Stress is Not a Bargain 

When you are on a fitness or weight loss journey, we are used to taking the budget approach to calories and fitness. A lot of our calorie calculators look like a long math problem: 1200 calories + 1350 food = -150 calories + 400 exercise = 250 calories left over. Yes! I can eat that 200 calorie cup of yogurt after dinner! It’d be nice if it really was so simple, but the truth is that metabolism isn’t so cut and dry, and more than food and exercise affect it. 
What we don’t realize is that almost everything we do in our lives has a cost and a consequence, whether weight related or not. Relationships, work, food, exercise, and every day life: they all have a cost in our lives and a lot of times, that cost is hidden. 
We’re get used to looking at labels and putting on our activity trackers with our watch or jewelry. We diligently log our food and water, and we make a point of getting more sleep. These are all good healthy habits we should be proud of, but when it comes to the stress in our lives, we don’t see it as something with a cost, or at least a cost that can be controlled. 
Stress, both good and bad, is a normal part of life. That’s a given but we don’t always think about the effects stress has on us or on our health, fitness and weight loss. Even ‘good stress’ like exercise or a vacation trip, puts pressure on our health. We’ve all heard the expression “a vacation from the vacation.” It’s because the packing, the traveling, the being away from home, and then all the unpacking, laundry, and fitting back into every day life: you guessed it! There’s stress! Even if the vacation was wonderful and relaxing, getting back into your routine can take some work. 
There are other stressors in our lives we may not recognize, like helping someone out. Even something as simple as picking up someone’s mail or feeding their cat while they’re gone can be a stress, especially if you already have a busy schedule. It’s one more thing to get into your day, and the more of those “little easy things” you add to your day, the more stress you are under. We’re used to thinking of calories and exercise adding up, but stress also has a cumulative effect. 
When we don’t manage our stress like we manage the rest of our health, simply put we are buying trouble. Managing our stress can be as simple as not cramming our schedule full to bursting, even if it’s “healthy” stress like exercise. (That’s why we need recovery/ rest days.) “Fun stress” also takes a toll, if you finish the end of every day or every weekend exhausted. Stress relieving activities don’t have to be things like yoga or meditation: they can be simple things like walking the dog, taking the kids to the park, or just spending some leisurely time in the pool. Other choices: doing a puzzle or crossword, getting a manicure, reading a book. Essentially, if it’s something you enjoy that’s restful, then you need to make time for it in your schedule on a regular basis, but cramming it in just so you have “stress relief” may work against you. These should be activities that don’t really have a timer attached. 
We know there’s limits on our calories and our time for sleep and exercise, but they are also limits on how much stress we can handle. We’re mindful of things like gluten, sugar, and overtraining, but we also need to be mindful of what else we sign up for when we sign up for the other non-health activities in our lives. 

Unexpected Poisons: Toxic People & Relationships

Most of us who are trying to be healthier work at eliminating toxins from our lives.  These are things like chemicals in our food and environment.  Most of us know not to use Teflon or plastics with BPA and we avoid crops grown with Round Up.  We consciously choose organic and non-GMO to stay as healthy as possible.

But when it comes to the toxic people in our lives, we have a lot more trouble spotting them, and even when we do recognize them as being toxic, cutting ties with them is much harder than switching the brand of detergent we use.  For most of us, the toxic people in our lives tend to be the ones who are hard to avoid, like bosses, coworkers, or family members.  Realistically, if you have a friend who is an emotional drain on you, they usually don’t stay your friend for very long.  I had a ‘friend’ who only called me when he needed something; the rest of the time, he couldn’t be bothered with me, so one day when he called and asked me for a favor, I just flat out told him: “I haven’t heard from you in more than 6 months and the first words out of your mouth are ‘can you do me a favor?’ Call me back when you can be a real friend.”  He did call and apologize and ‘make nice,’ because he really needed the favor, but it was the last time I spoke to him. No loss there.

The toxic people we have real trouble with are the ones who are fixtures in our lives.  How can you cut ties with your boss or coworker without changing jobs?  Is avoiding someone who is a real drain worth the hassle of finding a new job? And why should you be the one to leave when the other person is the problem? Chances are they are a problem for others also.  Then there are the family members: cutting ties with them can be cutting ties with a whole section of your family, and if you happen to live with them, almost impossible.  In these cases, we usually just put up with the ‘toxicity’ rather than causing major upheaval in our lives.  It’s an unconscious cost-benefit analysis: is cutting ties going to be worth all the drama and uncertainty that’s going to come with it?

Honestly, this is where most of us sigh and ‘man-up’ and just live with the ongoing stress and negativity that comes with having these people in our lives.  To use another business analogy, it’s ‘the cost of doing business.’ There’s the sense that we are overreacting or being childish if we refuse contact with someone in our family.  We think we may cause a major family rift if we cut ties with someone or it could mean that cutting ties with one person means we lose contact with someone we really want to stay close with.

It’s not an easy decision to make either for work or for family, but sometimes the poison that is making you sick in your life isn’t what you’re eating: it is an actual person in your life.  If you were gluten-sensitive, you wouldn’t think twice about avoiding bread and telling others that you are gluten-free.  The same if you have a peanut allergy or any other kind of sensitivity: it’s a fact of life- XYZ makes you sick!

I have mentioned The Boss From Hell before in this blog and I know there are a lot of people who make similar references to ‘bad bosses’ in their own lives.  This woman literally made me ill and nearly killed me, and not just me either!  The Associate at this job also suffered from similar panic attacks, anxiety and stress related problems.  He and I both had trouble sleeping, concentrating and I actually developed a slight tremor and heart palpitations while at that job. What was worse was that it didn’t stop when I left the office: this woman would call and text me while I was at home, on my commute and on weekends, and as far as she was concerned, it was part of my job!  And she did the same to the Associate.  The last straw was when I was driving home and she called to complain about what I hadn’t done that day (namely call FedEx to see why she wasn’t getting a discount on the mirrors she’d ordered for her home that FedEx had delivered broken) and why I hadn’t finished my other duties that day (mainly because I spent much of my day on the phone with FedEx and the mirror retailer).  I practically had to pull over on the freeway because I was so upset.  The next day, I went to work and quit. And she could not understand why I was quitting or why a few months later, the Associate quit too!

Of course there was a lot of stress and uncertainty with finding a new job, but by the time I made the decision to quit, it was pretty much black and white: I either take my chances with the Unknown or I die at this job, because it was no longer a matter of ‘if this job will kill me,’ but ‘when this job kills me.’ [ Just as a point of reference, there were a lot of people who kind of giggled and said I had the boss right out of The Devil Wears Prada.  I didn’t see the movie until my job had already begun making me ill, and I could not (and still haven’t) seen the whole movie because certain scenes cause stressful flashbacks but if you have seen it, my boss was a lot like Meryl Streep’s character, only not as nice. ]

Most of the toxic people in our lives are not as black and white as The Boss From Hell, but the point is that they are just as toxic.  Sadly, most of us are familiar with the domestic violence situation where we are on the outside shaking our heads: why do they keep going back to their abusers? Because behind all the abuse, the victim remembers times when their abuser was kind and sweet and a different person.  Once they get some distance on the most recent abuse, they start missing the ‘good times,’ even if we can’t see or identify them as being ‘good.’ I think this is why we put up with toxic family members: underneath all the poison, they are ‘family’ or ‘blood’ and so we put up with being treated like trash, being taken advantage of or being verbally or physically abused.  “It’s family and that’s what we do for family.”

The truth is that ‘family’ isn’t any more synonymous with abuse than is ‘friendship’ or ‘work environment.’  We should not have to put up with being victimized or abused or mistreated because someone is a ‘friend,’ ‘family member,’ ‘coworker,’ or ‘boss.’  If a stranger treated you the same way, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to call the cops or walk away from them forever, but because there is this connection, we accept their bad behavior.  The result is that the situation causes you stress and quite possibly illness.  Oftentimes, once we get some distance on the most recent instance of bad behavior, like victims of domestic violence, we start remembering when times were better and that ‘they aren’t always like that.’  The truth is that when you go back to socializing or working with them, you are condoning their bad behavior of you. Many of them, like The Boss From Hell, do not even accept that their behavior was bad.  You need to decide if they are worth the abuse.  Looking back on my situation, I confess I stayed with her for much longer than I should have, because as is often the case, the relationship didn’t start out awful and I thought of her for a long time as a friend, even after people starting telling me- in earnest- that this job was going to kill me. Only you can decide if the toxic people in your life are worth the pain and stress, but frankly, the ones we love shouldn’t be the ones who hurt us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running in Place: Getting Nowhere FAST!

