Getting Started: Where Do I Begin?

A friend of mine recently decided to lose weight and eat healthier, and like most of us, she’s a little lost.  She knows what her goal is: being a healthier weight and healthier in general, but as to how to get there? It’s all a little vague. Most of us begin in the same situation.  The goal is usually pretty clear, but the path to take is like finding our way through a maze. Which route do we take and how do we know if we are making progress?

I think she has made a good start: she knows where she wants to go and she has an idea of how she wants to get there.  Although she wants to lose weight, her goal is to be healthier overall, so she began by making some realistic changes.  Instead of changing several habits all at once, she began by trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.  She said growing up, her family didn’t eat a lot of those, so she is making an effort to eat more of them.  She also joined My Fitness Pal and is logging her meals and exercise.  Although she’s just started changing her eating habits, she’s been exercising regularly for about a year now (I met her at the gym) so that habit is already firmly established!

As far as “choosing a diet plan,” she hasn’t really opted for a ‘packaged plan,’ which I think is a good thing.  Too often, I hear people trying to fit their lives and eating habits around the Rules for a diet. This is how people end up malnourished or becoming ill after following Rules carved in stone by someone they’ve never met.  (My all-time favorite is the college student who ‘went vegan’ and ended up almost dying in the emergency room because of B12 deficiency.) I don’t have anything against vegans (my cardio trainers are both vegan) but when we opt for following a way of eating, we need to make sure that it fits our nutritional needs and our own preferences.  I really love grapefruit and cabbage, but I’m sure not opting for the Grapefruit Diet or the Cabbage Soup Diet!

When people ask me if I have a diet, I usually tell them that I do a ‘version of Paleo/ Primal,’ because my ‘rules’ are going to be different from anyone else who also does Paleo/ Primal.  There are even disagreements over how to define Paleo and Primal, so following the rules is a little bit like choosing a religion!  This is why I’ve opted to make my own rules and follow my own version.  What I do may not work for my friend or for anyone else, so while it’s great to ask for advice, if it doesn’t work for you, then what’s the point?

As I mentioned above, my cardio trainers are both vegan and they are big fans of promoting veganism.  It really works for them: they are both healthy and fit 70 year olds (not a typo- they’re both in their 70s!)  Personally, I like eating animal products and I know I wouldn’t be very happy ‘eating vegan’ or even vegetarian!  At the same time, there are a few of my fitness and gym friends who eat keto, which is usually heavy on fat, mainly from animal products.  As much as I love things like butter, bacon, meat and dairy, the few times I’ve tried eating keto, it has not been very satisfying, even discounting carb withdrawal.  I hear repeatedly how healthy vegan/ vegetariansim/ keto are and I don’t doubt they work for a lot of people.  My sister was a happy vegetarian for several years before she opted to change her eating habit again.  None of those really made me feel good, so they’re off my list of eating plans!

My own version of Paleo means mainly whole natural foods as unprocessed as possible.  It also includes dairy (most hardcare Paleo followers insist that Paleo + dairy = Primal). It does not include starchy vegetables, grains/ grain products, cane sugar and some legumes.  Essentially, I started with a basic Paleo framework and adapted it to suit my metabolism and preferences. In fact, when I started, my diet did not include dairy for many months.  Eventually, I opted to include it again although I do think I need to limit it more than I do now.  The point is that the way I eat now makes me feel my best and I am getting the results that I want.

That is how we find the answers to those earlier questions: which route do we take to our goal and how do we know if we are making progress?  If you are feeling your best with your current eating plan and you are getting the results that you want, then that is the route to YOUR goal.  Most of us go into dieting with the general goal of ‘losing weight.’  Weight loss isn’t always healthy!  In fact, when I started losing weight, because I was so extremely obese, I lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time.  When I saw my doctor, her first reaction wasn’t “finally!”; it was “are you feeling alright? are you having health problems?” Rapid weight loss is an indicator of cancer, hormonal imbalance and intestinal/ digestive problems.  It also leads to malnutrition, i.e. the vegan college student with B12 deficiency.  What most of us really want is ‘fat loss,’ not just ‘weight loss,’ and while the distinction is lost on most people, it is an important distinction.  Losing weight can mean losing water weight (and becoming dehydrated) or it can mean losing lean body mass, i.e. losing muscle, among other things.  When the number goes down on the scale, most of us are really happy about it and keep doing what we are doing to keep the number going down.  But if we are doing something unhealthy, then we are only becoming thinner instead of healthier.  My friend made the observation that while most of her family was obese, all the people she knew who were diabetic were thin.  Just as being clinically obese doesn’t equal ‘unhealthy,’ being thin does not equal being ‘healthy.’

Getting the results you want, whether losing fat, building muscle or being fitter, is one way of knowing you are on the right path, but we must also not discount the ‘how am feeling’ part of the answer.  If you are getting the results that you want, like fat loss, but you hate the way you are feeling or eating, then that is NOT the right path for you!  If you hate the way you feel or you hate the way that you are eating, you are not going to sustain it for long. I tried both vegetarianism and keto a few times, and frankly, I hated both ways of eating.  I felt horrible, had terrible cravings and did not enjoy what I was eating. Although I’ve since learned that the cravings and the ‘keto flu will go away, I didn’t like what I was eating and overall, I didn’t like the way that felt. There are days when I eat more to a keto or veggie plan than other days, but those are the exception rather than the rule.  When I opted to include dairy again in my diet, one of the things I watched for was simply “how does it make me feel?”  If it made me feel awful or kept me from making my goals, then I would have kicked it back out again, but the truth is I like cream, butter and cheese and it doesn’t keep me from my goals.

We’ve all done diets where we strictly limit our foods, either the types or the amounts and yes, most of us have lost weight on those diets, but once we stop the limiting, we gain back fat and usually a bit more.  This is why it’s so important that we must enjoy the way that we are eating in order to be successful, otherwise any fat loss is going to be temporary!  Also, what is the point of looking great if we feel miserable?  Remember the last time you lost weight and showed up at a function like a holiday party where everyone commented on how great you look? That felt awesome…. until we reached the buffet table! There was all that food that either wasn’t on our diet or was simply too much! Instead of thinking, yum! what looks good to eat?, we were crying inside because it was all foods we were denying ourselves! I know from experience that situation is no fun at all! I know I don’t want to spend the rest of my life ‘looking great and feeling miserable!’  Even though there are a lot of foods that aren’t on my list, there are a lot of foods that are, and the last time I was at a buffet, there were still a lot of yummy foods that I could and did eat!  It was easy to choose those foods over the foods not on my list because I knew I felt better eating them and I knew I was going to keep making progress!

