we all know it’s easier to lose weight/ exercise more if you have someone doing it with you for support and motivation.  The not so good thing is that what works for them may not work for you.  Like my earlier example with my sister’s vegetarianism: I tried that years ago when I was in college and in addition to getting a little anemic, I discovered I’m really pretty picky with my vegetables and all the grain and dairy products were really not good for me! (It’s kind of the opposite of what I eat now, actually!) So if you start on the same diet that your friend/ family member is on, and it doesn’t work for you, it can lead to increased frustration, confusion and disappointment: “what am I doing wrong? I’ve been on this diet for a month and lost 2 lbs- she’d lost ten by this time! I’m doing the same things! Why aren’t I losing weight?” It can lead to some drastic steps, like over exercising or undereating in an attempt to “make the diet work” when the plain simple truth might just be that that “diet plan” doesn’t work for you.

I think the first clue that a diet isn’t going to work is approaching it like a diet, with what Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) calls a “dieting mindset.” Approaching weight loss/ healthy living like it’s a diet means thinking of it as a temporary thing, and Elizabeth likes to say “I don’t work hard for temporary.” When I went looking for a healthier diet, I didn’t look at it as “how long will it take me to lose X lbs on this diet?”; I asked myself “is this something I can do for the rest of my life?”  (Believe me, asking myself if I could live the rest of my life without eating all the bread & pasta I can devour in every day was a serious question for me!)  I really think this is the best way to approach a new diet.  If it’s not going to be something you can do every day for the foreseeable future and enjoy it, then DON’T DO IT! It will not work because waking up every morning to continue a lifestyle you hate is not worth it and you will eventually sabotage yourself. (I lived the life from hell already- spare yourself the pain!) If your new diet means eating kale and grilled chicken breast every day and you hate kale and chicken breast (YUCK!), then are you really going to keep doing it? Is there incentive to keep it up? More importantly, is it going to make you happy? When I started my new eating style, I ate a lot of chicken thighs and broccoli (really, I’m surprised I didn’t turn green!), but I really like chicken thighs and broccoli and I enjoyed eating it several times a week.  It was in line with my health goals, I liked it, it made me happy and that was incentive enough to keep doing it over and over again. By contrast, I wanted to try a ketogenic diet.  I’d heard a lot of good things about it and most people recognize it as a short term diet, so I figured I’d try it for few weeks and see if I got any benefit from it. DISASTER! I couldn’t even get into ketosis because I could not get past the “keto flu.” It was a horrible experience for me- I felt awful pretty much all of the time and once I realized what was going on, I stopped it.  I have friends who do keto and love it and do great on it, but it’s definitely not for me.

Whatever new eating plan you decide on, those need to be some serious considerations.  You need to choose something that you’ll enjoy doing and then make the adjustments over time.  My mom was always giving me diet books that required me to make radical changes right away or eat/ make weird foods that would really just annoy me over time and then make another change to another weird food/ ingredient! I didn’t even try them because I know I’m going to be able to keep it up.

Another important thing you need to do when you start your new eating plan is to TRACK YOUR FOOD & FEELINGS!  If you’ve never done this before and don’t know what it is, Elizabeth Benton has some great tracking ideas and templates on her site PrimalPotential.com.  (I said it before and I’ll probably keep saying it: if you haven’t checked out her site, she’s got awesome ideas and most of them are free! I’m not affiliated- just a fan!) I personally use a DietMinder journal.  They are available at MemoryMinder.com and Amazon.  I like them because they are pre-formatted but still flexible. Use the pages you want and ignore the ones you don’t.  But the bottom line for tracking is to write down what you eat and your response to it. Example: I used to eat a breakfast burrito in the morning about 7:30: tortilla, eggs, sausage & cheese.  By 10:30, I was hungry and feeling kind of cruddy.  On days when I just had sausage, I didn’t get hungry until around noon, and I didn’t feel all tired and drained.  Conclusion: the burrito wasn’t working for me.  I ditched the burrito.  The same thing happened when I tried the keto diet: I looked at the last week after feeling completely awful and realized that my carbs were under 100 g (closer to 50-80) all of those days, but before that, when my carbs were over 100 g, I felt pretty good, and I realized what my problem was. Ditched the keto.

You should also weigh or take measurements, whichever you prefer.  Our weight naturally fluctuates so I started out weighing every four to six weeks.  Now I weigh weekly but I weigh every Friday morning about the same time in the same clothes, and if it is fluctuating, I don’t freak out.  I also take measurements, because it shows me where I am losing inches (waist and hips are usually fat loss) and where I am building muscle (biceps). However you want to measure your gains and losses, make note of where you are starting from, track your food, track your feelings/ energy level (the DietMinder has a notes section) and then give it a few days, either a couple weeks or a month.  If you are really not enjoying the changes, even if you are losing weight, it’s a big clue that it’s not a great plan for you and you should probably either make some changes or find a different plan.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the health/ nutrition/ fitness information out there and you need to be a savvy shopper.  Look at what the diet or eating style entails.  If you’re someone who loves making smoothies or eating kale and that’s what it requires, then go for it and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t work.  But you need to follow a few simple guidelines to give yourself the best opportunities for success: 1) track your food and progress; 2) make gradual changes to your eating/ exercise; 3) keep your eyes on your own work.  You aren’t competing with anyone else and what works for your sister or your friends may not work for you.If it ends up not working for you, like my disastrous keto experiment-ugh!, then move on to find something else.  This is your health we’re talking about so don’t jump on the nearest fad. Take some time and look at what’s out there, and even if you don’t find an actual “diet,” you can still make positive changes and you can still track those changes, and continue to make improvements.  (It’s what I did until I heard about Paleo.) You are the one who decides what’s right for you.  If you like your changes, and you are making good progress, then don’t let anyone dissuade you.  Just tell them you’re on the “Insert Your Name Here” diet!

