Resolutions & Reality: Weight Loss & Your Goals

It’s that time of year again! You know what I mean: the grocery stores are full of people looking for healthy veggies, the tv is full of ads for programs designed to help you “look better and feel great!,” and the gym is packed full of newbies who can’t find the locker room.  That’s because everyone wants to start the New Year off right by keeping their health and weight loss resolutions, so they– and we– are jumping into 2019 with both feet!

That’s not a bad thing to do! I know I have made some changes and spent my New Year’s Day setting up some financial and fitness goals too! The problem is that when we make “resolutions” we tend to classify them as “things I have to do” and they end up on a mental list with tasks like Cleaning Out the Garage; Digging the Flowerbed; Getting the Tax Software Downloaded; and Hanging New Curtain Rods. In other words, these are the tasks that no one wants to do so they keep getting shoved to the bottom of the list.  We all know what happens with those tasks: we dread doing them, hate it when we actually do them and usually do them poorly if we do them at all!

The point of any goal is to improve the quality of your life, not make your life miserable because you have to give up pasta and candy bars, but that’s what happens when we focus on the “resolution” mindset.  It’s not that different from the “dieting” mindset that many of us fall into when we want to lose weight.  We make working towards our goals one of those “hate-to-do-it” tasks instead of an activity to make your life better.  That kind of attitude is why my gym will be packed tonight but back to normal come the first week in March. New members will be burnt out with “having to go to the gym” and will give it up as something that’s too much trouble to keep doing.

When you mentally put your new healthy resolution on the same level as Getting My Teeth Drilled, you are setting yourself up to fail.  It doesn’t matter if it’s drinking more water, going to the gym or giving up your after-dinner ice cream: when you are doing something you dread or hate doing, it’s not something that is going to last, which means it’s another failure to add to your list and those failures can be pretty debilitating.  Those failures are why we keep making the same resolutions year after year to eat healthier and lose those same 20 lbs we’ve been trying to lose for the last 20 years.  The goals are good goals well worth achieving, but year after year we’re just going about it the hard way.

Our resolutions are intended to build healthy habits that make us feel better about ourselves. If we want our healthy New Year’s resolutions to become lasting habits that get us to our goals (and that improved quality of life!), we have to set ourselves up to succeed.  That means if you don’t like going to the gym for a Spin class or to do circuit training, find something else at the gym that you do enjoy doing! It may be that the gym isn’t the right place for you to be.  That doesn’t mean you trash your resolution to be more active: it means you find an activity that you really enjoy! It may be that taking a walk outdoors is something you like much better than walking on the treadmill.  It can be that you’d rather be riding a bike outside rather than sitting in a Spin class listening to pop-rock on the gym’s PA.

We need to frame our resolutions in a way to keep us making progress.  The end goal isn’t “Going to the Gym”: the goal is to feel better physically! It’s to be able to move without hurting or to become stronger.  That goal is what we want and if the gym isn’t going to get us there, we need to find something that is!

It’s the same thing with eating healthier. We don’t have to start eating foods we hate in order to get more nutrition or lose weight.  Believe me, if a requirement for eating healthy meant having kale every day, I’d never do it! I have a friend who feels the same way about Brussels sprouts: those little bowling balls never hit her plate! However, there is usually a fair amount of just-as-healthy broccoli and cabbage on both of our plates. One of our little jokes is that neither of us never met a cabbage we didn’t like! We can all eat lots of healthy nutritious vegetables without having to eat things we don’t like. Trying to choke down a kale salad day every day might be healthy but if you are going to give it up after a couple of weeks, it’s not going to move the needle with your health and weight loss.

Sooner or later, we all have to do things that we’d rather not do.  We do them grudgingly because we know they are ultimately required, whether it’s getting a root canal or doing our taxes. Our resolutions shouldn’t be on the same level as a task we’d rather avoid. Remember the goals behind the resolution: Feeling better? Not puffing when we climb the stairs? Being able to run around with your kids or grandkids? Those are goals worth reaching and getting there should not be a chore! How you choose to get there is up to you. Wouldn’t it be great if it was also something that improved the quality of your life? Imagine doing something you enjoyed that was actually helping you feel better about yourself! That sounds like a resolution worth keeping to me!

Want to Finish Strong? Just Keep Running! Weight Loss & Keeping Yourself Moving

There is a lot on social media about “finishing strong” lately.  Even my own water aerobics trainer shouted it at us yesterday as we were splashing around in the pool.  I can understand it: a lot of times we might start strong but as we get increasingly tired or keeping the pace gets hard, we start to slow down like a wind-up toy until we are barely going through the motions. Sometimes, if we are fairly tired towards the end of the workout, we start out going through the motions! If fitness is your goal, this is not the way to get there!

It’s not the way to get there with weight loss either! For a lot of us, the week looks like this: we start out on Monday eating great, making healthy choices, saying no to temptation and then over the next few days, the stress of working, family and daily life starts getting to us. We start feeling really stressed or really rushed because things happen that get in the way of our carefully laid plans and so we start “improvising.” We don’t have time to eat that healthy salad we brought with us so lunch today is a sandwich.  We get stuck having to run an unscheduled errand at the end of the day so rather than fix that healthy dinner we had planned, we opt for something processed but “healthy” and then we worked late and had an early morning so breakfast is something takeout but “on the healthier” side on the way to work.  By Friday, our weight loss plan looks nothing like what you actually planned for the week and you count it as a Win if your dinner Friday night is anywhere close to “healthy!”  As for the weekend, who’s had any chance to make plans for healthy eating? You’ve been too busy!