My friend is still in the early stages of her getting-healthier journey, but as I said, I think she is off to a great start. She is building good habits on a reasonable time line and she is asking herself the right questions. She mentioned it to me because even though she was enjoying her lunchtime salad with leafy greens and chicken, she was still getting hungry before dinner, so she was asking me about options for fixing that.  We discussed adding in some healthy fats (avocado, olives or more cheese) or more fibrous veggies (broccoli, cabbage or kale).  Obviously, what works for me won’t always work for her, but the important points are that you have to eat what you like eating and still get the results you want, because unless you do both, it doesn’t matter what you eat or how much weight you lose.

Flavor Boosters Boost Your Waistline, Not Your Health!

One of the things I’ve been noticing a lot is people complaining about eating healthy because “the food doesn’t taste that good!”  If it’s someone I can respond to, I usually let them know there’s a reason whole foods taste different: it’s because processed foods have been processed full of ‘flavor enhancers,’ among other things.  This is when they ‘boost’ the flavor by filling it full of chemicals, designed to overpower your taste buds and make you want more of it.  This is the manufacturer making sure you crave their product and want to eat/ buy as much of it as possible!

A lot of these ‘flavor boosters’ show up on the ingredients as ‘natural flavors.’  That does not mean that these ‘flavors’ come from food: it just means they are not ‘man-made’ and come from “Nature” whether that can mean it’s something derived from wood by-products, coal tar manufacturing by-products or something else.  It does NOT mean it comes from FOOD!  Seriously, the artificial sweetener saccharin was originally a by-product of coal-tar manufacturing.  Incidentally, that is NOT the reason it’s banned in Canada: the Sugar Industry lobbied long and hard to ban saccharin because of the competition in both the US and Canada.  In the US, they managed to get it labeled as a carcinogen after feeding it to lab rats at mega-high dosages (like it’s all they fed the rats for weeks on end and wow! some of them developed cancer!) If humans ate that much saccharin, they would probably throw up long before they got cancer, the same way we would throw up after eating the same amounts of sugar, if we didn’t fall into a diabetic coma first!

In all honesty, the food manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping you buying their products, so they make the products as enjoyable and addictive as possible.  The more you buy them, the more you want them and the more money in their pockets.  By contrast, the more unhealthy you get!  Processed foods like chips, snack cakes, fast foods and other things that come with an ingredient list, have been tested to determine what flavors light up our brains’ pleasure centers the most.  Taste testers rate the different combinations and additives according to how much they want to keep eating it, the mouth feel, the smell, and everything else that makes food taste “so delicious!”

By comparison, whole unprocessed foods are going to taste different, because they don’t have all the chemicals processed into them.  They haven’t been processed (I think of it as ‘pre-digested’ personally!) so they are going to have a different mouth-feel.  This is the term food manufacturers use to describe literally the way food feels when you put it in your mouth, as in chips should be crunchy but not too crunchy; mashed potatoes should be soft but still have some texture; burgers should be a little chewy; hot dogs should have a little snap to them, etc.  Products are actually tested to see what ‘mouth-feel’ rates highest.  Most of us do this on our own when we make foods from scratch: I like my ground beef to have a little spring in it and not be completely charred; when I used to make mashed potatoes from scratch, I left a few lumps in them because I like to taste and feel the actual potato!  We know how we like our foods to feel as we chew on them!

Whole foods, by comparison, don’t have the chemical additives to boost the flavor and keep us eating more.  So when you’re eating the ground beef burger you made from grass fed beef (hopefully), it only has the flavors and spices you put on it, such as salt, pepper and maybe some onion or garlic powder.  The same goes for the broccoli you steamed yourself, the spinach you sauteed yourself or whatever else you’ve made from whole foods.  It’s not going to have the ‘natural flavors’ or the MSG (monosodium glutamate) unless you put it on the food.  If you’ve been eating mainly processed foods most of your life, like most of us have, whole foods will taste a little bland at first, but our taste buds change depending on what we eat. When we stop eating processed foods in favor of the whole natural foods, we get used to the way they taste, especially once we learn how to prepare them in a way we really enjoy (for me, this includes not walking away from the stove and turning the beef into a charcoal briquet as I usually do!) I like my stronger tasting meats like beef and lamb with a curry powder I mix myself, but milder meats like chicken I usually just roast.  I’ve learned to prepare my vegetables with olive oil dressings or just a little salt and ghee.  It might sound kind of boring compared to garlic mashed potatoes or Kansas City spare ribs from the freezer section or a restaurant, but I know what’s in the food I’m eating, and it’s not ‘flavor boosters’ and chemicals, and that is important to me!

Another way that processed foods boost your waistline is that the chemical ingredients can really mess with your intestinal bacteria (your microbiome).  We in the Western industrialized world eat mainly processed foods.  No surprise there!  But there is a direct correlation between the rise in consumption of processed foods and the rise in metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, depression, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis.  There are people who say it’s because we’re living longer and we’re exposed to chemicals in our environment.  Both of those are true, but what is also true is that we are exposed to chemicals in our food, and these are chemical compounds that we as a species have never eaten before and were probably not meant to eat (such as a coal-tar by product like saccharin!)  These additives and preservatives are designed to boost taste and mouth feel, not our health.  They keep us fat and unhealthy rather than promoting good nutrition and healthy bodies.  When did the whole point of eating become satisfying our taste buds rather than fueling our bodies?

These chemicals were never part of the human diet before industrialization, the same way polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), what Dr. David Perlmutter calls “factory fats,” were never part of the human diet.  Because they are ‘derived’ from a plant product or ‘Nature’ they are allowed to be called ‘natural,’ but they are not naturally occurring in nature the way an olive, an egg, a fish or a cow are naturally occurring.  These are foods humans and other animals have eaten for millenia and are pretty much recognized in all societies as something to eat. Monosodium glutamate, cottonseed oil and disodium phosphate, not so much! (Incidentally, cottonseed oil has to be processed to make it edible.  That’s really something I don’t want to eat!)  Most of these PUFAs are also high in omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory and unstable.  They are not fully metabolized by the body either and those unstable fats become a part of every cell in our bodies!