Taking Stock of the Journey Thus Far

  I weigh 283 lbs.  That is shocking to me.  It would be shocking for most people but not for the same reasons.  For most of my adult life, I weighed more than 300 lbs.  For the last ten years or so, I weighed 375 or more, then tipped over the 400 mark about 2011 or 2012.  I think the last time I weighed under 300 was some time in the early 90’s or maybe the late 80’s.  I’ve been pretty focused on getting under 300 since the beginning of 2016, but it was mainly just as a goal.  I was so thrilled when I finally hit the 200’s because I had reached my “goal” and then I started focusing on the new one: getting under 290.  Now the realization that “I am under 300 lbs” is finally hitting me.  I know other people still see an obese woman, but for me, I am noticing how much smaller and stronger I am, and I keep finding little reminders, mainly with my clothes.  The 4x shorts that I used to wear around the house and after the pool are way too big now.  They literally fall off unless I use a binder clip to keep them up.  There are a couple pair of slacks I wear to work that I need the binder clip on, so I have to wear a long top to hide the clip.  I have a few “at home” pants that need the same clip, and I think I need to take in the waist on my swim shorts, since they start to slide off when I exercise in the pool.  I had stopped wearing last summer’s swimsuit because the top and the shorts were sliding off.  I had figured it was because the suit was old and stretched out (could be!) but the fact is now, both of them are now getting big on me (I got the new one in March).  The shoes that I barely got into in March now fit fine; the ones that I could barely tie when I got them in 2014 are now a little loose and the two pairs of sandals that nearly needed another hole punched in the straps: I’ve tightened both of them three times since I keep stepping out of them.  A few of my tops are starting to hang on me, and most of the ones I wear to work now are hand-me-downs from my younger, smaller, sister.  I was shopping online and found a cute top, but I didn’t buy it because I was afraid it would hang on me too (it was a plus size site.)  Also, one of my rings which was nearly too tight now fits on my middle finger, the one that fit fine is now so loose I take it off in the pool (nearly lost it a few times working out) and the small size ring my mom gave me that I could not wear now fits although it’s kinda tight.

Walking around the office I am almost always conscious of how easy it is to walk (and walk a little fast!).  I’m also aware of how relatively flat my stomach is, how much more defined the muscles are in my arms, how bony my knees look and how I actually have contours in my calves.  I also have shoulders and a collarbone again. It’s been pretty weird seeing the physical changes in my body because for so long I was focused on the number on the scale and tracking my nutrition.  The changes in my body were a by-product, and, yeah, I was noticing but like my weight loss, I didn’t really internalize it.  It was an interesting and encouraging by-product, but beyond that, the only thing about the changes that really concerned me was the loose skin and the varicose veins in my legs that were becoming noticeable now that the surrounding adipose tissue (code for “fat”) was going away.

I think the realization kind of really hit me when I saw my doctor at the end of June 2016.  I had last seen her early in the year and I only needed to see her for my ongoing arthritis (knees) and bone spur (lumbar spine). When I last saw her, I had already lost about 100 and my doctor was very enthusiastic and supportive.  When my doctor walked into the room a few weeks ago, she was in awe—literally in awe—of my weight loss.  I had seen the number of pounds lost going up and I had seen the congratulatory comments from my fitness friends and I had rejoiced in my ongoing progress.  I’m competitive, so seeing my friends’ weight loss numbers rising kept encouraging me to lose more, do better, make better choices and that’s part of the motivational process with My Fitness Pal, but until I saw the look on my doctor’s face, I don’t think I realized the enormity (yeah, it’s a pathetic pun) of my weight loss: 150 lbs then and another five since.

 In June of 2014, when I went to the doctor, I weighed in at 438.  I was utterly miserable; at the time, I thought my weight had little to do with it.  I thought it was stress from my job that was the source of my misery, and I wasn’t entirely wrong.  The stress was causing a lot of real problems with my life and though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was contributing to my obesity, but it was only one of a lot of factors.

After I left my “killer job,” it started a snowball effect which led eventually to my weight loss.  I started losing weight in January 2015 after making a series of what I thought were unconnected changes.  The bottom line is that I went back to my doctor’s on June 30th and two years later, I weighed in at 289.  That’s 149 lbs lost in two years.  When I saw my doctor in July 2015, I had already lost close to 100 lbs and my doctor was extremely enthusiastic to say the least.  When I went back to see her two weeks ago, she was literally in awe.  She essentially looked at my blood work and said it was all good.  Aside from checking on my knees and low back (I have arthritis, disc degeneration and bone spurs), her biggest concern was finding out if I was going to continue losing weight, why I started losing and where to go from here.

 It’s definitely been an adventure.  The simple explanation I gave my doctor was that after leaving my job, I got depressed, stopped eating fast food and that change alone was enough to spur a 40 lb weight loss.  I started watching My 600 lb Life and after having the crap scared out of me, I took Dr. Nowzaradan’s advice to eat a high protein- low carb diet. After that, I looked for ways to keep going with the weight loss and made a decision to keep going.