I know that reality can be a real monkey wrench in the middle of carefully laid plans.  We start out strong but somewhere along the line our resolution crumbles along with our plans. It’s not our fault that Real Life screwed it up!  Seriously?! This is news to you? Where have you been living and how can I move there? Because thinking that everything is always going to go according plan all the time or even just most of the time is living in a fantasy world. Most of us hardened Real World citizens make our plans and if even half of them go as we’d like, we consider ourselves lucky, but we make our plans in spite of Real Life.  There is always the chance than more will go right than not but regardless of how much goes along with the plan or not, we hold fast to our resolution to start strong and finish stronger!

I know this sounds like a lot of cheerleading motivational jargon but the truth of the matter is that our success with weight loss, fitness or anything else we want to achieve begins and ends with our resolve.  No one can make us eat healthy or choose the carrot over the candy bar, especially when we’re on our own.  I heard it said once that the definition of integrity is what one does when no one is watching.  If you pull up to that stop sign in the middle of the night and you are alone on the road, do you stop or do you just blow right through it? I know that Common Sense would say if there is no cross traffic and you are the only car on the road for miles, why stop? In response, let me refer you to a high school classmate who came to that same conclusion and blew through the stop sign only to be pulled over by the police cruiser hiding in the shadows with the lights off.

If he had stopped, there wouldn’t have been any issue, but he thought he could get away with something.  A lot of times, this tends to be our mentality too when our resolution starts to waver. We begin rationalizing excuses why it’s okay to make the choice to eat what’s tempting rather than what’s on our plan.  It’s that damned Real Life again! I don’t have time to cook after running all these unscheduled errands so I have to get takeout! I couldn’t finish my salad so this snack is okay (it makes up for lunch!) NO. It’s NOT okay. Not if you want to reach your weight loss goals.

Anyone can start strong.  All it takes is a little planning. We get on the road to eating healthy and for the first day or so, things are great because they are easy.  Once things start getting bumpy, this is where our resolution gets tested. How committed are we to these goals? Notice: I said goals,” not “plans.” Plans change (there’s that Real Life again!) and our choices aren’t ‘the carrot or the candy bar,’ it’s do we want to finish the week strong or do we want to give up and ‘start strong’ again next week? Hint: there’s a difference between Serial Starters and Finishers. Two or three days of great healthy eating are canceled out by four or five days of really crappy or even mediocre eating! If you are always starting, it means you aren’t finishing! It also means you aren’t making any progress to your goals.

When our resolve starts to waver or our plans end up going out the window again, we have to be strong enough to keep our focus on our goals.  That might mean skipping a meal if what’s best for us isn’t an option.  Just because it’s noon doesn’t mean we have to eat “lunch.” It’s okay to wait to eat something healthy later rather than eat junk food.  It’s also true that we don’t have to eat tacos just because our conference is serving them to us. We don’t have to drink sugary coffee drinks just because they are in season or our friends are all drinking them. Even if we like them, the question really is what we want more: our goals or tacos, seasonal lattes or the candy bars.

Too often we tell ourselves that we can never have these foods again, which isn’t true, but it goes back to our resolve. We know what our trigger foods are.  Some of us can have a holiday coffee and never feel the urge for another one (me, for example!) One holiday latte won’t trigger a binge for me, but a Kings Hawaiian roll? One of those turns into four before I know it!  Well, not really…. because I know bread is a trigger for me. This is where I have to ask myself: do I want the bread more than I want my goals? Because not only will the bread throw my weight loss plans out the window, it’ll also make me feel cruddy physically too.  So not only will I feel bad not finishing the week strong, I’ll plain just feel bad! So where is the Win eating the bread? The few minutes it takes to eat it?  Sound like a Lose-Lose to me!

Finishing strong takes practice because it’s hard. Starting and even starting strong is easy by comparison. It’s a lot like a marathon. Anyone can start a marathon: you stand at the starting line and run a step or two: congrats! you just started a marathon! But no one gets awards for starting because it’s the finishing that counts! When things get hard and people start dropping out of the race, the ones who keep running keep running because they’ve practiced. They’ve run this race before and they know what to do when it gets hard.  It’s a whole lot of work and practice but they keep running: they know their goal is up ahead and they just have to keep running to get there.  When our weeks get tough and everyone else starts giving up, remember our goals are also in our reach. We just have to keep running until we reach the finish line.

Source & Resource: Getting Started Getting Fit & Losing Weight

We’ve all heard the expression “consider the source!” Usually we think of this when it comes to someone complaining or ‘having issues’ with something or someone, but when it comes to your health, it is extremely important!

This is the time of year when weight loss gizmos and potions go into high gear, along with all those other gadgets “guaranteed to give you a rock-hard six-pack in fifteen minutes a day!”  This is when you need to consider the source before you buy anything! This goes for any kind of gadget or machinery and especially any kind of potion, pill or weight loss plan.  Some of these can hurt you or make you ill!

I don’t mean to be a scare-monger, but trying out some equipment that you saw on a tv commercial when you’ve never or seldom used any kind of workout equipment can be tricky.  You can pull or tear a muscle or ligament; in other words, you can end up seriously injuring yourself. The same goes for trying some kind of weight loss pill that’s guaranteed to make you ‘burn body fat’ without really changing what you’re eating.  I know giving up brownies and popcorn and soda can really be hard and a major pain in the butt, but eating healthier and getting fit isn’t about the rock-hard six-pack (okay, it’s about more than just the six-pack): it’s about you actually being healthier and stronger! That means being more active and eating nourishing food, and that means work! It also means not depending on a ‘magic pill’ to get you there!

Most of these gizmos and super diet pills have great testimonials from ‘actual customers’ who swear that whatever it is they’re using was the only thing that helped them lose weight or get that awesome body.  They may not tell you that they were using the item for sale in addition to something else, like a diet plan or a workout schedule or trainer.  In small print, most of these items have some kind of disclaimer (“results not typical”) or some other advisory, like a diet plan or workout schedule.