Besides the fact that most processed foods are full of pro-inflammatory “factory fats” that really mess with our absorption of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, they are also full of highly processed carbohydrates that spike our blood sugar.  This is why I usually refer to processed foods as ‘pre-digested.’  The foods have been broken down into the simplest compounds possible for fast easy digestion in our system, so the corn chips we ate 20 minutes ago are already metabolized while the cabbage we ate an hour ago is just getting there. Processed foods have almost no fiber, fewer vitamins (unless it’s been fortified and had them added back in) but are full of quick carbs, artificial flavors, preservatives and unstable factory fats.  When these products hit our microbiome in our small intestine, the beneficial bacteria that break down our food so we can absorb it usually take a hit in that the fiber that some of them eat isn’t there, while some of the chemical ingredients are toxic to them. Remember the last time you tried a new food and it sent you running to bathroom and/ or kept you there for the next couple of days?  That’s your microbiome telling you that food didn’t agree with them! More and more health professionals are realizing that an unhealthy microbiome leads to more than just digestion problems: they are making stronger connections to a lot of the diseases mentioned above like Alzheimers, ADHD, MS, arthritis, diabetes and others.  Many of what we used to think of as ‘brain-only hormones’ like serotonin, dopamine and tryptophan are linked to our microbiome: the same microbiome we are attacking daily with processed foods full of chemical flavor boosters!

Realistically, no one is going to eat something that tastes bad, but we forget that our tastes change over time. As a child, most of us made a face the first time we tasted beer or coffee or blue cheese, but as adults, we’ve learned to like those things.  We refer to them as ‘acquired tastes.’  Maybe it’s time we ditch the kiddie junk food in favor of a healthier subtle but sophisticated palate of whole foods?

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!

 

 

The Weight Loss Lies We Tell Ourselves

I am a really good liar. I know I shouldn’t be proud of that but truly I can tell some real whoppers with a completely straight face, so much so that even people who know me well are wondering. Part of it is that my dad’s family loves practical jokes and you’ve got to be straight-faced to pull them off. Part of it is also growing up in a family that was pretty screwed up and so you learn to lie so the rest of your classmates don’t know how screwed up your family really is. Unfortunately I got a lot of practice.

I’ve learned over the years that there are three kinds of lies that work really well. The first is Double Talk; the second is the Big Little Lie; and the third is the Bold Faced Lie. Double Talk is when you just bury your listener with words. You over-explain and essentially confuse them with terms and procedures so they lose the thread they’re trying to follow. It has to be done carefully, as if the explanation is simple and obvious. The trick isn’t talking fast or giving too much detail (a common mistake of novice liars): it’s slowing it down as if you’re not quite sure why they’re not understanding the obvious. A lot of times the listener gives up trying to understand because they think they’re missing something and don’t want to look stupid.

The Big Little Lie follows that old chestnut: “the best way to hide a lie is between two truths.” You tell the truth about 90-95% but the 5-10% you lie about is the important part. This usually has the benefit of the Plausible Deniability defense: “W, X, and Y were true, so I just assumed Z was true also! How was I to know it wasn’t??”

That last statement happens to be a good example of the third category, the Bold Faced Lie. I know most people call it “bald faced” but you need to be bold to lie flat out to people. And I’ve found the bigger the lie, the bolder you need to be, plus you need to believe it yourself to pull it off.

And that is the reason we’re discussing lies in a weight loss blog. We want to eat healthier and we want to keep our calories low while keeping our exercise burns higher. Kind of the definition of weight loss, right? But sometimes, the lies we want to believe get in our way.  We lie to ourselves because we want our lies to be true: we want to believe that one donut isn’t going to get in the way of our weight loss.  We want to believe that we can blow off our workout to go shopping- we really will make it up later in the week and hey, walking all over the mall is aerobic, right?  We do the Double Talk technique where “we heard that ABC was good for burning calories even though we don’t understand it, it ‘obviously’ works,” so we’ll figure it out after we have the Fettucine Alfredo.  We tell ourselves the Big Little Lie because we know that “cardio burns calories and walking is cardio so all the walking at the mall is going to burn almost as many calories as our workout would have.”  “We will make it up later in the week, so we’ll be ahead!”- the Bold Faced Lie! If we all had noses like Pinocchio, we wouldn’t be able to turn around without poking each other in the eye!

We believe these lies when we tell them because we are looking for an excuse.  We want to justify our behavior and believe we are “still doing the work!” What we are really doing is setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment and self-recrimination. The truth is eating the donuts and the sweets and the junk food is not going to help us get healthier, and it sure won’t help us lose weight! It doesn’t matter how much of the magic pill or powder we take- eating unhealthy food is eating unhealthy food.  Yes, walking is healthy but is shopping going to be a ‘cardio workout’ or is it going to be a lot of stopping and looking and trying on stuff? As for ‘rescheduling our workout,’ need I say more?

Since I know I am a really good liar, I have learned to cut myself off before I even finish the lying thought.  I ask myself one question: am I being consistent? Did I miss my workout for a legitimate reason, ie something else that cannot be moved has priority? Or am I blowing it off because “I don’t feel like it”?  Am I choosing the pasta/ bread/ cake because it’s healthy for me or because “I’ll eat less tomorrow”? I don’t even try telling myself that “I’ll reschedule” because it never happens! (Sad, but true!)

We need to slow down and make a considered choice when we are trying to justify our behavior.  The justification/ explanation is the first clue that this is really a lie.  We’re trying to lie our way out of the behavior we really want to do! If we can’t be proud of what we are doing, maybe we don’t need to be doing it.  The same with explaining it: if we have to explain why we chose the cake or the garlic bread, maybe we don’t need to eat it.  Do we really have to explain spinach or baked chicken? And unless we are picking up a friend from the hospital or something else that can’t be moved, we really have no excuse for blowing off a workout.