That’s the short version.  I literally made losing weight the focus of my life.  I spent a lot of time looking at books and diets and eating plans.  I looked for a support community.  The one that I went back to was My Fitness Pal, and this time I posted on the forums and made friends, so I have a mutually supportive group of people.  We support and motivate each other to keep going.  We look to each other for advice and resources.  One of them gave me the Primal Potential podcast/ website which is another resource for me.  This led me to find other podcasts, such as Metabolic Radio, the Paleo Solution, and Paleo Magazine Radio.  I continue to watch My 600 lb Life when it’s on and now My Big Fat Fabulous Life.  All these keep me focused on my goals: being healthier and continuing to lose weight.  (This blog does the same thing.)

I joke with my friends that all of these function as my “12 step meeting,” and while my friends kinda giggle over it, it’s true.  I honestly don’t know if what I can really be called a true addict when it comes to food, but I know that support is crucial when it comes to changing lifelong habits. I think most of the healthy habits I’ve developed have become permanent parts of life now.

The biggest indicator of this has come just recently.  I’ve been wanting certain foods, like apple fritters, pancakes, chocolate and others refined carbs that I used to eat regularly.  I had a couple donuts a few weeks ago on a lark.  Donuts have never been a real trigger for me; they always smell better than they taste to me, so resisting them has always been easy.  I had a two and they weren’t terrible, but they weren’t irresistible.  The biggest draw for me was that after I bought them, I saw they had apple fritters, which I really like, but I didn’t buy any because they were too much with the others that I’d already chosen.  For days afterwards, I kept thinking about them, but not buying them.  Partly because it was just wanting, but also because my new habits had sent me out the door with my breakfast already.  Yesterday when I went to the store, I had planned to buy me a buttermilk bar and split it for dessert tonight; they didn’t have the bars, but they did have apple fritters, but I went home without any donuts.  I wanted the buttermilk bar.  I stopped at See’s Candies earlier that day. I only got a few because usually once I eat a couple, I really REALLY want the rest, so I figure the fewer I have to binge on, the better.  Well, after eating the few I had planned on (about half), I didn’t feel the irresistible craving I usually get for candy.  In fact, I forgot about and left it on the coffee table when I went shopping for my weekly groceries.  My pup thankfully isn’t a chowhound so it was still there when I got back.  Still not craving the candy.  It’s so weird not to be craving the candy.  There’s a part of my brain that is saying “pancakes and bread and noodles are good and you should be eating them” but there is another part of my brain that says “eh, not worth the effort.”

On one level, it’s great knowing that I don’t have these cravings for foods that aren’t good for me, but on another level, it’s more than a bit disconcerting, because this is not who I am.  Or rather, this isn’t who I used to be.  Is this who I am now?  Because this is a person I don’t know.  I am not a person who looks at things like apple fritters and See’s Candy and doesn’t want them.  The same thing happened when I went to lunch with my dad the other day: we went to lunch at a buffet and when he ran out of tortilla chips, I went and got him more.  I sat there looking at the chips right next to me and I didn’t want them.  Last week I went out with friends and ordered a sandwich (it was the best option on the menu) and a side salad instead of the fries, but they screwed up and served me fries anyway.  My friends ate some and I left them there when I boxed up the rest of my sandwich.  I love fries, and tortilla chips, and apple fritters and chocolates.  Or at least I used to.  Who is this new person and what does she love?  Irony: at the lunch last Saturday, they ordered appetizers (deep fried calamari, cheese bites, shrimp and bruschetta) and I didn’t have any, but when my salad arrived I actually said “yay, salad!” and meant it.  Apparently, this new person loves salad.  In a way, it’ll be interesting finding out what she loves, but on another level, it’s rather disorienting and a little scary.  It’s new and uncharted territory, but I’m trying to look at it as an adventure, a journey of self-discovery.  We are used to people trying to “find themselves” as some kind of midlife crisis, but this is different.  It hasn’t been brought on by a crisis but instead by growth.  I’ve grown out of my comfort zone and I’m headed into a new frontier (I’m an old Trekkie- what can I say?). Discovery is exciting because it’s unknown, but that’s what also makes it scary.  Who knows what I’ll uncover and who knows who I’ll become? I guess I get to find out.

Off the Reservation: Recovering from a Binge

It has many names: binge; indulgence; treat; cheat day; but whatever you call it, it’s the same thing: overeating.  You’ve gone and eaten something that is not in line with your goals. Whether it’s too many calories, too much sugar, too many carbs, even just too much salt or whatever, now you are off the reservation in hostile territory and you need to find your way back.  This happens to all of us (happened to me the other day and will no doubt happen again!), but this is where a lot of weight loss warriors get lost and are never seen again.  It’s like a there is a black hole where they enter in and never come out (probably stuck in there with all our missing socks!).

Humor aside, it really is a serious matter if you are trying to lose weight or eat healthier.  Those of us who wander off track usually fall victim to one of two traps (or both).  The first is the failure mindset trap and the second is the cravings trap.  There is also the consistency stumbling block that just seems to make everything so much harder even if you find your way back.

But first you have to get back to friendly territory, which means dealing with the failure mindset.  All of us have been there.  It’s not only about weight loss; this is the mindset that says you tried to do something and didn’t accomplish it.  It’s the voice in your head that says “You’re never going to be able to play Chopin’s Polonaise in front of people, so what made you think you could do it this time?” It’s the voice and way of thinking that keeps you from trying what you really want to do.  It’s the voice of fear, telling you that you are a failure, you’ll always be a failure, so don’t even try to be better at anything.