Obviously, when it comes to source material, tv is not your best option.  I know it’s fun to think you can get great abs by ‘twisting’ the muffin top away on a mini surf board, but seriously, you need to be serious when it comes to exercise and eating healthy.  Your doctor may also not be your best bet, although talking to him or her might not be a bad idea.  The only reason I hesitate referring you to your physician is because unless he or she has done more research into nutrition, most doctors have grand total of 24 hours or less in nutrition.  In class time, that’s about one hour, five days a week for a month- less than a semester! So unless your doctor is really into eating well and nutrition (some are), then you should look into other options.  If he or she is willing to give you a referral to nutritionist or anther specialist, go for it! If not, then heading to the book store isn’t a bad idea.  Google isn’t a bad place to start, but before you jump whole-heartedly into whatever happens to be trending (right now it’s keto), go to a library or bookstore and take a look at the actual books that advocate whatever eating plan you’re looking for.  FYI: if you have a kindle or kindle app, you can usually download the first few chapters of a book as a sample for free!

It’s also not a bad idea to look at more than one book even if it’s the same eating plan.  There’s about a hundred books on the Paleo diet, the keto diet, Whole Foods/ Whole 30 and others.  Take a look at what they have to say; you want something that will work with you and your personality.  Many of these authors also have websites designed to help you out and some of these authors are very accessible via email.  Just remember that just because something is popular and works for all your friends and family does not mean that it’s right for you!  My mom loved Jenny Craig, had boiled eggs every day and lost weight, although she put it back on every time.  No offense, Jenny, but your food and your diet plan grossed me out (I prepared all my mom’s food).

You need to remember to choose something that you think you can stick with for the long term.  Healthy eating should not have an expiration date; the same for working out. If you are going from eating the Standard American Diet full of processed foods or lots of quick processed grains (breads, cereals, etc), then jumping into something a little more extreme like keto or even Paleo might be a bigger jump than you think.  Take a look at some books that offer a more gradual transition, like Wired to Eat (Robb Wolf), The Keto Reset Diet (Mark Sisson), Always Hungry? (David Ludwig) or even The Whole 30 (Melissa Hartwig). If none of these speak to you, they have many other books as well as many other authors covering similar eating plans.

Don’t forget that choosing an eating plan and/ or book doesn’t mean that you’ve permanently signed up for that plan. I know a lot of people from MFP (My Fitness Pal) who have tried to stick with a keto or low carb eating plan and no matter how hard they try, it’s still very hard and frustrating for them.  Sometimes they end up giving up on losing weight and if they don’t, they usually raise their carb intake, which is a better option in my opinion than giving up.  Not everyone can eat the same.  The goal is finding something that works for you long term.  Like my mom’s example above, unless you’re going to keep eating Jenny Craig and boiled eggs forever, you’re going to put the weight back on.  The point is to change your eating habits to a healthier diet than what you ate before and to make this change gradually.  Once you’ve adjusted to that healthy change, then if you think you can make more progress, then do it! This is the kind of transition Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf and others advocate: something sustainable long term.

Not to sound like a commercial, but one of the best resources I found was Elizabeth Benton’s Primal Potential website and podcast.  FYI: I learned about her from My Fitness Pal, another great resource! (It’s like fitness oriented Facebook.) Elizabeth has a lot of free information on her website in addition to her podcast and her philosophy is pretty much what I’ve said here already: we are all different so do what works for you! She’s easily accessible via email and has paid coaching programs available, although most of what she offers is free. She has some great advice she calls The Golden Rules of Carbs & Fat Loss. This January 2018 she also has free workshops available to help participants structure a workable sustainable weight loss plan for the new year.  All the registration information is available at her website. (I signed up for one!) Even if you don’t opt for a workshop, she is a great resource (she has a degree in nutrition and lost almost 150 lbs herself!)

Whatever eating or exercise plan you decide on, you need to consider the source and who is recommending it to you.  Again, if you’ve been sedentary for the last few years, jumping into a Beach Body workout video can be painful! But if you think that a plan might work for you, do some research and see what options are available.  You don’t have to go cold turkey and give up bread or meat all at once if that’s too hard for you.  When I decided to go Paleo, I did it in stages, giving up one or two things a month until I made the adjustment. I didn’t worry about ‘doing it fast’ because this is how I want to eat for the rest of my life. Eating this way makes me feel healthier and better overall, and I’ve discovered that I really enjoy what I eat (not making me feel cruddy is a bonus!) If the eating style you’ve chosen isn’t working for you, then change it, (it’s not a catastrophe!) but if it is working then stick with it!  FYI: I encountered some resistance from family members when I made this change, but in the end, we all have to do what’s best for us, even if others don’t like it.  What changed their minds was how much better I felt, how much weight I lost and how much more I was able to do.  There’s just no arguing with success!


Keeping Your Resolutions Part 2: How to Make It Easy By Getting Over the Hump

“Easy is earned” is one of Elizabeth Benton’s favorite expressions and she is not wrong.  The more you do something, the easier it is.  Example: when I was in high school, computers were still pretty sci-fi and typewriters were the spawn of Satan.  All of us dreaded the ‘research papers’ that had to be typed, because it took us forever to do it.  We all had to take a typing class with- wait for it- manual typewriters!  (For all you millenials out there, google it and you’ll see what I mean). For every test, the typing instructor covered our keyboards so we had to touch-type.  To put this in perspective for the millienials, I want them to imagine using a rotary phone, providing they can still find one.  It’s that confusing and awkward.  Learning to touch-type was a pain in the butt, and I liked using a typewriter. I got a portable manual typewriter when I was in 8th grade for my birthday and it had been a much requested gift.  I pounded the heck out of that little thing and it was immensely useful as moved into high school and even college.