There is nothing wrong with owning inconsistent behavior: sometimes pushing ourselves hard is enough of a reason to say “I’m taking a break before I burn out.” The problem comes when we use that excuse over and over again.  If you feel chronically burnt out, there’s a bigger issue going on! Maybe instead of blowing off workouts or ‘cheating on your diet,’ you need to make some serous adjustments to a schedule or eating habit you can maintain.

This is the flip side of lying to ourselves: if we are really pushing too hard, we are still going to end up with failure, disappointment and self-recrimination.  We need to be realistic about our goals and our strategy for getting there instead of biting off too much.  If we lie to ourselves when we say we’re going to make five workouts a week and then beat ourselves up because we only made three, the solution isn’t to push ourselves to make the five we scheduled! If five really is too many for you to handle, then schedule a number that’s realistic for you! Not only will you be more consistent, which builds good practices, but you’ll feel pride in your accomplishments instead of disappointment in yourself.  The same goes for your eating: if you eat great all week but regularly “blow it” out with friends, then set a realistic goal, like only eating certain foods when you are out with friends!

We need to tell ourselves the truth, even if it’s things we don’t want to hear, like I’m not going to reschedule my workout, I’m eating the Krispy Kreme because I want it, and I’d like to think I can make five workouts a week and get to sleep by nine p.m. each night, but nope- not happening! Realistically, I eat a couple donuts now and then, I make it to three workouts a week and if I’m asleep by 10:30, I’m doing better!  That’s a key phrase: doing better! I don’t have to lie to myself about being perfect, because I don’t need to be perfect as long as I am consistently trying to be better.  Telling yourself the truth is one step to being better!

 

 

Try It! You’ll Like It!

In my last post (“Getting Out of Our Own Way”), I made the comment that we will never succeed at anything if we don’t try.  Most of you who read my blog know that I am a hard-core TLC addict, mainly My 600 lb Life.  A lot of my family and friends don’t understand my addiction to the show and I usually quip that it’s my version of a 12 step meeting.  They think I’m joking but I’m not.  I came way too close for qualifying as a patient on that show, but more importantly, I keep learning things from it and it reinforces the positive changes that I’ve made in my life.

Sometimes, though, the patients are as irritating as all hell and one of the things that irritates me the most is when they whine and cry about how they “can’t,” as in they can’t walk, they can’t stand up, they can’t exercise, they can’t ‘insert basic human function here.’ (Yes. They cry.) They can manage to get to the kitchen for the ice cream, even though they are too big to fit in the front seat of an SUV.  They can’t eat healthy but they can sit on the sofa and make the meatloaf and mashed potatoes for someone else to finish on the stove.  They can’t bathe themselves but they can have someone set up the deep-fryer next to their bed so they can fry up some crab cakes for their po’boy.  I think it’s a matter of motivation and determination: if you want it bad enough, you will put in the effort! As Dr. Nowzaradan says in the intro to the show: “if you were serious, you’d make changes.”

There will always be a reason not to try something: fear of failure; fear of looking stupid; fear of not doing it right.  I mentioned some of these in my most recent post.  They are all legitimate fears.  As my mom rightly pointed out, no one likes to be laughed at or made fun of.  (I personally subscribe to the Dr. Seuss philosophy: “be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter won’t mind.” Not everyone is as thick-skinned and b*tchy as I am, however!) At the same time, if you let your fear dictate your boundaries in life, what are you left with?  Usually, not a lot!

For a long time after I started losing weight, I didn’t want to exercise.  I was afraid it would hurt; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it; I was afraid I would injure myself.  Eventually, I realized that I didn’t know if any of those were true because I didn’t try.  So I went down to the gym and used the treadmill, which did hurt my knees (thank you, arthritis!), and my doctor told me to use a pool instead.  So I switched gyms, and one day when I went to the pool, I discovered there was a water aerobics class going on and the instructor invited me to join in! And it didn’t hurt and it was fun and I’ve been going twice a week since.  In fact, taking the water aerobics class gave me the confidence to try a regular aerobics class.  (Building confidence is another benefit of trying new things.) I signed up for an aerobics class at the local junior college. FYI: both instructors are in their early 70’s, so no excuses about being old!

This class is little more challenging than the water aerobics and there are some days I come home from the class sore and exhausted.  There are a lot of exercises that I’m not good at and are frankly just too hard for me.  Correction: they are too hard for me right now, but I keep trying.  I keep showing up and I keep working at it and I am getting better. There are exercises that I couldn’t do when I started the class that are easy now by comparison, and at the last class, I did something I haven’t been able to do since I started the class nearly a year ago: I could balance on one leg.  That may not sound like much, until you try and fail. I try every time and until last night, I was never able to do it. Frankly, it is a little scary thinking you might fall and hurt yourself.  That’s how I shattered my wrist fifteen years ago (I had to get hardware installed- ugh!) There are some students in the class who move off the wrestling mats to balance, but I stay on the mats because if I should fall, I’d like some padding! The instructors are really good about telling us not do something if it causes pain and if we need to take a break or modify the exercise to do so; do what we can to the best of our abilities, and I think they are right to do so, but I also think they are right in encouraging us to keep trying.  I could have told myself that I can’t balance on one leg and I shouldn’t try because what if I fall and break another bone? I could have just said: can’t do it-don’t try! But I keep trying it every class.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back and say: “whoo hoo! look at me!” Because really, balancing on one leg is something most three year olds can do, and pretty much anyone else who’s not as out of shape as I am.  We do push-ups every class and I’ll probably never manage those on my toes- or my knees for that matter, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.  Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll surprise myself and manage to do those too!