I am not talking about a treadmill, or elliptical or even a stationary bike here! This is when we are frantically trying to make progress, busting our butts to move forward and we aren’t going anywhere at all!  This is the most frustrating position we find ourselves in as we try to lose weight or become more fit.  It’s even more frustrating than figuring out where to start, because at least in that situation, you have some kind of direction: how do I get started?

When we are ‘doing everything right’ and not making progress, it’s almost unbearable.  Obviously, we aren’t doing everything right, but what is it we are doing wrong?  Maybe it’s nothing we are doing but what we aren’t doing.  Maybe it’s something external that’s affecting us.  Maybe it’s a plateau. Maybe, maybe, maybe!! Still not helping us move forward!! What do I do? How do I fix this? Can I even be fixed??

I know you don’t want to hear this but the best way to figure this out is to slow down.  We need to approach this like a detective or a doctor and ask a few simple questions to narrow down the culprit: 1) When did I stop making progress? and 2) What has changed since that date?  If you are tracking your progress, this should be a matter of looking back through your journal or whatever you use.  Of course there isn’t going to be a big red flag proclaiming: THIS IS WHEN YOU WENT OFF TRACK! so you need to look back at the last date you know you were on target and then move forward to the present.  This is why you need to slow down, because even though it’s only two questions, there are a lot of things that come into play and if you aren’t tracking all of them, or at least making notes, then it’s going to be a little more complicated.  Another big reason you need to slow down is that if you just start making arbitrary changes, like “I’ll eat more protein and less carbs!”; “I’ll add more reps/ time to my workouts!”; “I’ll switch up my workouts from cardio to weight training!”, you might not be addressing the problem.  If the problem is too many indulgences, working out more might help, but not as much as cutting back on the indulgences.  Also, if the problem is over-training, adding in more workouts is just going to make it worse!

Like I said, it helps if you are tracking and depending on your personality.  I use the My Fitness Pal app but I also use a paper journal. The MFP app is good for nutrition calculation, water, counting calories and it’s awesome for support.  I also use the Fitbit app for calculating sleep and activity and the paper journal is also where I track my food, portions, macros, calories and all the little incidentals that I don’t put in MFP simply because it’s easier to write a little note and it’s a whole lot easier to flip through.  The paper journal I use is the DietMinder from MemoryMinder.com, although I get mine from Amazon.  It’s two pages per day and it’s good for 90 days.

When you start looking at your notes or journal, what you want to look for are things like the obvious and then move on to some of the more stealthy culprits:

  1. Too many calories, even if it’s just creeping up or down by a few calories a day or are you not being accurate with your portion sizes?
  2. Macros (fat, protein, carbs)- did your ratio change?
  3. Activity- are you moving more, less or did you change your routine?
  4. Sleeping less? Or more? Not good sleep?
  5. Stress level: up or down
  6. Water- how much are you getting?
  7. Other changes in eating habits, like eating out more, eating more or less salty/ sugary/ different foods; or fasting
  8.  Injury or illness: obviously if you’re hurt or sick, your body is going to put most of the focus on repair and recovery or it could affect your activity level
  9. Medication changes: this can have a huge impact on how your body burns or stores fuel!

One of the stupidest (and yes, I mean STUPID) statements I heard on My 600 lb Life is when a patient poo-poohed Dr. Now’s calorie limit, because she said “I can look at a food and immediately calculate the number of calories, the protein and the fat in it.” Seriously!! I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that! I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating portion sizes, but I still weigh my food to make sure that I’m eating the amount I think I’m eating, because calories sneak up on you this way.  They also get away from you the same way.  I fry some bacon and I think it’s about two ounces but it’s more like three, so there’s a lot more calories than I had estimated.  At the same time, if I think I’ve eaten more veggies than I have, then there’s less calories, but also less fiber and less vitamins.  Macros matter mainly because fat and protein tend to keep you feeling fuller longer than carbs do, so it may be that you think you’re getting enough of those necessary nutrients but you aren’t and as a result, you feel hungry and eat more.

It can also be that you’ve stopped being as active as you used to be while your calories have stayed the same.  That can be really confusing, because it may feel like you’re really busy, but that can be the stress playing tricks on you.  Stress and lack of sleep will also mess with your progress in big ways: your body goes into survival mode even if the stress isn’t physical.  The brain is still sending the Under Attack signal to your hormones and as a result you tend to store fat instead of burning it and you can also feel more hungry since the body is trying to hold on to everything it can, including food, fat and water.

Changes in medication can be really stealthy culprits and one of the biggest is insulin.  Many people who are obese are type 2 diabetic and if your doctor has you on a medication that produces or mimics insulin or suppresses your satiety hormone leptin or increases the hunger hormone ghrelin, you could be storing more fat due to insulin or insulin mimic, not feeling full when you’ve eaten enough (leptin) or feeling hungry all the time (ghrelin).  Several of my family members have been on steroids, especially Prednisone, which makes you feel hungry all the time! You never feel full while taking it! If your doctor has given you a new prescription or made changes, read the pamphlet that comes with it or look at some of the side effects that come with it.  Talk to your doctor or your pharmacist, because it may be a drug interaction that is behind it and not just the drug itself.  FYI: this includes herbal supplements and vitamins!

If you think you’ve found the culprit sabotaging your progress, you not only need to make changes, you need to track those changes! Note the changes you’re making and then give yourself some time to see if there is improvement.  Again, I know you don’t want to hear that we need to slow down, but seriously, if you’ve upped your workout times or changed your macros or calories, are you really going to see a change in three days or even a week? It may be the right change for you but if you wait a week and nope- not improving! let’s switch to keto!, you may have just sabotaged yourself!

Slowing down really stinks, but if you don’t take the time to figure out what’s going on and what you need to do, it doesn’t matter how “fast” you go or think you are going- because you still won’t be getting anywhere! Patience, tracking and a little investigation can go a long way to fixing problems that result in progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it.  Most of us would rather be fast than thorough, including me! When I feel like that, I look at Wyatt Earp’s quote stuck on my cubicle wall: “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Bulls-eye!

 

 

Emotional Eating: Dealing with Stress

This probably the most common excuse for overeating, eating the wrong foods or just plain bingeing. We either use food to distract us or comfort us. We want something yummy to make us feel good. It’s completely understandable: we’re anxious, uptight and we want those negative emotions to go away. Food is something that does that for us. Things like ice cream or chocolate or potato chips set off our pleasure center in the brain. It’s why we think of them as addictive. It doesn’t have to be sugary or salty: as long as they relieve our negative emotions, we will keep coming back to them when we feel the stress.

It’s easy to make healthy choices when we’re feeling good but once things start getting complicated, we feel it’s okay to ‘have a treat’ or ‘take a break,’ but actually it’s the worst thing we can do. Giving ourselves permission to make unhealthy choices, whether it’s cookies or skipping a workout, is simply reinforcing our old stress relieving routines which kept us from our fitness goals to begin with. There will always be stress in our lives: it’s an unhappy fact of life. Learning to change our habits in times of stress is another tough stressor but it’s a necessary one. Once we learn how not to stress-eat or make excuses, we make a quantum leap forward. Let’s be honest here: we’re under stress, we eat a stack of cookies, we feel better for the five-ten minutes it took to eat them, then we feel guilty about the cookies on top of the stress that started it all, then we worry over whether we’ve either stalled or gained weight. More stress and bad news!

There’s also the whole physical effects that come with our bad choices besides the stall/ gain. We usually don’t realize it until we get away from the poor choices, but things like chips, cookies, and other processed foods are ‘quick’ carbs. We use terms and phrases like ‘chocoholic’ or ‘sugar addiction’ and we’re not wrong: our bodies learn to crave the processed foods because they’re quick energy. One of the reasons they’re not good for us is because they spike our blood sugar, which is followed by a rapid drop, which results in the cravings for sugar or other quick carbs. These processed foods are full of calories but low in nutrition and they perpetuate our cravings. What about any of that is good for us? The less we eat of these foods, the less we crave them and once we lose our taste for them we realize a few things: we feel better physically and mentally when we don’t eat them. Unfortunately it’s not until we eat them again that we realize how just plain awful they make us feel compared to eating something healthier. They don’t taste as good as they used to, they’re not good for us and they make us feel ‘ugh.’ So, why are we eating them?? Because we were feeling stressed and that’s what we do when we’re stressed!