It was sometime in college when I was working on my word processor (millenials: google it) when I realized that I was looking at the screen and not the keyboard anymore, and I was typing at a pretty good clip too.  It wasn’t that I had intentionally practiced touch-typing or learning the keys: it was simply that I had done it so many times, that when I hit the wrong key, my hands already knew I’d hit the wrong key and were correcting it by the time it registered with my brain.  I didn’t have to look at my hands because my hands had done the same movements over and over again.  You probably learned the same way: doing it over and over again, you had practiced so many times that now you don’t even think of it anymore.  It’s easy now but once upon a time, it had been really hard.

It’s the same when you practice building healthy habits: starting the new habit is hard, but each time you do it successfully, the next time it’s a bit easier until one day, you don’t even realize that you’re going through the grocery store, not looking longingly at the potato chips or the pastries or the soda.  You have ignored them so many times, you don’t notice them anymore. Even when the bakery is pulling the fresh sourdough out of the oven, it’s no big deal, just like typing out a memo used to take you an hour to do a couple paragraphs and now it takes you only a few minutes.

This is what most people don’t realize when they start a new habit.  I know this isn’t exactly news to you, but I’m going to tell you anyway: it’s flippin’ hard starting a new habit!! If any of you are hikers, you know that following a trail that is well-traveled is a whole lot easier than breaking through the brush for the first time. It’s the same when you make a new habit: doing it the first time is a whole lot harder because you’re dealing with situations that aren’t familiar and solving a problem that crops up can be a bit of hassle. Everything takes longer and tasks that you initially thought would not be difficult turn out to be hard.  It’s annoying and stressful and in the middle of this huge hassle, you start thinking “this is more trouble than it’s worth!” or “this is just making things worse- not better!”  That’s because you’re stuck in that high school classroom trying to touch-type with a piece of binder paper over the keyboard. Your fingers are searching the keyboard, making sure you’re in the ‘home position’ so you can find the keys easily.

I wish I could say that things get easier pretty quick, but I’d be lying and you already know that.  Things get easier on an incremental basis.  It takes patience and a whole lot of really annoying practice before things get easy enough to type without looking at the keys.  This is why so many people give up: it’s not fun and it’s not getting ‘fun’ at any kind of rate you can measure, but this is why Elizabeth Benton says that easy is earned.  You have to do the work to get the prize, and there are no shortcuts.  There’s no one you can pay to learn it for you and there’s no hack that will get you there quicker: it’s showing up every day and doing the job that earns you the Easy.

Some of you have heard me mention the Boss From Hell.  She was an old school attorney who never learned to type.  Seriously.  When she was in law school, older women attorneys who’d come up in the 1970’s told her not to learn to type or she’d get stuck in the secretarial pool, even with the law degree, so the Boss From Hell did the two-finger hunt and peck every time she had to type: for emails, for letters, for pleadings-  anything on the keyboard.  Peck. Peck. Peck. Peck. Peck.  Rather than learn to type, she tried all kinds of shortcuts: dictation with micro cassette tapes, digital recorders, and speech recognition software but her favorite was real live people.  She would hire someone to sit at her keyboard and type as she talked.  Seriously.  Rather than learn to do it herself, my penny-pinching Boss From Hell paid someone to sit there and type for her. The problem with that was no one liked working for her: there’s a reason she’s called the Boss From Hell.  Some of these typists lasted only a morning and at most a few weeks, so when she was looking for a new victim, she was forced to do her typing, and again it was peck peck peck peck peck coming from her office because she didn’t want to learn to do it herself.

I recently started bringing a protein smoothie to work with me and the first week I got up fifteen minutes earlier because I had to measure the almondmilk, measure the protein mix, blend it up, and pour it into my travel mug, and even though it’s only 8 oz of almondmilk, because it’s aerated by the blender, it doesn’t all fit in my 12 oz travel mug, so I’d have to drink or throw away what didn’t fit (saving it was not an option!) So it was a bit of a hassle, but the more times I did it, the more shortcuts I was able to devise and the easier it got.  Now I measure out the almondmilk the night before and I actually use a little less (so it all fits now); I adjusted the amount of protein mix and now I get it done while the coffee is brewing.  It’s easy now and takes no more time than making the coffee: pour, stevia, cream and screw the lid on the travel mug.  It takes me more time to brush my hair! But that first week, I was wondering if this habit was going to be a keeper!

I know a lot of you (me included) made New Year’s Resolutions and this is the time of year when most of us are thinking “well, that was a bad idea!”  Odds are, it was actually a pretty good idea to get healthier and lose some weight, but now it’s looking like it’s a lot more difficult than you thought it would be.  That’s only because the habit is still new.  There are a lot of studies that tell you it takes X amount of days/ repetitions to create a new habit. I don’t want you to listen to those posts or websites, because everyone is different.  I know it’s an overused expression, but people are not robots nor does every day happen just like it’s supposed to.  People learn at different paces. When everyone sees online that “it takes 21 days to make a new habit,” and on day 22, 25 or 30, when it’s still hard, people start thinking maybe they’re doing something wrong or maybe this new habit just isn’t right for them.

Well, they are doing something wrong: they are trying to make themselves fit into the little “21 Day Habit” box.  I don’t know anyone who fits in that box!  I confess: I am a routine-a-holic.  (That’s a nice way of saying “stick in the mud.”) I function best when I do the same things the same time on the same days over and over again.  I like to be on auto-pilot and you can pretty much set your clock by me: at 5:00 p.m. Sundays, I’m at the grocery store; on Mondays & Wednesdays at the same time, I am at the gym getting ready for water aerobics; at 7:00 p.m. Tuesdays, I’m in front of the tv watching NCIS.  I even tend to eat a lot of the same foods over and over, not because I don’t have any options eating Paleo- it’s because I like them and they are easy to do.  I am very happy in my rut. So, as you can imagine, doing something different is really really hard for me.  I hate change and I complain the entire time that I’m trying to do something different (like the smoothie above), but at the same time, I know that once I’ve gotten used to making the change, it’ll be a lot easier for me. Once I’ve merged it into my rut, I can go back to auto-pilot with a healthy new habit added.  Yes, I complain a lot, but that’s just my way of blowing off the frustration with the different routine.