This mindset is sometimes referred to as a kind of mental quicksand, because a lot of times you don’t realize you’re stuck in it until you try to get out, and then, it seems like the more you try, the more mired you become.  You get used to the failure/ negative voice in your head telling you that you can’t do it (whatever “it” is) and so not only don’t you not attempt it, you start rationalizing why you can’t or why it’s not a good idea. Once you start listening for the voice, you begin to recognize the negative voice when you hear it.  Believe me, it may sound like a sensible friend, but it’s not. It’s like Iago, pretending to be Othello’s trusted advisor but truly his worst enemy.  (Personally, I’d love to cast someone like Michael J. Fox as Iago- someone who looks like a trusted friend instead of a creepy villainous fiend- really, who trusts someone who looks like a mugger?! But Michael J. Fox? Now there’s a trustworthy soul!) Your negative voice is the same way: it sounds like your buddy but it’s really invested in keeping you in failure territory! DON’T LISTEN TO IT!!

For me, it was the voice that said “everyone in your family has weight problems; it’s genetic, so you can’t help it and you can’t fight against it.” “You know, if you do lose all the weight, you’ll need surgery to remove all that extra skin and you’ll have scars all over your body, or worse, you won’t be able to afford/ get the surgery and then you’ll just have all that loose saggy skin! Better to be fat and not have those problems!” “You know, you’re really not that fat/ unhealthy! You can still do lots of things and a lot of guys like chubby chicks!” Yeah.  That’s the voice of my ‘friend,’ keeping me in failure territory! This is also the voice that leads you down the garden path that takes you OFF THE RESERVATION to tour this little region of purgatory! “It’s one cookie- really, are you going to be so uptight you can’t have one lousy cookie?!” “You were really good and on track all month; you deserve a piece of cake!” “All of your friends are going out to eat, and if you don’t go with them, you’ll look like you’re too good/ too uptight/ unsociable/ whatever.” This is the negative self talk that tries to keep you down, as opposed to the positive self talk that boosts your morale.

So now that you’ve learned to recognize the Iago voice when it speaks to you, you need to reply with the positive self talk that counteracts Iago’s insidious influence.  I discussed this more in depth in my post entitled It’s Me or the Cookie: I can v I can’t, so this is a little refresher course. Elizabeth Benton (PrimalPotential.com) likes to use affirmations, where you tell yourself daily how strong you are, how you can make good choices, how you can do this.  Personally, I like inspirational quotes (my personal favorite is Hannibal’s ‘I will either find a way, or make one.’) The only thing that matters is that you find a way to inspire you and use it daily and whenever the insidious negative voice starts leading you astray.  One of the biggest tip offs it’s that Iago voice talking to you: you have a discussion with yourself over it! When you’re at a restaurant and it’s between the broiled salmon and veggies or the chicken fettucine, it’s the voice that says don’t order the boring salmon. It’s the voice that reaffirms your negative feelings when you step on the scale and see you’re up a few pounds or you measure your hips and there’s no change.  When you start hearing the negative voice keeping you down and away from your goals, reply with the positive self talk that boosts your confidence and reminds you that you are stronger than you know (because you are!).  If that means keeping little notes in your pocket, purse or phone, do it! (I have post-its all over my cubicle at work and on the fridge at home!)

So now that you’re out of the failure mindset trap, there’s the cravings trap to beat! Some of us are lucky and we don’t fall into this trap too often, and sometimes, just when you think you’re out, it goes off and BAM! there you are, wanting an apple fritter (or the chocolate crossaint your cubicle neighbor is talking about)! The cravings trap comes from going off the rez and eating something that wasn’t on your plan: the carbs, the sugar, the sodium, or just too much! So you ate it… sigh. And now you want more of it, even though you weren’t happy with yourself for doing it and you’ve gotten away from the negative voice beating you up for doing it, but your body is telling you it wants more of what you just had.  A big part of that is biology: carbs and sugar send your blood sugar on a wild ride, going from extremely high extremely fast to extremely low.  You all know the sugar crash that comes after you’ve binged on a whole box of Red Vines, and when that happens, your body is telling you to raise your blood sugar out of the basement by eating something and it knows that sugar and carbs (usually refined carbs like donuts!) is the quickest way to do that.  So, it’s not uncommon after a binge that skyrockets your blood sugar for your body to start craving more of the same.  FYI: it doesn’t have to be the “bad stuff” like carbs and sugars that send your blood sugar out of control- just eating too much can have the same effect.  This one usually manifests as just being plain hungry after you’ve eaten too much.  This is another place where weight loss warriors are never seen again because cravings are so not easy to get over.  They get tired of fighting them day after day, especially it they are around the food they crave a lot. It gets hard when you see it, smell it and see other people enjoying it and you know that it’s not in line with your plan.  If you’ve gotten out of this trap before, you know the way out: DON’T EAT IT! Way easier said than done!  This is where you have to hang on until the ride ends, because that’s the secret: IT DOES END! When you stop eating sugar/ carbs/ salt/ whatever, eventually your body stops asking for it.  I never thought I would get over my craving for pasta.  Those of you who know me know that before I went Paleo, probably two-thirds or more of my diet was some form of pasta.  The rest was pretty much bread- really wish I were kidding here! Those two forms of simple carbs kept me in the cravings trap for months! I’d hang out with my friends who loved bread and pasta; I’d go out with my family: more bread and pasta; even the dang commercials on tv: come get our free delicious dinner rolls and take more home with you! I was dying for pasta and bread! So I white-knuckled it; hung tough; went cold turkey- choose your metaphor! I stopped eating it and refused to go back!  I was stubborn and refused to give into it, and eventually, I was out with my family one day and the waitress puts the bread basket on the table and……. I didn’t want any! I didn’t have to fight with myself either.  I just didn’t want the bread and I realized I’d been walking past the pasta aisle in the stores without looking longingly at the boxes & bags of it.  I’d gotten used to not eating the pasta and bread and stopped wanting it. Talk about an epiphany!