It’s a little bit of a catch-22: we’re freaking out over the negative emotions, so we go to what calms us down, but then we freak out because now we just ‘blew our diet’- no win situation.  But sometimes learning a new healthy habit doesn’t help either: we’re freaking out and we try the ‘healthy thing’ but it doesn’t really seem to help since it’s not the old comforting routine.  We’re still feeling the urge to do the ‘old habit,’ and we’re left stressing out with the negative emotions.  This transition period is usually where we give up and revert to the emotional eating we wanted to avoid.

It’s easy to sit here and say “stress isn’t an excuse! Don’t eat your emotions!”  In reality, when we are stressed, we aren’t thinking clearly because we’re under emotional duress (the fancy way of saying we’re freaking out!)  The law in fact recognizes this and makes exceptions to agreements made under emotional duress.  However, we have to be stronger than the negative emotions and learn new ways to cope with stress.  It’s not easy and it’s fun but until we learn how to deal with our bad habits and our negative emotions, we’re going to keep doing it. This is what makes that transition period so extremely difficult. Not only are we dealing with whatever triggered the stress response, but we’re trying to deal with learning new behaviors at the same time.  So in the middle of all of this emotional turmoil, we’re supposed to be clear-headed enough to tell ourselves to be patient and learn the new healthy habits because, in the long run, we’ll be better off.

Being a responsible adult really stinks at times and this is definitely one of those times! I vividly remember trying to be “responsible and healthy” about dealing with my stress and I still found myself staring into the fridge after the argument with my mom! I wasn’t hungry at all, but it was pretty easy to figure out what the trigger was! Luckily, I realized what I was doing and shut the door, but then, I was still left with the stress….

The first thing you need to realize is that screwing up isn’t the end of the world.  This is a learning situation, so there’s going to be mistakes and it’s going to be a little trial and error before you find out how to get over it.  The second thing you need to realize is that eating was your distraction from the negative emotions, so you are going to need to find a new distraction or learn to deal with the negative stress and emotions.  Obviously, learning to deal with the emotions is the best way to handle it, but until you do, you need to find a distraction that calms you down and doesn’t involve food!  Most people opt for exercise: it stimulates ‘feel good’ hormones and it burns calories.  Sometimes, however, when your body is occupied, your mind starts going to whatever you are trying to forget.  We all know how it is when we go to bed and then your day starts running through your head! I find this happens a lot to me when I start working out: body busy, brain not busy- so it goes right to whatever was bothering me! Sometimes it helps to focus on your form or counting your repetitions.

Even if you do opt for exercise as a distraction, it’s better to have more than one way of handling the stress.  We aren’t always going to be some place where we can start lifting or doing lunges or whatever we do when we exercise.  You need to have some other options available to you.  For some people, meditation works well because it teaches you focus on clearing your mind so you can relax instead of stress out. For other people, games, puzzles or reading work a little better since they distract the mind but require a little less practice at “thinking about nothing.”  It all depends on you. No doubt we all remember getting to the bottom of the page or the end of the chapter and have no recollection of what we just read: while our eyes were busy scanning the page, our brain was somewhere else!  This is actually the number one reason I had such a hard time (and still do) learning through audio. It’s much easier for me to dismiss what I’m hearing as background noise and focus on something else than it is for me to dismiss what I’m seeing or doing and focus on something in my head.  That was a good thing when I had to study in a noisy cafeteria as a kid but when I’m trying to listen to a book or a lecture, not so much!

This is where you need to spend a little time learning what works for you as a stress reliever.  Again, reading might not work so well but a puzzle or a game that forces you to focus might work a little better.  We all know there is no shortage of computer games and puzzles!  While playing a game to relax might seem like a waste of time, it’s really stress-management.  That’s why these games are so popular.  [Seriously, how many versions of ‘find the hidden object’ and ‘candy crush’ clones do we need?]  As a culture, we are super stressed! This is another reason why we eat so much.  It’s an easy thoughtless distraction.  Don’t think about the nasty letter we got from XYZ; think about the donut we’re going to get at the Krispy Kreme drive-thru on the way home! Don’t think about how we’re going to pay to fix the leaky shower: think about what we’re going to have for dinner instead! Games and puzzles are seen as a waste of time, like yoga and meditation.  It’s not for ‘serious minded business people.’  Somehow relaxation and stress-management have been overlooked by a lot of the health and nutrition industry, aright along with sleep, and are only now beginning to get the attention they deserve.  If we are so stressed out that we can’t sleep, that we are eating junk food to stay awake and distract ourselves from the unending stress, that our blood pressure is so high we’re in danger of a stroke, what difference does it make if we’re successful at our jobs?  One of my mom’s supervisors was someone who was a workaholic.  She was always working an extra shift and holidays because she wanted to have enough money put away for retirement with her husband.  It’s an admirable sentiment and one that most of us would agree with.  Unfortunately, a few months after she retired, she had a major stroke that left her paralyzed for the remaining few months of her life and her husband spent her retirement money taking trips with another woman.

We’ve all heard stories like that: “Mr. Jones worked hard all his life, and a few months after he retired, he died!!” Unfortunately, what we take away from those stories is “don’t retire! you’ll die!!”  The point is that the cumulative effect of chronic stress, chronic sleep deprivation and poor diet is what kills us. Learning to manage our stress has other benefits than just not overeating.  Once we learn to manage our negative emotions in healthy ways we not only lose weight, we allow ourselves to relax and heal mentally and physically.  We need to take the time to enjoy the life we have right now rather than kill ourselves working for the life we want to have when and if we live long enough to retire.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking: Laser Sights v Scattershot 

It’s kind of weird how something you hear that is seemingly unimportant sticks with you and actually becomes influential in your life. Many years ago, I was buying a printer-copier and the salesperson was asking me what I planned on doing with the machine: did I want to print text? photos? copying? faxing? And he told me that the more things the machine does, the fewer things it does well. This idea has stuck with me for literally fifteen years because it’s also true about us: the fewer things we are doing, the fewer things we are doing well.  While people like to brag about being able to multi-task, the reality is that people cannot multi-task.  We are just jumping back and forth from one task to another.  It looks like we are doing many things at once but what we are really doing is bouncing around.  The more we bounce around, the more chances there are to miss something, the less time we have to focus on each task and so there are fewer things we do well.

When I worked for the Boss From Hell, she insisted that everyone in the office multi-task.  I was used to bouncing from one task to another, most of which were scattered on my desk, but it really bothered our associate who much preferred to concentrate on one task, do it well and move on to the next task.  Another great truth I learned at that job: really smart people know we all work differently and let others work the ways that work best for them but insecure people micro-manage out of fear of losing control.  This is exactly what happened at the Job From Hell.  While multi-tasking isn’t my preferred work method, I am used to bouncing around.  Frankly, it comes with being a secretary- er, legal assistant:  I have to drop what I’m doing to answer the phone or the door and deal with whatever/ whoever just dropped into  our laps.  I also have to keep an eye on what I was doing at the time and what is next on my list.

While lawyers also have to do a little of this (emergency motions, client crises or a sudden call from someone you’ve been waiting for), most of that outside noise and interference has to get by me first.  (My boss’s callers think he’s the busiest guy on the planet because he’s always in a conference or on a courtcall!) What’s really going on is that he’s working on a project (someone’s demand or lawsuit) and doesn’t need the interruption.  While this is a good thing, in that it allows him to concentrate and do his best work and actually work faster, most callers don’t really understand that he’s in the middle of a project because we have all be taught that we “need to multi-task!”- He needs to take their call now!

The Associate at the Job From Hell hated being forced to multi-task.  He hated being interrupted when he was trying to concentrate and whenever he protested, the Boss would just screech at him about multi-tasking. He used to point out that multi-tasking is a myth, since the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. (Since he got his undergraduate degree in microbiology from UC Davis, I tend to agree with him!) I didn’t need much convincing, since I was already of the opinion that, like most machines, the more things we do at once, the fewer we do well.  I’ve seen evidence in my work when there are misspellings and wrong names/ words used in documents because someone interrupts me while I’m working.  This is why I am such a fiend about proof-reading! (I even hate finding errors in my blog posts!) Mistakes happen when we are distracted, and really that is what’s happening when we are bouncing from one task to another: we are being distracted by other tasks we are supposed to be working on.

This doesn’t mean that we should stick to doing one task at a time; most of us can handle a little bouncing around, especially if we’re parents.  I know I do a lot of it at home: putting something on the stove, letting the dog out, filling their water bowl, responding to a text, sorting through the mail, etc.  It’s a normal way of life! Women are usually stereotyped as being better at multi-tasking than men since in hunter-gatherer societies, women did the gathering, child-minding and house/ camp-keeping.  Men were out hunting.  One task for the men and many tasks for the women.  I don’t know how true that is since I’m guessing there’s more than just “one thing” when it comes to hunting, but this is what society has loaded us with.  It was the Boss From Hell’s justification for why the Associate wasn’t good at multi-tasking: he’s a guy!