The point is that so many of Dr. Now’s patients keep claiming they “can’t!” It hurts to walk; it hurts to stand up; it hurts to exercise- blah blah blah! Stop complaining about what you can’t do and do what you can! (Oops!… did I really just type that??) There are a lot of people who just learn to live with limitations because they have actual incurable physical handicaps, such as spinal cord injuries, MS or other conditions that limit what they can do.  When I listen to patients on the show talk about being ‘trapped in a bed or a room’ because of their weight, I get impatient with them. When they show up at Dr. Nowzaradan’s office, he usually asks them “what is your highest weight?” and they usually say “this is my highest weight.” It took me a while to figure out why he asks that question: he wants to know what improvements they have tried, and a lot of them haven’t tried anything.  It’s not that I am unsympathetic, but no one forces you to eat 10,000 calories a day.  To gain weight at 500 lbs, you have to eat about that much.  In actual food, that’s three sourdough jack burgers, three large fries, six regular Jack in the Box tacos, three McDonald’s hot cakes and sausage breakfasts, and three servings of Olive Garden lasagna.  Every day.  That’s approximately 10,065 calories, and if you weigh about 500 lbs, eating anything less than that means you lose weight. I also understand that for many people, the biological urge to eat is usually triggered by a psychological stressor.  I know that one all too well! Eating is a comforting distraction and the more stress you feel, the more you want to eat, and there is also the physical addiction to the fast starchy carbs aka bread and sugar.  I have struggled with all of those!

I also know if you don’t try, you won’t make progress! Weight loss is like any other new skill: it takes time and practice to learn it and get better at it.  That means you have to keep trying even when you screw it up. There aren’t “Calorie Gremlins” that appear while you’re sleeping and stuff cookies, burgers and milkshakes down your throat.  They don’t tie you to the bed or the chair and force you to stay immobile. The pain that comes with being super morbidly obese is mental, physical and spiritual, but even though this is where you are, the only thing keeping you there is you. I’m not accusing people of quitting or being lazy or even being afraid of failure. I’ve done all those things and I’ve been the one saying “it’s too hard” or “it hurts too much.” Those were the choices I made and I had to live with the consequences for most of my life.

I remember how much it hurt to walk when I weighed 438 lbs.  It hurt to walk, it hurt to stand, it hurt to sit for long periods. Laying flat on my back was a little scary: am I going to stop breathing if I fall asleep? I remember how embarrassing it was buying clothes and being afraid of ripping out the seams in the clothes I still had.  I hated how the hems of blouses and t-shirts would roll up my hips and butt because they didn’t stretch that far. I listen to these patients and I know their pain and embarrassment. I’ve also been the subject of snickers and rude comments from strangers and co-workers.

Changing is really really hard, even after you’ve had some practice at it.  It gets so frustrating, you want to give up and cry. But if you give up, if you don’t even try, you’ll never know what success you can achieve.  As sad as it is to fail, it’s sadder still to never try.

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Imperfection Does Not Equal Failure

We’ve all heard that we are our own worst enemies, and we also believe we are pretty good at sabotaging ourselves when it comes to our goals.  We usually acknowledge when these things happen: the cookies are too tempting; the cheesecake looks amazing; we’re tired and Taco Bell is right there.  Most of us will acknowledge we gave in, even if we do try to shift the blame to someone or something else.

The real problems come when we are sabotaging ourselves and don’t know we are doing it.  I know there are fitness coaches who don’t like the word ‘sabotage.’  The internet defines it as “deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage.  Synonyms: vandalize, wreck, damage, destroy, cripple, impair, incapacitate.”  I think that pretty much covers it!

Some of these coaches say that sabotage is the wrong word because we really want our goals and we aren’t trying to destroy, damage or obstruct ourselves, nor are we trying to impair, cripple or incapacitate ourselves.  I think that’s a gross generalization.  I believe while on one level we really think we want our goals, on a deeper level, we may not.

I don’t mean to say that we have some kind of split personality or that we really hate ourselves and want to be fat or unhealthy, but there’s often a sense of safety in the devil you know.  You can’t fail if you don’t try, and when you leave the safety of what you know, who knows what’s out there? Many of us are familiar with the Tolkien quote: “it’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door.” While most of us don’t live in Middle Earth and have to worry about trolls and orcs, we do tend to worry about eating the wrong things or even too much of the right things.  We worry about making mistakes or failure, and we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to be perfect, because for most of us, imperfection equals failure.

I’m reminded of a scene from The Simpsons, where Homer is giving Bart some ‘fatherly advice’ about trying and not succeeding.  When he’s done, Bart quips: “Can’t win- don’t try! Got it!” This is what a lot of us have internalized, whether we’re aware of it or not.  I know I did: “I’d have to lose about 300 lbs to get anywhere near a normal weight! There’s no way I can do that!” Can’t win- don’t try! Don’t try- can’t fail! It’s the same philosophy: “I’m not a failure because you have to attempt it in order to fail. I’m staying in my safe fat comfort zone.  I know what it’s like being fat and if I’m not happy with it, at least it’s the devil I know. Losing weight is too much hard work and I know I’ll never be perfect at it.”

But perfection is not required for health, fitness or weight loss: improvement is all that is needed.  When we hold ourselves to impossible standards, even though we may think we are working towards our goals, we are actually getting in our own way and essentially sabotaging ourselves.  We plan out a ‘perfect week’: this is what I’m eating, these are the workouts I’m doing, I’m going to drink this much water and get this much sleep,’ and so on and so on.  We have all our little ducks nose to tail when we go to bed Sunday night! But on Monday morning, Real Life happens and somewhere along the line, our little ducks start wandering everywhere they are not supposed to be.  Our beautiful plan goes out the window and we begin beating ourselves up because “we failed!”

Seriously, though, we haven’t failed.  A few weeks ago, I did a post about community and how we are all connected to everyone else in our lives.  We have a similar connection with everything else that goes on in our lives because we don’t live in a vacuum.  We can make all the plans we want, but unless they account for everything that can possibly happen (work meetings, school functions, family celebrations, etc), there are going to be adjustments to those wonderful Sunday night plans.  This is why improvement is all that’s required and not perfection! We can plan to make dinner and even have all the groceries ready at home, but then there’s an emergency at work and by the time we get home, our choices are making the dinner we planned and eating at 10:00 p.m. or we can get something already made and eat earlier.  This is where we make an improvement (getting rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad) or we give up (get fast food).  The chicken and salad might not be the wonderfully healthy dinner you had planned, but is it still an improvement over what you used to eat? Even if the answer is no, it’s still an improvement over the fast food. You make the better choice and you still win!