The other benefit to getting out of the cravings trap is that the farther away you get from whatever it is you’re craving, the more you lose your taste for it.  I know from my own experience, after I have not had something I used to love for a long time (and ‘long’ is relative too!), if I do have it again, it just doesn’t taste as good.  For example, there is an Italian restaurant that makes the best garlic bread, and I used to love it so much! But, I generally only get to that restaurant with either my friend J or my dad, and for months whenever I met up to eat with either of them, we went somewhere else.  Eventually, I wound up at that restaurant with my friend and I decided to risk the bread.  It was good, but it wasn’t the wonderful ‘mystical’ experience it had been before. It was definitely better than run of the mill bread from some Italian chain that shall remain nameless, but it didn’t have that I-must-have-18-pieces attraction that it’d had before.  I ate it; I liked it; and that was the end of it.  I didn’t have cravings for it, and when I go back there, I might have one piece, but maybe not. The same thing happened when I went back to other foods that I previously thought I would never be able to turn down.  It’s like one of those perspective posters: up close it’s just a bunch of blobs, but when you get far enough away, you can see the image in it (it’s a unicorn!). When you get far enough away from whatever you are craving, you perceive it differently.  For some of us, once we get distance, the food seems to lose its ability to grab hold of us.  The trick to escaping this trap, though, is pretty much just to hang on and ride it out.

Finding your own Enemy Way

So now you’re back on the rez in friendly territory (you think) but there’s still that consistency stumbling block that keeps coming up.  It’s like that trick step on the staircase in Hogwarts that Harry was always getting caught in: you think it’s solid, until your foot sinks into it and you’re stuck! You’re ignoring the negative Iago voice telling you what a loser you are and you’re no longer craving the foods that take you off the rez, but now that you’ve been off, there’s the draw to go back.  It’s a little bit of the Iago voice telling you that you did it once before and it wasn’t the end of the road, but a bigger part of it is that you broke your routine and then everything was up in the air with the fallout and so now, you’re trying to get back into your pattern, but it’s not quite the same follow the numbers pattern it was before: you have to think about it a little more and that’s one of the ways that Iago gets back in.  You need to get back into your healthy ritual that served you so well before you went of the reservation. It’s a little like you need to find your own version of a Navajo Enemy Way ceremony.  This is a ritual that is performed for Navajos who literally journey out into Enemy territory; it’s to cleanse them of any negative residual spiritual effects of being out of Navajo territory (the Dinetah).  [Side note: I am a huge fan of the Leaphorn/ Chee/ Manuelito mysteries by Tony and Anne Hillerman.  Because the characters are Navajos, I’ve learned a lot about their culture.  It’s based on balance and harmony, kind of like Taoism. They are great books just for the mystery too- check them out!]

Once you get back into friendly territory- no more negative mindset, no more cravings (hopefully)- you need to have your own little ritual to put you in the ‘moving forward’ frame of mind to cleanse you of any going off the rez residual effects. This can be something as simple as putting in an extra workout to give your metabolism a boost or doing some meal planning (focusing on moving forward) and then going to the grocery store to get the supplies (execution of your plan).  Both of these give you the sense of accomplishment, making positive choices and actually moving forward.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or fancy: the main thing is to do something! Once you start moving forward and are focused on that (rather than your latest foray into hostile territory), it’s harder for the consistency stumbling block to take you down, because you are literally a moving target.  It’s momentum and basic physics: stopping a 300 lb linebacker is easier when he’s dithering around on the line of scrimmage, but when he’s been running hard for the past 20 yards, GET OUT OF HIS WAY! You want to be like that linebacker in motion: moving too fast to stop!

So, to sum it all up, all of us go off the reservation occasionally.  When it happens, the first thing to watch for is the negative Iago voice telling you what a failure you are (it’s lying to you- again!) and the second thing is to be prepared for the cravings that usually come afterwards.  Once you get past those two traps, do something positive to help you keep your focus on moving forward and avoid falling back into old destructive habits. Another of my favorites quotes is from Margaret Thatcher: “you may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” These kinds of battles we may have to fight for years to come, but the more we practice at winning them, the fewer and farther between they become!

 

Body Language: Eating Intuitively

About three months ago I read a great book called Always Hungry? by Dr. David Ludwig.  He proposes a weight loss plan based along the Mediterranean diet which sharply curtails refined carbs and eliminates cravings.  It’s a lot like the Paleo lifestyle I follow, and I thought he had a lot of great ideas but the one I thought was hardest for me personally was the idea of eating intuitively.  This is the idea that you eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re satisfied (which is not necessarily “full”).  Geez!! How hard can that be?? Um,….. it’s harder than it sounds!

A lot of weight loss experts promote this idea because it’s the simplest and easiest way to make sure you are eating enough calories for your body’s activity level and it gets away from the whole “counting calories or macros” ideas.  There are a lot of “diet gurus” out there that still promote counting calories and moderating macros because even though people think it’s hard, it’s actually easier than listening to your body.  You enter your food into the calorie counter and it tallies up how many calories you have left to eat or how many carbs/ macro units you have left.  It’s usually way off but it gives people the reassurance (often false) that they are following their diet.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, while I religiously enter my food for each meal/ snack into My Fitness Pal and monitor both my calories and my macros, if I “go over” my calorie limit, I don’t freak out.  I look at the numbers as more of a ball park target, though I do try to keep my carbs on the lower side; when they got too low, it was really not-good.  I’d like to think I’m finally getting the hang of this eating intuitively process!