This idea that we should and can be able to multi-task is a problem when it comes to losing weight and eating better, especially if we are new to it.  It is one more thing we are doing on top of everything else going on in our lives.  It should be easy.  The ‘experts and professionals’ keep telling us that it is easy.  I will tell you that it does get easier, especially if you have been doing it for a while.  It gets a bit like driving a car: the stuff you can do without thinking about (like keeping the car in the lane, slowing for a turn) gets shoved to the back of the brain while you focus on the important stuff, like the car in front of you cutting you off.  Once you know what you normally get at restaurants and supermarkets, you don’t have to struggle so much over which foods have sugar and what entrees are full of carbs or vegetable oils: you learn the brands and the foods that work best for you and it’s like staying in your lane. That way, you can stay focused on the harder stuff, like keeping your scheduled workouts when other things start crowding your schedule.

But like anything else, the more things you have clamoring for your attention, the less attention gets paid to those smaller details.  I have learned the hard way that when I am on the phone with friends while I’m shopping, I am more likely to come home with things I didn’t intend to buy and really don’t need.  How did it happen? “Oooh, is this new? what’s in it? chat chat chat (and it goes in the cart and in my bag and then I get home and) how did this get here? It’s not good for me!” It’s simple: I was distracted and wasn’t paying attention.  I was ‘multi-tasking.’ This is what happens when we get stressed either by something demanding our attention or when our schedules change unexpectedly: the things that were pretty routine and didn’t take a lot of time and attention suddenly get ‘lost in translation.’ We forget about them because they were so automatic before or they just get pushed out of the way: we miss a workout because something else is now in that timeslot and then our workout never makes it back on our schedule because it’s Friday and ‘that’s not a workout day.’  We were bouncing from one task to another and, because our focus is somewhere else, suddenly we realize we are out of our healthy routine- “how the heck did that happen? I know this! I had this! This should be a no-brainer by now!”

Before you start kicking yourself for screwing up, don’t even go there! Stop and think about everything you have on your plate right now, even the ‘no-brainer’ stuff, like picking up the kids from school; paying the bills; putting gas in the car; keeping and making appointments for the family, the pets, yourself; things like grocery/ shopping lists; getting the car serviced; and other little things, like birthdays, anniversaries, returning family/ friend phone calls.  Anything special going on like a wedding or graduation? It’s that time of year! Planning a vacation or long weekend? It’s that time of year too! And that’s not including everything you have going on at work! And on top of all of ‘normal life,’ you’re trying to eat better and keep your workouts.  “Let’s see: I can get in a workout after I get the tires rotated and picking up Mom and Dad’s anniversary gift on Tuesday and then I can get in another one on Saturday after I drop the dog at the groomers and before Jeffery’s soccer game that afternoon. Oh, yeah! I got to pick up the dog too!”  Welcome to the Real World! This is why so many people start out with great plans to eat better and get more activity and then fall flat on their faces.  It’s a lot to juggle and juggling is not only hard (you try keeping all those balls in the air!) but it takes a heck of a lot of determination (ha- you thought I was going to say ‘practice’ didn’t you!)

I’m saying determination this time because we are inevitably going to screw it up now and then.  When that happens, we can either give it up or we can keep it up: it’s our choice. But when we tell ourselves that we’re doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with us, that’s when we usually give up in confusion and frustration.  The only thing ‘wrong’ is that idea that we can keep adding task after task onto our lists and schedules and expect them all to fit in and if they don’t, it’s because we aren’t ‘good enough.’  Not true! There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week and 52 weeks in a year: we cannot fit in every task we want to do or even need to do, no matter how good we are at ‘multi-tasking.’  Those who are good at it learn to prioritize: what needs to get done now, what can be done later and what can be done when we have time (those are my categories anyway, for better or worse).  Sometimes we have to ask for help (can you pick up the dog so I can hit the gym?) or sometimes we have to let something go (looks like I’ll have to do skip that kombucha class I wanted to take). This is where I will challenge you to keep yourself a priority: you might not be one of the ‘things that need to get done now’ but do not put yourself as one of the ‘things to get done when I have time.’ When you are tempted to drop yourself off your list, remember: when you feel better and are healthier, you are a better parent, better spouse, better friend and better employee.  Short-changing yourself means you are short-changing everyone else in your life.  You may not have to learn to juggle your schedule, but a little bouncing might not hurt too much, and when the balls start dropping on you, take a deep breath and try again! You are worth the effort (and so is everyone else in your life!)

 

 

Burnout: When We Get Singed

We all know this feeling: we have so much to do and are constantly jumping from project to project, whether at home, at the office, or for most of us, a combination of both.  We have all these projects at work going on, and then we leave work to take care of all the projects we have going on at home. It feels like we are always “on” and there is no time to recover or rest.  Being overworked, whether it’s necessary tasks or just “fun stuff,” it takes a toll on us and sooner or later, we crash.

Life is not about cramming in as much as you can just because you can, nor is it about being constantly overloaded with tasks, whether they are ‘fun’ or not.  This is something I have to keep telling myself on a pretty regular basis.  Just because I have ’empty days’ on my calendar doesn’t meant that I can cram in another ‘activity.’  Normally I make a habit of spending one day home with my pets (usually a weekend or a holiday).  Part of this is because I want to spend time with them (they are usually pretty fond of ‘lap time’) which means I need to be sitting down for a while, but part of this is so that I get a chance to rest and de-stress.

But, as so often happens, the best laid plans of mice and men……! Life makes its own plans and for better or worse, we usually get swept along.  This is pretty much where we just have to ‘sit down, shut up and hold on,’ as the saying goes.  My life has pretty much not been my own since about the middle of February (it is now May).  Part of it was silly me, scheduling things when I thought I was in control of my own life, and part of it was events out of my control.  In February, my sister’s in-laws had a death in the family and they had to fly out of state suddenly, so I got to pet & house-sit for a week.  Kind of inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as losing a family member, and it put a minor crimp in my plans: I lost a weekend but not a big deal.  A couple of weeks later, my sister and her family had booked an outing on the coast (prior to the death) and the friend who was supposed to house & pet-sit for the long weekend had something come up, so…. I got to do it again! Kind of inconvenient again, but it happens, and this time, I lost a a bigger weekend. [I take a vacation day the weekend after my birthday, and that was the weekend I lost that time.]  Then, my sister lost her father in law, and was out of state again for a few days: more house & pet-sitting.

You might be asking, what’s the big deal staying at your sister’s house?  My sister lives twenty minutes away from my job (on the other side) and I live an hour and a half from my job.  This means, I have to take my dog with me, which means a two hour drive to my sister’s to drop him off and then drive back to work.  The nice thing is it takes me 20 minutes to get to my sister’s after work while I’m there; the not so nice thing is they have 6 dogs of their own, 3 with health issues, of which 2 require medication twice daily and they all stay in the house. Then, going back to my home, I get to drive back to my sister’s, load up my dog and bag and drive two hours home.  Not much of a weekend left by the time I get there, especially since no one has been at my house since I left and there are things that I need to take care of.

That was pretty much my March and April; also going on those months, silly me had signed up for two different classes (both of which were non-refundable) so there were some days I missed on those classes, and then there was just work stress: we had a couple of ’emergencies’ that required my working late (more missed workouts) and then when I decided to try my ‘birthday weekend’ again, my dad ended up in Urgent Care due to a bad reaction to his new medication.  This ended up being 6 hours in Urgent Care, followed by driving him home (he lives an hour and half from me) and then I had to drive home myself,  since his trailer has no room for guests (got home at 1:30 a.m.) but I had to get my mom so we could bring his truck home the next day, so another three plus hours of driving.  That was my second ‘three day weekend’! Both weekends I had a total of one day off- the only good thing was that if I hadn’t taken 3 days, I’d’ve had NO days off.  And on top of all this, I’m trying to keep up with my classes, workouts, job and just life in general.  Saying I have been over-stressed is an understatement.

Since the last failed attempt at a three day weekend, my dad is doing much better (doc changed his meds back) and one of my classes ended.  I was considering signing up for another one (apparently I was still under the delusion that my life was my own) and had not made up my mind when I went to bed last Saturday night.  That night I dreamed that my sister, her family, my family and I were all living in one bed, which was already crowded and more and more people kept crowding in.  It was so crowded no one could move or get comfortable.  When I woke up Sunday morning, I realized that my subconscious had more sense than my waking brain: I’ve got too much going on in my life right now.  Time to slow things down a little.