This is why so many of us don’t want to try.  We want to be healthy, but we don’t know what’s out there and because our perfect plans can never be executed without adjustments, we tacitly accept ‘not trying’ or giving up repeatedly.  We think we don’t know how to do it, and rather than admit we don’t know what we’re doing or even that we’re just plain scared of failing/ screwing up, we accept the status quo, no matter how unhappy and unhealthy we are.  Change is scary.  Trying something new is scary too: what happens if I don’t like it or I’m not good at it?  What if I’m doing it wrong?  The last one is one that comes up a lot. So many of us are afraid of ‘not doing it right,’ whatever ‘it‘ is.  The truth is that there are no hard and fast rules for how to be healthier or fit or to lose weight. All we can do is the best we can, every day with every choice.  That’s as close as it comes to having a rule set in stone.  That’s as perfect as we can be, and as long as we keep trying every day, we’re succeeding.  I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but what works for me may not work for you and what works for me now may not work two years from now.  You don’t know until you try if you will like it, be good at it or succeed.  However, I can guarantee you this: you will never succeed if you never try. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait a Minute! This is Hard Work!

One of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard about losing weight came from a patient on My 600 lb Life: after gastric bypass surgery, she was recovering in the hospital and the orderly brought in her lunch.  It was the 1200 calorie bariatric diet, which she was not pleased to see: “No one told me I would have to lose weight after I got here!” Okay, so that magic surgery you had is going to melt off all that fat from your body while you continue to eat whatever you want as much as you want?? Dang! Sign me up for that procedure! What an idiot I’ve been doing this the hard way- being more active, eating more healthy nutrient dense foods and less of the processed sugary carbs! Wow! If I knew I could eat all the bagels, bread, cookies and ice cream I wanted and still lose weight, I’d’ve done it years ago!

So would everyone else who’s overweight! But the reason there isn’t a waiting line going around the block for gastric bypass is because it’s not a ‘magic surgery.’  Procedures like gastric bypass, gastric sleeve and the lap band only limit how much you can eat at one time; if you want to eat constantly all day, you can still do it, and the surgery has no effect at all on what you choose to eat. Sorry! Not magic!

Since there isn’t a magic pill (or surgery), that pretty much leaves the hard way: eating healthier foods, being more active and not eating the junk that we’ve learned to love! It’s definitely work and it certainly is hard getting started.  But here’s the trick that usually gets overlooked: the longer you do this, the easier it gets!  It’s like learning anything new- it’s tough at first, but the more practice we have, the easier it gets.  I was thinking about Shakespeare recently (the cost of being an English major!) and about the graduate course I took about his plays.  The professor began with Titus Andronicus, a lesser known, seldom performed play of The Bard’s. Odds are unless you are another English and/ or drama major, you’ve not heard of it.  Why? Because it stinks! In fact our class referred to this play as “Texas Chainsaw Shakespeare” because it was the equivalent of an Elizabethan slasher film, full of rape, murder and mutilation! The professor wanted us to realize that everything Shakespeare wrote wasn’t golden and like everyone else, he began at the bottom.

When we start weight loss or fitness or even just making healthier changes, it’s hard at first because we are also starting at the bottom.  We can really screw up at times and it’s not because we’re failures- it’s because we’re beginners! Yes, learning new things is hard and it takes time and it takes practice, but the more we work at it, the easier it gets and the better we get at it.  I’m sure Shakespeare wrote a lot of crappy plays that no one ever remembers and were probably burned, but the fact is he’s still popular four hundred years later (as evidenced by TNT’s Will) because he didn’t give up.

The particular patient referenced above lost a grand total of about 30 lbs after her bypass; her weight was about 490-500 lbs at the end of her second year.  She was still confined to a wheelchair.  The same night I watched her episode, I watched another: this patient was a man about 10 years younger but weighing 200+ lbs more (777 lbs).  At the end of his second year, he weighed about 350 lbs.  They had the same bypass; they had the same opportunities for physical therapy and nutrition changes.  In fact, the same nutritionist visited both of them.  The difference was attitude.  Both of them were frankly stymied when it came to making changes to their eating habits, and the nutritionist gave them the same information, but their attitude made all the difference.  When we are learning something new, most of us go into with an open mind and an optimistic attitude: we want to learn how to do something, so we are open to learning.  The woman (Penny) did not want to learn how to make changes and most importantly, she did not want to change, so she didn’t make the changes and in fact told her husband the nutritionist was full of BS.

The man (Joe) listened to the nutritionist, and after meeting with her, he went to the grocery store to buy foods that she had recommended.  He made the changes and lost the weight.  While Penny complained that she had not gotten the ‘appropriate tools’ or a ‘specific diet’ and continued eating whatever she wanted and not losing weight, Joe didn’t complain and did the hard work.  Yes, he acknowledged it was hard and he even had doubts that he could make it, but instead of making excuses, even when he failed the first time, he modified his approach, listened to the nutritionist and was successful.

The point is that we can look at weight loss and fitness/ improving our health as hard work, with a lot to learn and a lot of new (and probably difficult) changes we need to make.  We need to rearrange a whole bunch of things in our lives and if we have a family to care for, there’s probably also going to be a lot of strife. We can complain that “no one told us this was going to be so hard,” or “no one said we had to make XYZ changes,” and we can complain 24/7 if we want, but all of that complaining and all those excuses aren’t going to help you lose weight.  You can look at this as a problem, or you can look at it as an opportunity. Every time we try something new, it’s going to be hard and there is a learning curve involved.  We can look at it as something insurmountable, or we can look at it as a challenge. It’s okay to admit that it’s hard: that is a fact of life, but your attitude affects how you approach it and ultimately, how successful you are.  When you make the most of your opportunities, you grow as individual but when you complain that life is unfair, you get to stay in the same place you don’t want to be.  Be open and be willing to learn or what’s the point in trying?  You make all the difference here.

My Body- My Way! Even If It’s Not Working?

For most of our lives, we were taught to listen to the doctor or the health professional because he/ she knew a whole lot more than we did.  This practice got a lot of us in all kinds of health trouble.  We took medications that made us feel weird or caused more problems because “the doctor said so.”  So the new trend became “listen to your body” and we started taking our cues from ourselves, and while I think that’s a step in the right direction, listening to our bodies can sometimes get in our way.  Ideally, the better way is somewhere in between.