So what is “eating intuitively?” On the most basic level, it’s what I described up above: eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you are satisfied, but not necessarily “full.”  What makes it difficult is we (modern human beings) have gotten away from listening to our bodies.  I joke a lot with my friends that I wish I were more like my cockapoo, because he really isn’t interested in food.  As a rule, he gets a part of most of what I eat at home, provided it’s puppy-safe, but about half the time, he sniffs it and lets it sit there.  This includes chicken, lamb, beef, pork, real eggs (as opposed to egg substitutes to which he completely turns up his nose!), yogurt, cottage cheese, and so on! He leaves them on his plate until one of the cats shows an interest and even then, he may just let the cats eat it.  If he was just “saving it for later,” he’ll eat it, but most of the time, after a token woof, the cats eat it.  The only things he really eats right when I give it to him are fish and milk (half and half).  He’s just not hungry and so he doesn’t eat.  I joke that there are “starving dogs in China” but if he’s not hungry, he’s pretty much not eating! On the other hand, he loves his kibble and eats it regularly when we go to bed or get up in the morning, and he loves his peanut butter cookies (Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter dog biscuits), but he saves those until we go to bed and then chews on them a lot before eating them.  He’s very active and weighs about what he should (12 lbs).  Why am I going on about my dog? Because he eats intuitively!

We are trained from childhood that we are supposed to eat three times a day (at least): breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Snacks and desserts are optional, but the meals are pretty much a given.  There’s the stereotype of the child who isn’t hungry being made to sit at the table until his/ her plate is clean.  Even more than making us eat; we are supposed to “clean our plate” on top of that! So we are taught not only to eat when we are not hungry, but how much we are supposed to eat! If our body is saying it doesn’t need fuel, that we are not hungry, we are taught to ignore that!

We are also influenced by what is happening around us.  How many times have we been walking through a mall or driving down the road and we smell food: suddenly, we’re “hungry,” even if we just ate! We smell popcorn, donuts, Chinese food, and we suddenly want some. Someone in our office just warmed up their lunch and the whole office smells delicious- mmmm, I want lunch!! We walk into the theater and we weren’t hungry outside, but now the hot buttered (real butter!) popcorn smells so good- maybe just a small one, and oooh! peanut M&Ms!! So, our body isn’t hungry but our head is, and therein lies the crux of our dilemma: how to sort out who is saying what to you.

For example, my cubicle neighbor eats all day.  He’s a thin active young guy who starts the morning with toast and coffee and usually has lunch around 11:00-11:30.  I can smell his sourdough toast with butter and jam; I can hear him crunching away at it, and a couple hours later, I get to smell his usually-delicious lunch: soup, meat, vegetables, whatever.  So am I hungry because my body is running low on fuel or am I hungry because I smell his food?  I know for a fact that usually I get hungry according to the clock: about 10:30-ish, my stomach starts growling.  I usually have breakfast between 7-7:30 a.m., so it’s usually been about 3 hours since I ate.  Is that my body saying I need more fuel or is that because I’ve usually had coffee or tea by 10:30?  Is is snack memory or real hunger? Something similar usually happens around 4:00 p.m.  I get a little hungry and is that because I usually have more coffee or some nuts around that time or is it really hunger?

We (meaning I) have similar issues when it comes to knowing when we are satisfied. There is usually about a 20 minute lag between when the body realizes enough fuel has been ingested and when the brain gets the signal.  This is one of the reasons we feel “stuffed” after a meal: we’ve eaten until the brain gets the signal and by then, we’ve had too much (in may case, because I’ve eaten pretty fast!).  The weight loss experts tell us to pause during our meal to “check our hunger gauge” and let the brain catch up with the body.  Again, this is where the “clean your plate” catechism comes into play: we are programmed to eat it all even if it is way too much, as is normally the case in a restaurant setting!

So, not only have we been programmed to ignore our body’s signals about hunger, we have been programmed to eat everything in front of us.  How much more disconnected can we get from our body?  Is it any wonder that so many of us have weight issues? This is why I wish I were more like my cockapoo: he doesn’t have any questions about whether he’s hungry or not; whether it’s a treat or not; whether he likes it or not.  All of the issues that we (as intelligent -eye roll- human beings) have to deal with: it’s dinner time, so we have to eat; it’s a French silk chocolate gateau- so we have to eat it!; it’s kind of a stale run of the mill cookie, but, eh, I’m bored, so I’ll eat it! For my cockapoo, it’s easy- not hungry, not interested, not eating! End of story- throw the ball!! (Now if we’re going to discuss his addictions…….!!)

So now that we have defined the problem, how do we solve this? Admittedly, it’s a tough call. If this were a computer, it’d be easy: we wipe the drive and reinstall the operating systems! We’re a bit more complicated: we can’t really “wipe” our hard drives, so we have to do it the hard way.  We have to create new neural pathways; in humanspeak, we have to make new habits.  This is where so many of us fumble the ball. It takes consistency (which is hard enough) and we have to learn how to listen to our bodies again.  I admit, this is where I had such a problem trying to follow Dr. Ludwig’s advice.  I approached it as a three part problem: 1) Identifying if I am truly hungry; 2) Realizing when I’m satisfied (as opposed to feeling full); 3) Being consistent.