We’ve all heard that stress sabotages your weight loss and health in general but most of us don’t realize the extent to which it jams us up.  Most of us think of the obvious: missing workouts and exercise.  That’s just the scratching the surface. If we’re lucky, we can reschedule a workout or two, but then there’s the mental and emotional exhaustion.  We’re just drained, walking around with our shoulders all tightly hunched up.  (I started using my Fitbit’s reminders to move as reminders to relax my shoulders!) Being so drained is bad: we’re too tired to make good food choices (“I don’t have time/ want to deal with this now! That’s close enough to healthy!”) or we give in to temptation (“I’ve been so stressed and this will be a nice treat!”)  The other thing is that our body is getting the ‘danger’ signal, so our cortisol is elevated.  This means that our body is hanging on to whatever fuel it can in case we need to run for our lives or prepare to wait out a prolonged famine.  Either way, we’re storing more than we’re burning, and since we aren’t making great food choices, we’re probably over eating, eating the wrong things or (like me!) doing both! None of those is good for health, fitness or weight loss! On top of all that bad eating and high cortisol, we are probably not getting enough sleep either and the sleep we are getting isn’t quality sleep.  We all know what it’s like lying in bed thinking of everything that’s going on and what are you going to do if XYZ doesn’t work out and blah blah blah- it’s two A.M. and I have to get up in four hours and I haven’t slept at all! Ironically, realizing you need to get up shortly just adds to the stress of the moment, so you are less likely to get any quality sleep!

Sleep is when your body and brain restore themselves.  It gives your body a chance to adjust the hormones and make its repairs and it gives your brain a chance to process what’s going on and recuperate from the day.  There is more to sleep than just ‘feeling rested’ when you get up the next day: the less sleep you have, both quality and quantity, the more stress your body feels.  Not sleeping equals more stress to the body.  Not only are you continuing to add to the stress but you are taking away the down-time your body needs to recover from the stress it’s already under. Think of it like the oil in your car: you need to change it, but you keep putting it off and in addition, you keep driving more and more.  Eventually, either the oil burns out and degrades to the point where it’s useless, and you have engine damage; it dries out (you have NO oil left!) and your engine overheats; or eventually you change it.  Ironically, most of take better care of our cars (which can be replaced) than we do our bodies (we get only ONE).

I know what happens when you live under constant stress: it happened to me almost three years ago.  I had become so overweight, so physically damaged from stress and poor health choices, I had to quit my job or die.  Not being dramatic here: the constant stress and all its accompanying ills left me barely able to function. My nerves were so frayed I was having anxiety attacks; I was eating junk because I was so physically exhausted, but sleep was nearly impossible due to the anxiety attacks and stress.  When I did sleep, it was more like passing out than anything close to restorative.

I wish I could say that burnout doesn’t happen to us or there is always a way to avoid it.  Sometimes, things just happen, and when they do, we can only do our best to maintain our healthy routine as much as possible.  While I was staying at my sister’s, although I did miss a few workout classes, I was able to still make healthy food choices and get some quality sleep.  My stress escalated with the prolonged disruption of my routine and it got harder and harder to keep to it. That’s called real life and it’s not an excuse to throw away healthy choices or habits: I owe it to myself to make the best choices I can in the situation presented to me.  Sometimes it means not doing something I would otherwise consider a healthy choice, like choosing to forgo another exercise class than cramming another one into my already hectic schedule.  Sometimes it means going home and going to bed rather than running another errand, or staying home to rest (or sleep) rather than going out with friends.  Sometimes it means that a treat I might otherwise allow myself is not really a treat, because it’s really just one more bad choice on top of other bad choices already eaten.  In other words, “leave the garlic bread alone because you’ve had too much bread and sugar already this week!” Sometimes, it also means that adding more exercise to a busy week is not healthy, especially if you are having pain in your joints.  I admit, I did keep my workout despite having pain in the joints with the hardware installed (pins & plates) even though it probably wasn’t the best idea, but I modified some of the harder exercises.  It made me feel a little more in control just keeping the appointment.

When burnout happens, we need to recognize that we are under stress and need to make recuperation a priority.  Even though it may not feel like the best use of our time, we need to take a step back, take a few deep breaths and decompress.  If that means turning off the phone, tv, computer, then we need to do it. If it means telling family members no, then as hard as it is, we need to do it.  We cannot help anyone else if we are not in good shape ourselves, mentally or physically.  Burnout is like a physical wound: we take care of an injury or a sprain, but we often let the less obvious wounds from stress fester and grow worse.  Burnout is as much an injury as a sprain or a cut: we need to give ourselves the opportunity to heal rather than letting the wound grow worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Wired To Eat by Robb Wolf

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was listening to Robb’s new book (thank you, Audible!)  Generally, I don’t like to ‘read’ books this way, but his book sounded a lot like an extended version of his podcast.  Even though it was not read by him, Robb’s personality definitely came through and I believe one of his best attributes is that he explains some really technical info in terms that everyone can understand.  Not only did I finish his audio book in record time, but while listening to it, my attention did not wander! (Minor miracle!)

I’m not going to go into chapter and verse here, but I will give you a quick overview. In 2011, Robb published his first book The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet and it was a resounding success.  Paleo was already being discussed by the weight loss/ fitness community and most people fell into one of two camps: either they thought it was another goofy fad diet or they were firm believers.  Most people today still fall into those two camps, but the Firm Believer camp is growing fairly steadily, mainly because more and more health professionals (including doctors and nutritionists) are finding that even if they don’t buy the complete ‘Paleo premise,’ the fact that the lifestyle emphasizes whole unprocessed foods, healthy movement and quality sleep is enough to merit a hearty endorsement.

In Wired to Eat: Turn Off Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite to Lose Weight and Discover the Foods That Work for You (really really long title, dude!), Robb is taking the Paleo diet and individualizing it for you.  He’s developing the idea of Personalized Nutrition by first laying a strong foundation of healthy eating, movement, sleep and community and then taking it one step further by helping you find what foods are better for you and which foods you should be avoiding.

One of the things I like best about Robb (and I think it’s a big factor in his success helping people eat healthier and be more active) is that he has no illusions about the weight loss/ fitness community and industry.  He tells you a few times in the first few chapters that this is basically a ‘diet book’ and the fact that we are reading it at all instead of “killing it with fire!” is a small miracle on its own.  Robb understands that most of his readers are going to be looking for a quick fix and that many won’t make lasting changes unless the program isn’t complicated and they see some positive results fairly quickly.

Robb begins with his 30 day Reset, which is essentially a Paleo diet plan.  He admits he chose Paleo because it’s a whole food diet, emphasizing what he calls the four pillars of good health: nutrition, sleep, movement and community.  By focusing on eating whole unprocessed foods, we give our bodies the best materials we can to repair and refuel itself.  By getting enough quality sleep (and those two adjectives are important!), we give our minds and bodies the time it needs to repair and refresh themselves.  By getting enough healthy movement, we keep our body in good working order, which is also good for the mind, and by maintaining positive healthy relationships, we also keep our bodies, minds and spirits healthy and vibrant.

Robb gives us a little background on our basic human wiring.  Humans evolved to move.  As a species we walked on an average more than five miles a day, pretty much consuming everything edible that crossed our path and we rose and slept with the sun in an extended family unit or tribe.  This paradigm served us pretty well until the last hundred years or so.  Even after the agricultural revolution, we were still doing okay until the invention of cheap electric light, industrial foods and antibiotics.  We began eating highly processed but nutritionally barren foods, using broad spectrum antibiotics which wiped out our healthy intestinal bacteria (which allowed us to eat the nutrient rich foods) and started sleeping less and less and becoming more and more cut off from society. As a result, over the last century, we’ve become steadily more unhealthy, increasingly obese and much less active, and- a much more frightening statistic- the rates of digestive and autoimmune diseases have skyrocketed.  Under the current functional medicine point of view, most of our rampant health issues stem from the lack of good nutrition, lack of activity, lack of sleep, and growing social isolation.

Most of Robb’s book focuses on getting us through the 30 Day Reset, in which we stop eating the Standard American Diet of processed foods and high glycemic load carbs.  We start moving more, getting more sleep and building or maintaining our social connections.  He essentially talks the reader through why these things are important to our success not only as a species but as an individual.  He also has some quick easy meal planning tips for those who are intimidated by the idea of cooking most of their own food as well as some tips for what happens when the reader goes out to eat.  A lot of them are pretty common sense to me, but I grew up in front of a stove, cooking for my family. When I got older, I elected not to cook (with amazingly disastrous results, BTW!) When I mention cooking to others, I am frankly shocked by how little most people know about cooking and how resistant they are to the idea.  Many of them think making dinner involves hours of meal prep and slaving away over the hot stove.  They also think meal planning takes hours of complex menu convolutions.  Robb gives a few ingredients and menu variations with those few basic ingredients that only take about 30 minutes to prepare.  Most of them sounded really good too!