I am very lucky in that I have a doctor I can trust and who listens to me.  That last part is very important.  While most of us trust our doctors (at least until they give us a reason not to trust them), if your doctor isn’t listening to your feedback, I really think you need to find a new doctor.  It really is a back and forth situation: you tell the doctor what your symptoms are, and she makes a diagnosis and prescribes a treatment.  If the treatment isn’t working or causes additional problems, you need to let her know that.  Sometimes the response might be “give it a little time” and sometimes the response is to try another treatment.  I’ve had a variety of  these responses from my doctor.  She prescribed a medication and the side effects are bothersome but not terrible: “give it some time.”  It’s still bothersome: “let’s try something else.”  Recently, I stopped taking my blood pressure medication because I was getting light-headed when I stood up.  My doctor had told me that because of my weight loss, my blood pressure was dropping closer to normal and I might not need it much longer. I was a little skeptical since hypertension runs in my family (along with myopia and astigmatism), but sure enough, once I stopped taking the medication, the light-headedness went away.  I emailed her and when I went in recently for my regular check up, my BP was normal after being off the drug for about a month.  “Don’t take it anymore.”

This is an good example of me listening to my body and my doctor listening to me. It means we all have to communicate and listen, and sometimes it’s hard to do and sometimes it’s a pain in the butt.  It means I have to pay attention to what’s going on with me.  Sometimes it’s something easy like standing up after adjusting the strap on my sandals and the room starts spinning- “okay, that’s not normal!”  Other times, it’s less obvious, like feeling bloated after drinking coffee.  Because there’s usually some time between drinking the coffee and the after-effect of feeling bloated, we might not make the connection.  This is where it can be a pain in the butt: when we notice we’re repeatedly not feeling right but the cause isn’t immediately identifiable, we have to do a little investigating. This is where a food journal comes in handy. I don’t use it for counting calories, but I do keep track of what I eat, when I eat and how I feel throughout the day.  That way if I’m always starving or always feeling full or just feeling ugh, I can look at what I’ve eaten and see if there’s a correlation.  I know I can eat a handful of nuts and still be hungry an hour later while eating an avocado is more satisfying.

The other half of this equation is to talking to the doctor.  Emailing her and letting her know that I’ve been light-headed and stopped the medication is also important.  If I hadn’t listened to my body and kept taking the pill, low BP is just as bad as high BP.  Aside from passing out and possibly injuring myself, it causes damage to the organs and brain (blood and oxygen are kind of important!) If I hadn’t told her I was feeling light-headed, she might not know I have a problem and tell me to stop the medication until I showed up in her office and she took my pressure.  Even then, it might not have been immediately apparent.  Doctors are people and sometimes things get missed even by the best.  This is where you need to ask questions and be your own advocate.  Not too long ago, there used to Public Service Announcements (PSAs) showing people asking a jillion questions about the special at the restaurant, the mileage on a new car, the minutes on a phone plan and then showing up at their doctor: “any questions?” “Nope!” The point was we interrogate people about everything except what’s really important.  One of my friends lost someone really close to her because her family member would not ask the doctor questions regarding her diagnosis or treatment.  Even though her condition continued to deteriorate and her family pushed for answers, she never questioned the doctor or the treatment, until it was too late.  By the time she started demanding answers, the cancer was too advanced.

I actually lean the other way: I can be a real pain in the butt to the doctor, asking about diagnosis, medications and treatment options.  When I broke my arm and leg several years ago, I was sitting in the ER listening to the doctor explain everything to my mother the former nurse in medical jargon (I was 30-something at the time!) and I interrupted him with an emphatic “NO.”  He looked at me like I had two heads and despite my mom’s trying to shoo him out the door, since I was the patient, he had to listen to ME. All I wanted was for him to explain the procedure to me since I was the one who was going to have surgery! Once he did, I had no problems with his treatment, but too many people sit there and let things be done to them that they don’t understand.  I think that PSA makes a good point: we need to be savvy health consumers too and if your doctor isn’t listening to you, find one who will!

Aside from not asking health care professionals enough questions, we also have a problem with not listening to our bodies.  Sometimes this is because we aren’t paying attention and sometimes it’s because our body is giving us an answer we don’t want to hear, as in fitness and weight loss.  We plug our numbers into an online calorie calculator and we get a number, which may be too high or too low for us.  Usually the problem with being too low is that we have to limit ourselves to 1500 or 1200 calories a day when we’ve been eating around 2500 or so.  Sometimes the number is too high because we’ve overestimated our physical activity.  Incidentally, just because XYZ is a ‘great exercise,’ it may not work for you. Everyone says walking is a great simple exercise that ‘really works!’  Maybe it is, but walking on a treadmill is agony for my knees after about 20 minutes! This was obviously not the answer I wanted and when our body fails to give us the answer we want (usually losing weight), we usually choose the answer we want instead.  When we feel hungry and low energy with a low calorie limit, we think it’s because the number is too low, so we move it up to a number we like better, even if it’s too high for us to lose weight.  (You don’t need to starve but you do need a calorie deficit.) Sometimes if we’ve been told to avoid certain foods rather than pay so much attention to calories, we do the same thing: I feel so hungry/ low energy and these foods make me feel better! I remember hearing one of the patients on My 600 lb Life actually say: “I can’t function without won tons!” Like so many of us, she had fooled herself into believing that she knew better because ‘I know my body!’ (Incidentally, she only lost approximately 30 lbs, leaving her weight about 500 lbs the last time I saw her.) While I don’t doubt that most of us know our bodies better than most doctors when it comes to some things, there are times to defer to the doctor! The broken arm and leg incident is a good example: the hospital staff kept trying to stuff pain medication down me, but my pain was manageable.  I could do without the meds as long as no one was touching my wrist.  Once they started to set it, they strongly advised to me to allow the medication, and I deferred to them.  I may know my own body, but as for setting a shattered wrist? I don’t think so!  When you try something your way and you keep not getting the answer you want, it’s time to listen to the doctor. For years I followed the FDA’s guidelines and made sure I stayed low fat and high carb, which kept me fat no matter how little or how much I ate of them.  So even though I felt fine in that I wasn’t ‘starving or low energy,’ the rest of my body was dying under my weight! But doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time is the definition of insanity!  Time to listen to a doctor! I chose to listen to Dr. Nowzaradan, who puts his patients on a low carb high protein diet.  After a few weeks of that, I was losing more weight faster than ever before, I wasn’t hungry all the time and the rest of my body was beginning to recover. I have never met the man, but his specialty is bariatrics and it was clear my way wasn’t working! It may be ‘my body,’ but ‘my way’ wasn’t getting me anywhere! Sometimes we need to listen to our bodies, even if we don’t like what they are saying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Weight Loss From the 438 lbs POV: Overwhelmed & Paralyzed

I vividly remember being here.  I’m miserable.  Everything hurts. I know I need to do something, but I don’t know what to do.  It’s an overwhelming and utterly hopeless feeling.  It’s that Deer in the Headlights paralysis: I know I need to move but I just can’t.