The benefits of incorporating the new habit into the routine are pretty substantial, and not just for me.  Most of us are creatures of habit and it’s time we put that tendency to work for us. Our brains and our bodies get used to doing the same things and they look for them, even when the situation is different.  There are a lot of days I really don’t feel like going to water aerobics, especially if it’s cold, wet and windy like it has been here.  I really don’t want to get out of the warm pool, get dressed and then go out into the cold and even once I’m home, I still feel cold most of the evening, no matter what how many layers I have on. Ugh.  Yuck. I don’t wanna do it! and yet, there I am turning into the parking lot at the gym.  The nights when I can’t make it because of work or traffic, I miss it.  My body and brain are saying WTH??? and it feels like I missed out, because I did.  Not only is it exercise, which helps me be stronger and more flexible, I miss seeing my friends at the pool.

It took me a long time to get used to going to water aerobics.  I’d forget to pack my gym bag; I’d forget my gym bag at home; I misplaced the lock for my locker; I had to get some new equipment (swimsuits, pool shoes, new bag, new lock, new towels, etc) and it was a big hassle, with me grumbling the whole time of course.  It will be a year in April, and it wasn’t until around August or so that it really started to get easier.  I remember thinking that now that I’m finally getting into the habit, it’s going to get cold and how much fun will that be? Well, it wasn’t fun, but I didn’t want it to derail the progress I had worked so hard to obtain.  That is the other good thing about investing in a new habit, because it is an investment in you.  You are putting your time and energy, and probably some money as well, into improving your health.  As tempting as it might be to throw it all away 8 weeks into the project, throwing it away means you’ve lost everything you’ve invested to date and you’ve got nothing to show for it.  No healthy habit, no improved fitness, no weight loss, no goals reached, but there is probably some leftover protein powder or vitamins, some weights or other fitness equipment that’s gathering dust before it gets donated or thrown out, along with a gym membership waiting to expire unused.  Time lost, money lost, frustration increased, disappointment increased.  This is the same routine millions of people go through about this time every year. I can see it at my own gym: the parking has gotten a lot easier because there are fewer people now than there were in the middle of January. I had to park on the other side of the lot in January and now, at the third week in February, I’m back where I was in the middle of December.  People have already given up, and as much as like parking in my old spot, I feel bad for all those people who threw it all away.

They’ve not only given up on their goals of better health and fitness, they have given up on themselves.  They decided they weren’t worth the work.  You might be thinking, “no, I decided this habit wasn’t worth it.” Take a good look at the habit you are working on and what was your goal?  Was it losing weight?  Was it building muscle?  Was it eating cleaner/ healthier? All of those are great habits that lead to increased health benefits, so what wasn’t worth it?  You are not just another project that can languish in the garage like the half-finished birdhouse or the cabinet that still needs to be sanded and varnished.  You are worth the work, the investment and, yes, worth the frustration! It takes a long time and heck of lot of work to build a healthy worthwhile habit, but think of the return on that investment: your body will feel better almost all the time; you can go running, walking, hiking without feeling like you’re about to collapse; you can play with your kids/ grandkids/ pets like they want you to; you will look a lot better and you can do a lot more than you ever thought you could.  It’s not just a better habit you are building: it’s a better life!  Isn’t that worth all the hassle you’ve been complaining about? FYI: you might even feel good enough to finish sanding that cabinet in the garage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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























Being Uniquely You vs. Joining the Pack

New Year’s resolutions are running rampant right now as people are doing everything they can to hang on and not give up on the attempts to make positive changes.  I admit that I have never been a big fan of making resolutions based on a time of year.  Yes, it’s convenient to have an unforgettable date but the new year already has so many changes associated with it: new laws and government forms are in effect; you have to change the dates on a lot of items, not to mention every time you date a form “don’t forget 2017!” (we even had court calendaring clerk assign a trial date based on the wrong year: “um, that’s a Saturday, Your Honor!”) In my opinion, the new year already has enough baggage for you to deal without bringing your resolutions with it.

However, now that you’ve made them, there’s no reason not to try and keep them.  It’s not the resolutions that I have problems with- it’s just the timing. Establishing healthy habits is always a good thing! Let me add one little caveat to that statement: provided the habit is healthy for you! In all the hustle to sell their new workout videos and diet programs, the health and fitness industry is not really very concerned about what’s best for you! I’m not going to sit here and say they’re just out to make a buck, but- yeah, that’s what I’m going to do! They are trying to sell you something and if it doesn’t work out for you, then you’re probably going to buy something else they are selling to see if that works for you, so the more things that don’t work for you, the more they are going to make from you.

I’m not selling you anything.  I don’t even advertise for other companies on my blog (although WordPress might- I don’t have any control over that.) My concern is that you learn healthy habits that work for you, so you can be as healthy and happy and get the most out of your life. The key phrase is here “work for you” and I am emphasizing that ‘you’ because I don’t care what works for everyone else.

This issue actually began for me as a rant against a podcaster (whom I actually like very much) and another book I was reading about learning to sleep smarter.  Both of them were talking about “prime sleep hours” and the “best wake-sleep rhythms” and so on.  It was really annoying because they are trying to cram everyone into one little box and if you don’t fit, you’re just not trying hard enough and you’re hurting yourself. (Huge eye roll here!) It’s like when the FDA tries to tell everyone that they need to drink 8 ounces of milk each day or eat 11 servings of whole grains daily.  HELLO! I think we all know by now that all those grains led to a huge epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity, and that some people are sensitive to lactose (especially if your ethnicity is not Northern European!)