He also goes through some healthy advice on movement, community and sleep. He outlines ideas on getting more quality sleep and its benefits.  Some of these sounded a little ‘out-there’ to me, but I’m pretty atypical in this arena.  What works best for me and some of my friends is a sleep/ relaxation app, a warm cozy blanket and my pets.  Robb emphasizes the benefits of sleep and how it not only restores our brains and bodies, but it also helps us recover from the stress of the day.  We are not a society that values relaxation and stress management any more than we value sleep and this shows in our lack of good health.  Even though we live in a high tech, food-rich society, we are generally more unhealthy than our grandparents because, although food is plentiful, it has fewer nutrients than the food our grandparents ate, and thanks to our modern lifestyle, we isolate ourselves in front of our devices for hours on end, without moving or sleeping.  None of this behavior is healthy.

As far as movement goes, his advice is pretty basic: choose an activity you enjoy and do it as much as possible.  If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.  As a coach and a gym owner, he gives some background on endurance and your mitochondria, but the bottom line is even if you choose the healthiest activity there is, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t matter.  I really like water aerobics and while it may not be the healthiest activity, it’s one that I do as often as I can because I like it and I like hanging with my friends in the class. That makes it a successful workout regimen for me.

Community is also something that is overlooked by our high tech high stress society.  In the past, we lived and worked in communities with strong social ties. Being isolated increases stress and depression, among other things, while shortening our lives.  Social isolation ranks with cigarette smoking when it comes to shortened life span. Humans are social creatures so maintaining and developing social ties are important to our stress relief, mental and physical health. Again, I am atypical in this regard, in that I am happily single and living with others actually increases my stress.  Let me clarify that: living with other humans increases my stress and irritation.  I have a strong social human network  with whom I interact nearly every day, but at the end of the day, I go home to my furry family.  Although I am the only human in my household, I certainly do not think of myself as ‘living alone.’

After laying a pretty solid foundation for healthy living in his 30 day Reset, Robb goes the extra step and tells us how to customize our eating plans through the 7 day Carb Test. By the time you’ve gone through the 30 day Reset, you’ll have noticed that most of the carbs in the menus are low carb, unprocessed and/ or fiber rich.  It is Paleo after all, so there’s not a lot of things like pasta, breads, rice, white potatoes, wheat, corn or other grains on there.  The 7 day Carb Test is where he explains how we can get some of those back in our diet.  The 30 day Reset is to help you establish a healthy baseline and healthy habits.  It gets you off the crazy carb roller coaster and other unhealthy habits and once you’ve done that (and probably lost a few pounds, are feeling more rested and focused), he shows you how to figure out what foods work better for you than others.  He suggests getting a glucose monitor to test your blood sugar.  What most people don’t realize about blood sugar is that cravings, hunger, headaches, low energy and weight gain, not to mention diabetes and other diseases are related to your blood sugar, which is pretty much dictated by what you eat.  If you want to ride the blood sugar roller coaster, start with bagels and juice for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, a grande mocha in the afternoon, pasta marinara for dinner and a scoop of ice cream for dessert.  Even if you add in some extra protein, that menu will have most of us going up and down with mood, energy and hunger all day, with the accompanying weight gain.  But not all carbs are bad for everyone, and that’s what Robb’s 7 day Carb Test helps you figure out.  He outlines a program to let you test yourself on some of the carbs you like and want to add back and then you can determine if you are too sensitive to them. Even if you aren’t really sensitive to them, some foods may just make you feel worse or better than others.

While the 7 day Carb Test isn’t complicated, there are a few caveats: if you have never tested your blood sugar, it means sticking your finger to draw a bit of blood.  Most glucose monitors will run you about $10-20 and you need to check to see if they include batteries and the lancing device and the actual lancets.  Some of them don’t and the lancing device and lancets will run about another $10 or so.  The device is reloadable: it’s the lancets that you need to change out each time and a box of those is fairly cheap.  Most lancing devices have a little dial at the tip: this controls how deeply the lancet sticks you to make you bleed.  Start with the most shallow number and do NOT lancet the tip/ pad of your finger! Too many nerve endings and it will hurt like an SOB! Stick the side of your finger tip and stick a different finger each time.  What is NOT cheap are the test strips.  Most reliable test strips will cost about a dollar a strip and they are usually sold in boxes of 50 or 100 (you may be able to get a box of 25 depending on the brand).  Should you opt to do the 7 day Carb Test, you MUST make sure that the test strips you get are compatible with your monitor.  Even if you get an off-brand that says it’s compatible with XYZ brand monitors, there is usually some discrepancy, like plus/ minus 10 points. Depending on how much you want to invest in your carb tolerance and your diet, the 7 day Carb Test may be worth it for you.  If you have pre-diabetes, D2, or another weight loss condition, your doctor might be able to give you a prescription for the monitor and the strips, etc but you will need to discuss it with him/ her and see if your insurance will cover it.  Personally, I’ve stuck my fingers too many times to be interested in doing it again.  I know what carbs I like and what works better for me, or at least is worth the ride on the roller coaster.

If you are interested in Robb’s book or anything else about Robb, his website is Robbwolf.com.  (The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble if you want to skip his site.)  At his website, you can find info on his other book (The Paleo Solution), his podcast and a host of other resources.  Robb’s a real pro and I’m not kidding when I say he is a fitness and nutrition guru. [Obligatory disclaimer: I have absolutely no affiliation with him.  I just think he’s a great resource for anyone interested in eating better and getting healthier.] I hope you enjoy his book as much as I do and feel free to let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Stress: Real and Imagined

We tend to think of stress as a modern day malady, but while we may have more of it in forms that really are new (ie internet stress), stress has always been part of living. There is also the idea that having lots of stress and being crazy-busy is somehow a good thing: the person with the most stress wins!  Maybe they win a heart attack or a stroke, but I’m not sure they win anything else! If they want all that stress, they can have it!  My old Boss From Hell was always running around shrieking “I’m overwhelmed!” as if somehow that gave her license to be rude, demanding, and made her important.  I really believe that there are people who believe they can’t be important if they aren’t “overwhelmed.” If your sense of self-worth as a person is tied to the amount of stress in your life, maybe you should speak to a professional about it.

When it comes down to it, it’s impossible to avoid stress in our lives.  Like I said above, it comes with living. Driving in traffic is stressful; our jobs are stressful; our families are stressful; even our pets can be stressful. Our challenges are two-fold: 1) how to minimize the stress in our lives; and 2) how to handle the stress that remains. The irony is that these usually get shoved to the bottom of our to-do list because of the stress we are dealing with at the moment.  They should be at the top of our list, because the less stress we have and the better we handle it, the more time we have for the things we actually enjoy in life!

So what does stress have to do with weight loss? Way more than most people think it does! Stress of any kind triggers a hormone reaction in the body: ‘save your reserves! We may need them!’ Simply put, when our body releases the stress hormone cortisol, we are not able to burn our fat stores. The more stress we feel, the more cortisol is released, the less we lose weight. I have seen in this in my own body: when I am in a prolonged period of stress, even though I may be eating to lose weight, my weight loss is slowed down (or stopped) pretty much until I can get out from under the stress.  It’s not what I’m eating that’s the problem; it is literally how I am feeling- stressed!

Minimizing Stress: This can be a little tricky because most of us don’t like thinking about the things in life that stress us and then having to focus on dealing with them- ugh! It’s stressful! It takes a little practice (doesn’t everything?!) but the key for me at least is thinking about the situation objectively. Most of us are pretty aware of the ‘big stressors’ in our lives: mostly bills/ money issues and relationships. Thankfully, most banks now have an automatic bill-paying service.  If yours has one, it might be a good idea to use it.  It really depends on how much you trust your bank.  Many of the people and services you will be paying also have an auto-pay feature in which your account is debited automatically, sometimes at a discounted rate too.  Again, this depends on how much you trust the company.  Of course, this only solves the “paying on time” problem; the “funds in the account” problem is another issue!  If this is a chronic issue, you may have to sit down with a budget how-to book, and if you have a significant other, have him/ her join you.