Over time, I came to realize that my “getting hungry” at regular times during the day is what I call “snack memory.”  I was used to eating a snack at those times of day, so my stomach let me know that it wasn’t getting the snack it was expecting (try that with my cockapoo! eye roll) So I learned to wait: if my hunger went away, then it was “snack memory” and if it didn’t, then my body was really telling me that it needed fuel.  Elizabeth Benton (PrimalPotential.com) suggests that we take some opportunities simply to “feel hungry.” People are afraid of being hungry and so they eat preemptively (her term) to avoid the hunger pangs.  This is actually something I am used to feeling, because at my old job, I usually had to eat when I could and a lot of times, that meant being hungry until around 3:00 p.m. when I could take a few minutes to eat something.  Now, I make myself wait.  If I’m still hungry around noon, which is about 4.5-5 hours after breakfast, then I have lunch.  The other thing I do is make sure I have plenty of water, since sometimes what we think is hunger, is really thirst, so drinking something (not coffee with lots of creamer!) can alleviate those fake hunger pangs.  So, Elizabeth has a great idea, since if you’ve never let yourself feel what hunger really feels like, take a few minutes to get back in touch with your body’s signals.  “This is what it really feels like to be hungry as opposed to just wanting something to eat.”

The other thing that I had to get back in touch with is satisfaction.  When have I had enough to eat without getting “full?”  This meant I had to eat more slowly, which was more of a struggle than I really wanted to admit.  My life used to be a lot more hectic than it is now, and I got used to gulping my food down as fast as I could because I only had a short lunch period at work and I got home late so it was usually about 8 p.m or later when I had dinner, so gulp that down and get on to whatever else needs to be done.  So taking time to eat slowly was another thing I had to reprogram. Weight loss experts suggest that in addition to chewing your food slowly, you take a brief pause about halfway through your meal and check your hunger gauge.  This will take some time to learn, because most of us don’t really acknowledge that until we feel “stuffed.”  For most of us, the gauge has two settings: Empty and Overfull.  So we need to learn the settings in between.  When we take a pause, feel your hunger and learn from there.  Am I mostly full?  Has the hungry feeling gone away?  You will probably miss the mark the first few times out (I know I did!).  Eventually, you will come to realize “this is what satisfied feels like” and don’t forget there’s a bit of lag time between your stomach sending the “done” message and the brain actually getting it, so if you leave the table feeling you’ve not eaten enough, wait a while and your brain will probably tell you that you really are  satisfied. The key for me was realizing that an hour later, I was not feeling hungry! If you’re having trouble with this one, that is what worked for me!

The last issue is of course consistency.  You have to learn new habits until they just become a part of your normal routine, and this doesn’t mean that you have to follow some kind of elaborate pattern every day and with every meal.  Eventually, your brain will just learn the new signals and you’ll do this without even thinking about it.  When you leave for work every morning, you don’t consciously think about everything that’s involved with going out and starting the car: your brain tells you to grab your keys, unlock the door, sit down, put the key in the ignition and turn it.  It takes me more time to type that out than it does for you to do it, and that’s how it will eventually go in your brain.  You’ll smell something delicious and even though your stomach will growl “mmmm, pizza!,” your brain will acknowledge, “yeah the pizza smells good, but you aren’t hungry!” and after a while, your stomach will stop growling.  You’ll eat dinner and after a certain amount of food, your brain will say “stop eating,” and you’ll just push the plate away without really stopping to wonder “am I full?” It’s like learning any other skill: it takes some practice until it’s natural.  This is where we have to learn to let go of the rote programming we have followed for most of our lives.  For most of us, it hasn’t gotten us anywhere great with our weight.  Our body knows what it needs and we just have to learn to hear it again. The hard part is quieting down all the other noise in our heads telling us to follow the old programming, but it’s not about habit and the clock or whether it’s a treat or not- it’s about whether you are really hungry or not-end of story.  I like to think of it as getting in touch with my inner cockapoo- now throw the ball, dammit!!

It’s Me or The Cookie: I Can’t v I Can

When you tell yourself you can’t lose weight, guess what: you’re right!

Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) devotes a lot of her podcasts to what she calls the “mindset side” of weight loss, and she’s not wrong to do so.  After all, what is will power?  Will power is not about physical strength: it’s all about the mind.  We “psych” ourselves up for big presentations at our jobs, before the “big game” at school, or before we step out onto the stage.  We do what’s called “self talk,” and how we talk to ourselves is important. Elizabeth often reminds her listeners that when we tell others (or ourselves) that we “always lose control at buffets” or we “just can’t eat one cookie and not eat the whole bag,” we are giving ourselves instructions: “this is how we behave.”  In a sense, we are giving ourselves the “out”: the permission to behave badly or go off script.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: “I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself with the Girl Scout cookies, and I was right!” Yep- you sure were! You ate the whole box of peanut butter sandwich cookies! Aren’t you proud of yourself? (Shaming is a whole ‘nother topic! Ugh!)