This is where I get really annoying again and tell you that if you aren’t tracking your foods, energy, moods, and sleep, you really should, because that tells you what works for you and what doesn’t.

Those of you who’ve been reading me for a while may recall that I have a really jacked up sleep-wake cycle (‘circadian rhythm’ is the technical term).  When I was in college on semester/ summer break, my sister and I would both turn into vampires.  We would sleep most of the morning, wake up about noon or later and be up until around two in the morning and then go to sleep. It wasn’t because we had night jobs or night classes or had some kind of weird disease: this was normal for us.  In fact, we did most of our grocery shopping around midnight at a 24 hour store.  Even after we moved to separate locations to go to graduate school, we kept the same hours: we’d text each other around midnight or one a.m. and it wasn’t unusual to get back a response in a couple minutes, because, yep- we’re up!  One of the reasons I got a kindle in fact is because I do most of my reading and book-browsing between 11:00 p.m. and two a.m. (Amazon will back me up!)

When I keep my normal hours, I am alert, rested and a little high energy in fact: I sleep when I get tired, wake up without the alarm and feel good during my ‘day.’  That’s how you are supposed to feel and it’s how you know you are getting enough rest.  On the other hand, if I tried to force anyone else to keep my schedule, most people would feel really tired during my waking hours and would try to wake up probably about 6 or 7 a.m. (when I am normally getting my best sleep!) They would get very burnt out in a few days and probably be really irritable and groggy and drained.  It’s because this is not their circadian rhythm; it’s mine.

That is how I feel most of the time when I try to match the rest of the world’s sleep-wake cycle.  I have to wake up at a time when I am normally getting my ‘best’ sleep: between 4-6 a.m., be awake and alert when I am normally sleeping and then I’m supposed to go to sleep when I’m normally awake!  I know that humans are not nocturnal creatures, but my sister and I are about as close to being nocturnal as humans can get! If any of you have ever had a night job, you know how uncomfortable and disorienting it can be to be awake when you’re normally sleeping and sleeping when you’re normally up and alert.  It’s physically painful for me at times to wake up to an obnoxious alarm clock (they are all obnoxious!) and get ready for work.  It’s a long and difficult transition for me to adjust to a ‘normal’ wake-sleep cycle and when I am off for an extended period of time, I revert right back to what’s normal for me.

The point of all this griping and grousing is that so many of us try to do something similar with diet, exercise, sleep and everything else in order to fit the rest of the world’s “healthy habits.” We try to eat 6-8 ounces of meat daily and drink 8 ounces of milk daily and get all those healthy whole grains and we feel horrible.  Our digestive tract rebels and causes all kinds of pain and discomfort but we keep on trying.  We hit the gym and walk the five miles or so three times a week and our knees, back and hips revolt until we can hardly stand up, let alone walk, and we keep trying.”What’s wrong with us?” Probably nothing! We’re that round peg not fitting into that cookie cutter square hole. The point of being an individual is that we are not like others.  Some of us don’t digest meat very well and some of us are lactose intolerant and some of us are sensitive to grains.  Just because we’re humans doesn’t mean we are all alike! It’s like the old syllogism logic teachers love: All poodles are dogs but not all dogs are poodles.  Yes, they are all dogs, but yes, they are all different  and the same truths apply to us. While we are all fundamentally the same, we are all actually very different.  While this may seem like a real “duhhh” statement, how many times have you or someone you know tried the “one size fits all” approach? and how did that work out for you or them? There were a lot of times I tried the latest diet fad and most of the time, if it didn’t outright make me sick, I generally felt pretty horrible.  I know when I tried Nutrisystem, yes, I lost weight and yes, I was hungry the entire time.  I didn’t have a lot of energy either, but I kept with it because I was losing weight.  Weight loss: yes; Energy level: low; Hunger: high; Learning new healthy habits: oh hell no!  But because of that one yes, I stuck with it until I couldn’t stand their food anymore (besides being REALLY expensive!)

The same thing happened with me when I tried exercising.  How can you hurt yourself walking on a treadmill?  It was the bottom line recommendation from my gym and just about every website and blog I read: if you haven’t been exercising, start using the treadmill. So I did.  My feet hurt, my legs hurt, and my knees were killing me.  I pushed through, because I know there’s a difference between discomfort and pain and when you start a new activity, there is usually a little discomfort involved.  When it didn’t go away and started to get worse, I went to my doctor and the treadmill was actually the worst thing I could do.  I have arthritis in my knees (this is how I found out!) and even the low impact from the treadmill aggravated the condition (even now it still does, since I tried it again recently and even just 15 minutes was enough for me to feel it).  My doctor told me to use a pool since I can exercise without aggravating my knees and the water has some good resistance to it as well.  I can easily do an hour’s workout in the water and still not have painful knees.

I don’t want you to get the idea that everything needs to be personalized for you by some trainer or nutritionist or professional.  If you can afford those, then yes, it wouldn’t be a bad idea, but even though most of us can’t afford that level of personal attention, it doesn’t mean that we are out of luck!  When you start a new way of eating or new workout program, monitor how well it works for you.  Yes, this will mean writing down when you eat, what you ate and how you felt afterwards.  The same with the exercise and anything else you start doing differently.  I like to use a paper journal but there are a lot of apps (like My Fitness Pal and Fitbit) which will allow you to track this and those two apps will talk to each other, so you can use them both to combine your info.  Both of those will also sync with the My Health app on iPhones so you can have all your data in one place. The idea is that if there are some things about your new habits that work out for you, then you want to keep those but if there are things that don’t, then you can modify them.  For example, I eat a low carb diet, but I know that if I consistently eat lower than 50 carbs a day, my energy level drops dramatically.  I’m tired and irritable and usually have a bit of a headache.  I try to keep my carbs between 50-100 (a big carb day for me is about 135).  I generally feel pretty good in that range, and actually 135 was my old number (which is in the moderate range).  I knew from experience that eating really low carb (less than 20 carbs daily) really made me feel awful (some people call it ‘keto flu’ or ‘carb withdrawal’) so as I ate less, I found a range that worked for me: I didn’t feel tired or irritable, was getting enough fiber and glucose to exercise without getting exhausted or voraciously hungry, and my mood and hunger/ satiety were still positive.  By tracking all these things, I figured out what range is good for me.