Which brings us to the other big stressor: relationships.  I’m going to be honest: I spent my childhood watching one relationship disaster after another, and as a result, I elected to avoid that fight by not participating.  My ‘long-term relationships’ generally last about the entirety of the pet’s lifetime: I win most arguments and if they’re really a headache, I leave the house! So, all I am going to say is if you can’t talk to your spouse/ partner about money/ finances, then you really need to work on your relationship (a professional might be in order). If you are afraid of your spouse/ partner, this definitely needs professional and possibly legal help.  Being afraid of the one who is supposed to love you can be dangerous and life-threatening. Get to someplace safe and get help immediately. That’s pretty much all I’m qualified to say about relationships.

Then there are the ‘little stressors.’  These are the little annoyances that rob us of our time, energy, and our peace of mind.  These are things like: traffic congestion; tasks that take longer than you think they will (ie the dry cleaner can’t find your blouse) or something unforeseen (you lost your keys/ phone/ whatever).  Some of these can be avoided by a little planning on your part and some of them (like traffic) you just have to learn to live with. As a kid, I used to (and still do) observe my mom’s never-ending searches for her keys/ wallet/ phone.  I grew up watching her frantically race around the house looking for the lost item (which somehow was always our fault rather than hers.)  As a result, my wallet stays in my purse, which stays in its regular spot along with my keys (on a neon green lanyard) and my phone, if not in my purse, is at its charging station.  It’s that old truth: we either become our parents or we become their opposites, and when it comes to losing daily necessities, I’m the opposite of my mom.

Other little stressors, like traffic, I try to plan for.  Example: on Tuesdays, traffic is much worse than any other day of the week, so my alarm is set fifteen minutes earlier on Tuesdays. That’s about enough time to make up for the traffic delay.  Before I go to bed, I make sure that the things I need for the next day: lunch, gym bag, mail going out, etc.  I put these things next to my purse, and I usually lay out the clothes I plan on wearing.  These are some of my biggest ‘little stressors’ because I know I am not a morning person and I am neither patient nor at my best in the morning.  If I can make plan for it, I do and if I can’t (traffic delay) then I am a lot more sanguine about missing an appointment or being late.  (This comes under the next heading of dealing with the stress that remains.) I try to choose my battles. Why make things more stressful than they need to be?

Then there is the stress we make ourselves: the ‘imagined’ stress.  In some ways, it really is imagined, in that we make it ourselves, but the effects we feel are very real. These are things that seem a little silly from an objective point of view: Facebook, tv shows, and other ‘elective’ stressors.  Yes, it’s great keeping up with everyone on Facebook, but if you missed your brother-in-law’s posts, is it really a disaster? Even if you are the only one in the family who didn’t know that he broke his leg water-skiing, it’s not a big deal missing his post about his accident on Facebook. (Giving him a call might be a better use of your time and his.)  As for tv, if you have a DVR or OnDemand or even stream it online, it’s just a tv show and you can catch up with it when you have the time.  If you can’t catch it later for whatever reason, it is still just a television show! I know that TWD fans will heartily object, but it’s not life or death. There are a lot of shows that my friends love to talk about and that I would probably like, but I don’t have time to watch them all so it’s not worth my stressing over cramming them into my schedule. There are a lot of things we stress over getting done, getting done on time and that are piling up on us: we need to choose what is worth the effort.  Bills, relationships/ family, home/ car maintenance- yes, those are legitimate concerns; hobbies, tv/ internet, other elective activities- maybe you can be a little more selective on these.  Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a crafts workshop and I had even bought all the items I would need for the project when my schedule changed.  Suddenly, I had my dog’s grooming appointment and lunch with my dad the same morning as my workshop.  I could have crammed all three of them into that morning: drop the dog off early, go to the workshop and meet up with my dad afterwards and then pick up the dog.  Why create all that stress?  I picked my priorities: I hadn’t seen my dad in a month and the dog needed grooming (Cockapoo), so those were my priorities.  I’ll catch the workshop another time.

Dealing with the stress that remains: even if we are good at planning for potential problems, choosing our battles and reducing our stressors, we still have to deal with the stress we cannot avoid.  Sometimes, changing our perspective can really work wonders, and other times, we have to be a little more Zen about things. This is way easier said than done. Changing your perspective is a matter of learning to look at situations from another vantage point while being a little more ‘Zen and/ or sanguine’ is generally a combination of not worrying about what hasn’t happened and having faith in the higher power of your choosing.

By changing your perspective I don’t mean having a ‘rainbows and happy flowers’ mentality.  It’s a matter of making the best of a situation you can’t change.  Probably the best example of this is the 2+ hour commute I do five days a week mornings and afternoons.  Most people groan when I tell them how long my commute is but actually, I don’t mind the drive.  Since I am stuck in the car anyway, I use the time to listen to podcasts, audio books, call my friends (via Bluetooth) or put on a favorite playlist.  The commute is ‘Me Time’ where I spend time doing something I can enjoy (while driving) and on the drive home, it’s mostly wind-down time.  This was probably the last straw with the Boss From Hell: she started calling me on my drive and the constant stress of dealing with her (when I was off the clock, mind you) was more than I could handle. She was taking away my precious ‘Me Time,’ which was a major source of stress-management for me! That 2 hour commute which most people might hate is something I learned to enjoy.

Being a little more Zen (or sanguine) just comes down to accepting what you cannot change.  It’s a little different than trying to change your perspective, because it is usually either an unpleasant situation or an unpleasant possibility.  If it is just a possibility, then the stress mainly comes from worrying about it.  If it does happen, then you are stuck dealing with it. Dealing with the problem that has arisen is going to be stressful enough: fretting over it, worrying over it and all of the problems, real or potential, are not going to help.  The best way to deal with stress is to take some kind of action.  Doing something is not only constructive but it makes us feel better, ie something is getting done. I know this sounds simplistic, but it’s true.  Almost two years ago, my father was forced to evacuate because of a forest fire. Literally, he got a call from the neighbor down the hill at midnight letting him know the fire had jumped the canyon and was headed their way.  My dad escaped with his travel bag, his dog and his truck in the middle of the night.  It was two weeks before he knew if he had a place to live or not.  The stress and worry were overwhelming for him: he was in limbo.  There was nothing he could do but wait and worry.  After two weeks, he got the news he was dreading: his entire home was gone.  A lifetime of belongings and irreplaceable mementos were destroyed. He was going to have to start over again: building a house, replacing items, and dealing with the hassles of limitless paperwork.  Ironic as it is, doing something was less stressful than the waiting.  Moving forward, even if it was just making a bunch of calls and filling out paperwork, was less stressful than waiting and worrying. The action alone kept his mind and body occupied so, even while he was still ‘camping out’ at my sister’s, he was moving forward. As enormously stressful as this situation is for my dad (house is almost but not quite done), he made the best of it: since he had to rebuild anyway, he made some improvements to the floorplan and made changes he’d have liked to made to the old house. (He also joked that he’s easier to shop for at Christmas now!)  He still feels like pulling his hair out at times, but doing something about it is still easier for him than stressing over something he can’t control.

Dealing with stress, whether the real life dramas or the stress we make ourselves, is a headache all on its own. Most of us are too busy dealing with what’s on our plate right in front of us to think about ways to handle stress. A little planning can help with some of them: when you notice something stressing you, make a note on your phone and later, when you are relaxed, try to figure a strategy for getting around it. As for perspective, that is going to depend on you.  Some people look for the humor and some of us have to dig a little deeper for meaning and relevance in the situation. If nothing else, finding some time each day to relieve the stress is paramount.  Giving yourself some peace of mind will not only improve your quality of life, it can help you find solutions and perspective on the problems you’re facing!

 

 

 

 

Excuse Abuse: How Blaming Others is Holding You Back

We’ve all heard a lot about the Abuse Excuse.  It was very popular with criminal defense attorneys in the 90’s. Basically, the person who got killed or injured deserved it because they had repeatedly abused the person who was accused of doing the hurting or killing. The defense would use the Abuse Excuse to try convincing the jury that the defendant was so messed up by the abuse, they didn’t know or couldn’t help what they did.

When it comes to weight loss and making healthy choices, we do something similar.  We keep finding excuses for why we can’t lose weight or eat healthier or work out.  We abuse our excuses by using them over and over again to give us permission to keep eating badly, for skipping our workouts or for just not doing the work. We all know the excuses: “I’m so busy!”; “I’m so tired!”; “My knee/ back/ whatever hurts!”; “It’s been a really tough day/ week/ month!”; “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now so I can do it when X is over”; and our all-time favorite:”it’s someone else’s fault.”