This is why Elizabeth advocates daily (usually morning) affirmations.  Telling yourself “I can make good choices! I can do hard things!” psyches you up for your day and reinforces your inner strength- your will power. These are actually two of Elizabeth’s morning affirmations and they’re pretty dang good ones! Think of how much stronger those words are than “I can’t say no to tortilla chips!” or “I can’t resist ice cream!” Self talk- that little voice in your head- really is stronger than you think it is.  Spend a day really paying attention to that little voice and listen to what s/he says to you.  Remember the last time you spent money on something you really didn’t need but really really wanted? Who talked you into buying it? “These golf clubs are way too much, but they’re on sale for 30% off, and when will that happen again?  This is my only chance to buy them before they are totally beyond my reach!  They’re an investment, because I won’t have to buy more clubs for at least ten years!” In my case, it would be a Kate Spade handbag, because I’m a total Kate Spade addict! (eye roll) and there’s that little voice giving me permission to go crazy on the Kate Spade sale page because they’re more than 50% off and they’re discontinued so when will I ever…….Blah, blah blah, and there we go, talking ourselves into doing something we really don’t need but really really want.

It’s justification, rationalization, whatever you want to call it; the bottom line is we talk ourselves into (and out of) situations. We really want the golf clubs, Kate Spade bag, tortilla chips; we don’t want to go to the gym (it’s hard!), fix a healthy dinner (yuck, cooking), say “yes” to the salad and “no” to the French fries (my noes is starting to twitch like a rabbit’s!) . It’s a lot like the cartoons with the little angel on one shoulder telling us what we should do to stay on track with our goals, and the little devil on the other trying to lead us off track.  From my own experience, there is a grocery store I used to avoid because I used to get cake slices every time I shopped there. I didn’t want to go there because I was afraid I would buy cake and it was never just one slice of cake, it was always two (I don’t know why- it just was!) but I ended up there one day and sure enough, I found myself in the bakery looking at the cake and the voice in my head was yakking away about how just one piece would be okay, and one is an improvement over two and if I get white cake, I could share it with the pets, so it wouldn’t be the whole slice of cake, it’d just be half or a third and Remy (my cockapoo) could have a big part of the frosting, blah blah blah.  Then I remembered a line- an affirmation- from one of Elizabeth’s podcasts: “I am stronger than a cookie.” I left the store with no cake at all.  Truly, I heard that line in my head and I lost all desire for the cake, because I am stronger than the cake.  It sounds silly, doesn’t it?  “I am stronger than a cookie.”  But how many times have you seen the box of cookies on the table in the office and eaten one or two (or more)? How many times have you gone to the BBQ and helped yourself to the chips/ cookies/ beer, etc when you knew it wasn’t on track with your weight loss goals? How many times have you talked yourself into the things you really didn’t want to eat but did anyway because they’re “yummy?” You wanted to eat them even though they weren’t on track and so you gave yourself permission by talking yourself into it.  You reminded yourself that you have no control over whatever food/ situation it was and gave yourself permission to fail; even worse, you “reaffirmed” your lack of control over the food/ situation by this “failure!”

When you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them!

This is another Elizabeth Benton expression, and yes, she is right again! (If you haven’t given the Primal Potential podcast a try, you really should! And no, this is not a paid endorsement- I just think she’s really smart!) When you start giving ‘reasons’ for why you can’t resist the chocolate/ French fries/ beer, you are reinforcing your reasons to fail.  You get to keep your future failures, because you have just told yourself that you can’t beat them.  The cookie wins, not you. The little voice in your head (the little devil) beats your will power (the good angel) not because it’s stronger, but because you choose to listen to it!! You are the one giving it the power every time you listen to it.  Eventually, the good angel stops talking, because what’s the point? This is when you give up: “I just can’t stick to a diet! I can’t stick to an exercise routine! I’m just not strong enough!” Guess what? You’re right, because YOU MADE IT THAT WAY.

It’s a lot like the “me and the cookie” scenario: there were a lot of excuses to give in with the cake.  One piece of cake is not going to be the end of my weight loss program; and yes, if I had gotten it, I would have shared it with my cat and dog (they get part of almost everything I eat at home as a rule), so it probably would have only been a half or two-thirds of the slice.  All of those were true, but instead of telling myself I can’t say no to the cake, I told myself I can say no.  I can leave it behind (FYI: I also said no to ice cream that day although that was a whole lot easier!) It’s just a matter of changing your language, your self talk.  These are the affirmations that Elizabeth Benton advocates: telling yourself “I can” instead of “I can’t.”  Think of it this way: remember when you had to make a speech to your co-workers or your classmates? Did you tell yourself “I can’t speak in front of people- I always mess it up! I’m going to stand up there and make a complete fool of myself and totally blow it!!” That makes no sense at all! You’re setting yourself up for failure, but this is EXACTLY what we do when we show up at the BBQ or birthday party or night out with the gang.  We let the little voice set us up for failure!  Imagine that little devil giving you a smug I-told-you-so smile as you scarf down the potato salad.  It reinforces the feeling of failure, of worthlessness, of futility.  “I blew it again! Why can’t I stop doing this?”

There’s that “can’t” again! It takes a little time, but replacing the negative self talk with the positive affirmations slowly bolsters your self confidence and will power, and every time you “win” over the negative voice, you reinforce another, better, positive self-fulfilling prophecy; “I can pass on the chips/ potato salad/ cupcakes, no sweat!”  Each time you walk away from the pitcher of beer, or the basket of tortilla chips, it’s one more in the win column and when you’re faced with a similar situation, it’s easier to follow the same positive path, because you’ve been down that way before.  Before long, it becomes the well-worn normal path of behavior- IT BECOMES YOUR REGULAR ROUTINE, and you find yourself routinely saying no to foods and behaviors that are not in line with your goals without really thinking about it!  It’s a series of choices that build upon each other, becoming stronger each time, and it starts with saying “I can” instead of “I can’t.” It starts with saying things like “I am stronger than a cookie.”