This may sound like complex science experiment but it really isn’t.  If you use an app like MFP or Fitbit, when you enter your meals, the app does all the work for you. You don’t even have to write it all down if you don’t want to.  There’s a Notes section on MFP so at the end of the day (or during the day if you want) you can make notes like “really tired after lunch” or “lots of energy after breakfast” or whatever else you want to say about your mood, energy, digestion- whatever! The Nutrition portion of the app will tell you want your carbs, protein, fats and nutrients were for the day.  I like to write it all down but that’s just me!  It takes a couple minutes each day and at the end of a week, you have a lot of data collected.  If you don’t notice any problems or changes, then boom! you’re all done! But if, like me, you do notice days when you feel really tired or really fat or really hungry, you can take a look at what you did that day, and the next time it happens and the next, until you can see that each of those days you did or ate XYZ- maybe that’s the problem? Make a change! Then note the results: I ate more than 50 carbs and felt better.  I did a bigger cardio workout and I’m probably going to be really hungry tomorrow morning.  Tracking lets you know what you need to change and what you need to keep, so over time, your eating plan and workout program, and even your sleep schedule if you want, is customized to give you the best results for you. You know yourself better than anyone, even before you start tracking.  Tracking just clues you into the signals your body is sending you anyway- the difference is now you’re paying attention.  It’s like taking that “one size fits all” dress or slacks and altering it to fit you perfectly! Tracking also helps you keep making progress because we all know that what works for us now will eventually stop working as our bodies and metabolisms change.  This is why calorie counting methods keep dropping your calories the more weight you lose.  Eventually, your body will get used to your exercise and your metabolism will get used to a certain number of macros.  This is where many people get confused and frustrated and sometimes they will abandon their program and go in search of something different.  They may not need ‘something different’- they just need to make an adjustment to what they are doing now! It’s like altering those slacks again! It keeps your plan personalized for you! You have changed, so shouldn’t your plan change also?

One more heads-up: peer pressure can be enormous, especially if people are telling you you’re doing it ‘wrong,’ or that their plan is much better.  Maybe it is better- for them! Maybe the way you’re doing it works for you! The push to join the pack is extremely hard to resist.  We see everyone else having great success or lots of enthusiasm with their programs and we not only feel the need to be like others, we also want to have the same success.  It’s normal, but before we join the pack, we need to take stock of our current situation.  Is our plan working for us, i.e. we are hitting our goals and we are happy with it? If not, then maybe it’s time to make a change to our plan before abandoning it altogether.  If we do decide to try a new plan, we need to monitor ourselves to see if it works for us.  If not, again, we can try personalizing it to fit us or we can try something new again.  The point is that if we are not being patient and making the changes we need to our eating plans and workout programs, we are just going to keep bouncing from one to another.  That’s not a good way to find success.  One more personal example: when I started college, I took the required Study Skills class that said we should all study in a quiet isolated room with no distractions.  The guidance counselor thought I was crazy when I told her I studied in the living room with the tv on or the cafeteria full of students with the campus radio going full blast.  I knew from experience that the silence of the library was too distracting to me.  A sneeze in a silent room is the same as bomb going off while a sneeze in a room full of noise is just a sneeze.  My brain filters out a room full of noise as junk but one sound in silence is an alarm bell. I still study and read with the tv on.  We are all all our own unique individuals and we should be proud of our differences!  That’s what makes us strong! We need to focus on ourselves and less on what everyone else is doing and what everyone else says is “the best way to go.”  What works for “everyone else” would be fine, if we were “everyone else.”  Frankly, the world would be pretty boring if we were all everyone else and all dogs were poodles.










Quick Tips for Making Your Resolutions into Reality 

Every year thousands of us make well- intentioned resolutions to eat healthier, lose weight & get into shape. The average lifespan of a New Year’s Resolution is about 6-8 weeks. By the end of February, most of us have exhausted our resolve and give up. We’re just destined to be fat and out of shape, or it takes more willpower and time than we have. Giving up leaves most of us feeling like failures and a little embarrassed, although we have plenty of company.

But the truth is we aren’t destined to be fat or out of shape and it’s not that we need more willpower. There’s nothing wrong with our resolutions either. Our intentions are great: it’s our execution that stinks! We try to make too many changes at once: giving up sugar, drinking more water, getting more sleep, exercising multiple times a week, eating more vegetables, getting 10,000 steps a day, etc. It’s the equivalent of walking into the gym and trying to deadlift 150 lbs! If you’ve never lifted before, you’d think I was nuts if I asked you to try that, but that’s what you tried to do when you tried making all those changes at once. It was just too much all at once so it’s no wonder most of us are overwhelmed but because it’s not actually trying to lift 150 lbs, we think we’re hopeless and give up. 

Shortly before Christmas I did a post on resolutions but this is when the rubber meets the road and we’re in the thick of resolution- wrestling. We’ve made our resolutions and are putting them into action, however difficult it may be for us. So let’s make sure we give ourselves the best advantages that we can.