I’m not going to discuss the validity of your excuses because I am sure some of them are valid at times.  We all are really busy, we have a lot going on, many of us have chronic pain or bad joints, and a lot of us generally feel pretty cruddy most of the time.  Welcome to the modern world! We all need a break and for most of us, adding in healthy eating and working out is just adding more things to do on a list that is already too long.  I know the feeling: I work out twice a week, I commute 4 hours each workday, I live alone so all the household duties are also on my plate, and I crammed in another workout recently plus I post to this blog twice a week.  Just the list of things I need to do is a bit long and then there’s whatever I want to do that I try to cram in there also. I’m not complaining, because I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for all of this.  It comes down to a matter of priorities: what we need to get done- what’s important to us- those things get done and the things that are less important or that can wait a little get shoved to the back of the line. It’s normal. That’s how priorities are supposed to work.  The problems come when our priorities are skewed and the tasks that really should be waiting a while are pushed to the front in favor of those that are more important. It’s excuse abuse: instead of abusing alcohol, drugs or food, we abuse excuses, and like too much alcohol, drugs or food, they end up hurting us too.

Our excuses are our way of justifying why things like losing weight, eating healthier and working out are not priorities and why they should get shoved to the back of the line.  That is what it boils down to: if these things were important to us, they would get done. Our excuses are how we justify to ourselves why these goals are not important to us or why something else is more important. Really, how important is it to lose weight, eat healthier and stay active?  It’s critical.  That’s how important it is!  It’s not about “looking good” or “being thin.” It’s about being healthy and if you aren’t healthy, not only are you not going to feel good, but you are opening the door to disease and physical disorders such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and inflammation, just to name a few.  Inflammation is now thought to be the source of a host of illnesses, including heart disease and thyroid conditions. All of these conditions stemming from poor eating choices and lack of activity will make your life more difficult if not downright unpleasant and frankly, some of them can kill you.  I think that qualifies “eating healthier, losing weight and being active” as critical priorities. Obviously, you don’t have to drop everything, quit your job and make your health your sole priority (even though that’s kind of how I handled it, but I was pretty much knocking on Death’s door at the time), but how hard is it to take a few hours a week to improve your health?  That’s what it comes down to: a few hours a week.  That’s all it takes to buy and prepare healthier foods and add in some more activity. It’s not hours each day (although at first new habits take a little longer).  It comes down to a couple hours of shopping each week, a couple hours of working out each week and about 45 minutes to an hour each day cooking and prepping food (about the same time it takes to drive out to a fast food place or a restaurant).  Since I cook at home, I’m usually watching tv, playing with the dog, on the phone or online while my food is cooking- not any different from when I’m eating the take out!

When it comes to our priorities and excuses, we can tell ourselves we are doing our best, but the all-time favorite is usually our fallback excuse for why it wasn’t done: “someone else is to blame!” After all, there is only so much that’s in our control and we can’t control anyone else, so when they mess with our schedules, what can we do? This is how our priorities end up skewed: we put the blame on someone else.  “I wanted to eat healthy but my family only wants junk food/ fast food/ take out.”  The blaming-someone-else excuse is classic on My 600 lb Life.  Frankly, I’m a little surprised there isn’t a poster in the doctor’s office that says “Blaming someone else is not a valid reason not to lose weight.” Yes, there are things that are out of our control; the only thing we can do is control our response to these things.  Example: last summer I was invited to a birthday luncheon at a restaurant I had never heard of.  There was no menu online and all I knew about it was “the pizza’s really great!”  Pizza is not on my list of preferred choices, so my options were; 1) not attend; or 2) take a chance on the menu.  So I took a chance on the menu and there weren’t a lot of great choices for me: most of them were sandwiches with a whole lot of bread, pastas, the pizzas, and deep fried appetizers.  So rather than say, “I had to eat those things because someone else chose the restaurant even though I really wanted to eat healthy,” I said no thank you to offers of deep fried appetizers and pizza and had a really great salad and a sandwich minus the bread (which left the meat, cheese and veggies).  It wasn’t my preference but I made the best choices I could in the situation. Blaming someone else was not an option: no one was going to force me to eat deep fried cheese, calamari and pizza! I did split a brownie á la mode with one of my friends, but I chose to do that, just like I chose the salad and the breadless sandwich and not eating the appetizers!

Yes, changing your priorities is work and sometimes it’s more work than we wanted.  Confession: I am really REALLY lazy.  I’m that cliché where you open the dictionary to “Lazy” and there’s my selfie! If I could stay in bed reading or playing with the dog all day, I’d do it.  On some weekends, I don’t even get out of my pajamas until late Sunday afternoon (only because I have to!)  Yep, I am that lazy! So you can imagine the idea of “working out” went over like gangbusters with me.  It’s right up there with cooking my own food, grocery shopping and housework:”Really? you want me to go out someplace and do a lot of activity and have nothing to show for it but ‘good health’?  Or you want me to go to the store, buy a lot of whole foods, then lug them all home, put them all away and then take them out later and cook them?!  Have you not heard of ‘restaurants’ or ‘take out’???”  That’s pretty much how my brain works.  I hate that every Sunday I have to go through the whole grocery shopping ordeal, and that each night I have to set up my breakfast and lunch for the next day, and depending on what day it is, I have to pack my gym bag for my workout.  I hate getting home late from exercising, usually cold and wet, and then having to cook or at the very least heat up dinner.  Do you know how many take out/ fast food places I pass on my way home from working out? The biggest draw for me when it comes to eating out isn’t that “oooh, it’s so yummy;” it’s that I don’t have to cook the dang meal or clean up afterwards! So when it comes to priorities, “eating healthier, losing weight and being active” were always pretty low on the list and as for excuses not to do those things, I have always been extremely creative! I am the epitome of the couch potato. Give me a task to do and I will whip up an excuse faster than Martha Stewart whips up another “Good Thing”!

The easiest, simplest and most often used excuse for not eating healthier, not losing weight and not being active is blaming someone else. Except it’s not valid 99% of the time. What is the real reason for not doing those things? “I didn’t want to.”  That’s the bottom line, what it boils down to, and where the buck stops: I. Did. Not. Want. To.   We make excuses to make ourselves feel better and to give ourselves a pass on the bad behavior.  We tell ourselves I wouldn’t have overeaten but they kept pushing the food at me.  They chose a bad restaurant. There was nothing at the party but chips and cookies.  All they had to drink was sugary sodas.  We blame someone else for our acquiescence.  Rather than choose not to eat/ drink things we know aren’t good for us or aren’t on our preferred eating plan, we give in and blame someone else for our failure to make progress.  Frankly, that was my excuse for gaining/ not losing weight when I worked the Job From Hell.  I handled the increasingly stressful situation badly and rather than do the “hard stuff” (grocery shopping, cooking and exercising), I did the “easy stuff” instead: I sat around, wasn’t active and ate all the take out and fast food I wanted.  That was when I learned about what is really hard: it nearly killed me. I’m not kidding. My health went down the toilet and it hurt to walk, to sit, to stand, to breathe and it kept getting worse.  It didn’t matter if I blamed myself, the Boss From Hell or anyone else: I was the one who was getting hurt, and  was the only one who could change that. Your body doesn’t care who you blame; the only thing that matters to your body is whether or not those priorities are getting done.  Are you eating healthier? Are you taking care of yourself? Are you being active?  If not, your body does not give you a pass– your health just keeps getting worse. You need to stop shifting the responsibility to others and take control of your own decisions.  (This goes for others things in addition to health and eating, too!) You don’t want to eat burgers and fries, so tell the family or whoever that you’re voting no on the fast food, and if you get outvoted, you still don’t have to eat the burgers and fries!  FYI: most fast food places have salads now, so if you’re stuck at McDonald’s or Jack in the Box, get a salad! Or eat a burger without the bun (Carl’s Jr. is advertising that very menu choice now!) You can even decide not to eat anything! Yeah, it might not be fun, but if nothing there looks appealing to you, then choose not to eat! It might be a little uncomfortable, but I’m pretty sure you won’t die! (although if you do have a medical condition that requires you eat, then eat something, even if it’s just a little thing.)

Taking responsibility sucks.  It’s right up there with grocery shopping, cooking and housework. It’s part of being an adult but I’m telling you truthfully, the cost of not taking responsibility is far too high and there are no refunds.  It’s terrible health, physical misery and growing despair.  You are the only one who can change that by taking responsibility for your decisions, by not making excuses and by not blaming others for your choices.  Your body will not give you a pass, but it will give you inflammation, extra pounds and a lot of pain. You can blame everyone else all you want: you are still one who hurts.

 

 

 

 

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.