Quick Tip #1: Baby steps. This was my primary advice in the pre-Christmas post and it definitely bears repeating. Suppose you did make a long list of resolutions and are thinking maybe it was a bit much or you’re already starting to feel overwhelmed. Pull out your list and choose the one that’s most important to you, then rank the rest in order of importance. Get ready to make progress! Now that you’ve identified #1, focus on that one resolution only! You are going to make it a habit by devoting your energy only on that one behavior change. Once you’ve made it part of your regular routine, move on to #2.

Quick Tip #2: Break it down to bite size chunks. Some of you might remember that I used to be an English teacher and one of the things we’d tell our students-repeatedly- is when you’re choosing your paper topics, narrow your topic! “The death penalty” (a perennially popular choice) is NOT a paper topic: “Implementation of the death penalty in California since 2000” IS a topic. It’s specific and tells the reader what you’re writing about. “The death penalty” is way too broad: what are you going to focus on? Constitutionality? Implementation? State laws? Federal laws? Racial breakdown? You get the idea.

The same thing happens when you choose a resolution like “lose weight.” How are you going to do it? Do you have a plan? Like every overbroad topic, “lose weight” lacks focus. “Eating low carb to lose weight” has focus. “Getting fit” is also too broad; “building strength through weight training” has more focus. Being specific about your resolution/ goal helps you find and keep a direction. Even so, breaking your resolution into steps and a plan of action makes it more actionable and therefore achievable. It helps you plot and measure your progress towards your goals.

For example if your resolution is to lose weight by eating low carb, you can map out a plan like first cutting out processed foods, then move on to cut out starchy vegetables, then cutting out refined sugars, etc. You can do the same thing with the weight training goal: maybe getting some DVDs or meeting with a trainer to map out a safe timetable to move you forward.

Quick Tip #3: Give yourself the right tools. This has a little overlap with #2. Once you’ve figured out what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there, you need the right tools to get there. This could include the trainer, DVDs, equipment, or the right resources for eating low carb, like a book or diet plan.

If you’re going to try eating better (whether it’s for getting fit or losing weight), a food scale is a great tool. Weighing your food isn’t the point but learning portion size is. “Portion inflation” is a major issue  in our culture: restaurants routinely serve double or triple portions per serving and as a result, most of us think 12 ounces of meat is a “portion.”  Depending on the meat, 3-4 ounces is a portion size. A portion size of vegetables is generally around 6 ounces or a cup, depending on the vegetables (fresh spinach is 2 cups; a sweet potato is about 6 ounces).  A calorie counter book or app can help you figure out what the correct portion size is (calories aren’t the point) and a food scale can help you learn what the correct size looks like.

Another great tool is a journal. It doesn’t have to be to record your food (although that can be a great advantage); but if you’re trying to lose weight,  you need a record; or if you want to change your eating pattern, keeping a record of what you ate and how you liked it is helpful. If you’re trying to build muscle, it’s also helpful to record your workouts and any measurements you’ve taken. (A measuring tape is an inexpensive tool.) You don’t have to use an actual book: an app is just as good, besides having other advantages, such as a food database and/ or a supportive community. Having a great support group is another important tool: not only does it keep you motivated, it can also be an information resource.

Joining a gym is also an option that tends to overwhelm people. You don’t have to join a gym but if getting fit is your resolution, then it might be something to consider. Most gyms have trial memberships. If a friend/ family member belongs, see if you can visit on a guest pass. I would suggest avoiding a contract until you are sure this is the gym for you. Don’t choose a gym based on what you plan on using but what you know you will use.

Other great tools can be things like a lunchbox kit, home workout equipment and a reliable bathroom scale. These tools help keep you motivated and make it easier for you to plan ahead. Knowing that you’re prepared really does make it easier to stay focused when it comes to making a lunch, or doing your workout at home and if you’ve got a reliable scale (or measuring tape), there’s no reason not to weigh/ measure yourself.

Quick Tip #4: Keep moving forward. This is extremely important because a lot of us give up when we fail to reach our first goal or milestone. We also have the “start over” mentality. We plan on losing ten pounds in the first month and when we come in at less than our goal, we want to start over or choose another strategy. This is why a journal comes in handy because we can see maybe we were eating too much or eating the wrong foods or maybe we were “off track” more often than we thought we were. The same goes if we plan on lifting X lbs by our first month: if we look and see we missed about half our scheduled workouts, we know what the problem is! Charting our progress helps us refine our program, whether it’s eating better or getting fitter.

Whether we use a journal or not, giving up or ‘starting over’ isn’t helpful. If we don’t hit our goals, we need to keep going forward. We aren’t markers on a board game because our life isn’t a game. If we mess up, we need to find out where we messed up, find a way to fix it and move forward! Our focus should be progress, not perfection.  The more we keep making progress, the easier it gets! (Really, it does, because we keep practicing!)

Some of my favorite tools include a Dietminder journal (they do diet, exercise and maintenance journals).  I have an Ozeri food scale (it’s an America’s Test Kitchen best buy) and an EatSmart digital bathroom scale. My lunch kit is from Lunchblox via Amazon. I’m also a fan of the My Fitness Pal app/ website. It’s got a food database and a great support community. (It’s like a fitness oriented Facebook!) I generally recommend Nutrition for Dummies, since it’s easy to read and it gives you the basics for healthy eating.

Final Quick Tip: Keep a positive attitude! Focusing on the negative will not help you move forward. If you’ve only lost 5 lbs instead of 10, telling yourself you fell short isn’t helpful. You need to be your own best advocate. If you gained weight, telling yourself you’re a loser or hopeless isn’t helpful either. If it’s really how you feel, this is where the support group comes in! Reach out for support or motivation because believe me, we’ve all been there! If you tell yourself you can’t do it, then you’ve already made the decision to quit. We all need support at times. There’s no shame in reaching out, but in giving up, you’re only hurting yourself.

You can do this! As always, I’m here if you have any questions and I can be reached at