It’s easy to look back at this situation and think “just do something! anything!” But at the time, I was so busy being focused on the problem that I wasn’t looking at ways around the problem. This is where most of us start and after having been on this wild ride for a while, I think it’s the hardest part! It’s like looking at a pile of shattered glass and being told you need to reassemble the Baccarat vase it used to be! We’re looking at the mess we made of our own bodies and, while we know we need to fix it, we don’t know where or how to begin.

Newton’s First Law of Physics: A body at rest stays at rest and a body in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted on by an external force.  I lucked out: an external force acted upon me and literally pushed me down the road to weight loss.  I would love to say that I found my way out of the headlights and figured out how to get started on my own, but truthfully, I got a helpful push, even though it didn’t really feel ‘helpful’ at the time.  This push (quitting the Job From Hell) required that I make essentially one change to my eating habits: I stopped eating out as much (unemployed- so no money!)  I was still eating out, still eating processed junk food, but it was less.  That one change alone is how I lost the first 40 lbs.  After that, I was a body in motion and all I had to do was stay in motion.

It’s getting in motion that is the hard part! We are fighting not only the inertia and the bad habits that have become deeply ingrained in our daily routines but also the feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed.  I can give you a whole bunch of descriptive metaphors, but most of us have been in that spot and are already too familiar with how it feels.  We’re trying to forget that feeling!

My advice: do something! anything! even if it’s the WRONG thing, it gets you in motion, and once there, you are literally on a roll.  Once you are headed somewhere, it’s easier to change direction than it is to start up again from a stopped position.  Of course, bouncing from one strategy to another isn’t helpful either but once you find something that works for you, it’s still easier to stick with that one strategy than to start from scratch again.

However, before you deal with that possibility, you first have to get moving, and that’s way easier said than done!  It’s NOT impossible and I don’t want to scare the living daylights out of you by telling you how hard it is, but I think recognizing that it’s not easy either gives you a better perspective and a better starting position.  I was listening to a podcast the other day where the host and his guest were giggling over how sometimes people overlook the simple fixes in favor of the more complex ‘fashionable’ trend of the day: “you want to lose weight? Track your calories! Fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight!” While it’s hard to argue with his logic, there was a part of me that was really offended by his attitude.  Yes, I agree with tracking; it helps with a lot of things besides calorie counting.  I also agree that trying the simple fix first is a better position than going for ‘fashionably complex and trendy.’  What offended me was his attitude that being stuck means you’re being stupid about it.  Personally, I was also offended by his attitude that low carb dieting is one of those fashionably complex temporary fixes.

I tried for more years than I want to admit to lose weight counting calories and eating those healthy whole grains, and it got me nowhere.  I tried the ‘simple fix’ and it didn’t work, so now what?  Being stuck and being overwhelmed does not make you stupid or hopeless, though the world is pretty good at making sure you think you are (like these two gigglers!) It means that your problem- your weight and your body- are not like the run-of-the-mill dieters out there.

Looking back from the vantage point of being un-stuck, I can see where I made my biggest blunder, and it was focusing on the problem!  Realizing that is one of those Homer Simpson moments for me (D’oh!! **smack**) because problem-solving is actually one of my better skills, but not with weight loss apparently.  I was looking at my weight- the number on the scale- and I was so focused on “OMG, I am so huge I will never be a normal weight or healthy again!”  What I should have been focused on was “what is one change I can make to improve my nutrition?” Wrong focus: “I’ve tried Nutrisystem; I’ve tried counting calories and nothing works for me!” Better focus: “Those don’t work so what haven’t I tried?”

It’s the difference between staying in motion and staying at rest. It’s easy to stay at rest, not moving, fretting over my weight and how “nothing works!”  You get so worked up but you aren’t actually moving- it just feels like you are.  Actually doing something is much harder.  It requires effort; it requires hope.  You have to hope that this next thing will work and then you actually have to try it!   Yes, the effort to get moving is a lot greater because you have been standing still, but you are worth that effort! It takes work to get moving.  It takes work to look for new strategies, and there’s a lot of energy invested not only in looking and hoping but also the doing. As I said, I vividly remember being in that position, so much so that I remember what street I was driving down when I was trying to talk myself into just giving up and being fat and unhealthy the rest of my miserable life.

There are some things in life that we all know are a real pain in the butt and are a major hassle: things like changing jobs, moving, repainting and remodeling your home.  We have jokes about them, like how all our friends are out of town the week you have to move into the new apartment.  We expect that it’s a hassle so we kind of mentally and sometimes physically prepare ourselves for it.  We toughen up and go into it with a “get it done!” attitude and if we are tired and sore from lugging boxes and packing up stuff, we expect it and deal with it.  It’s the cost of moving to a new place!  We don’t think of losing weight like that, and I think that’s why we are overwhelmed and confused.

“Why is this so hard?”  That’s what I remember thinking over and over again. I felt so powerless to do anything about my weight. Trying to find something new, even the thought of just trying again felt so hard, and everything in my head kept telling me that ‘weight loss shouldn’t be hard!’  It was like the giggling podcast guest was in my head back then: “just count calories!” Yeah… doesn’t work, jerk! Sometimes it takes a bit more than just ‘the simple fix!’

Getting started is both hard and easy: getting yourself in motion is hard because you are fighting the inertia, the feelings of hopelessness and powerless, the realization that it’s going to be a long hard fight, but you only need to make one change.  That’s the easy part. Make one healthy improvement to your nutrition.  It doesn’t have to be something major or something complex or awe-inspiring: it just has to be something better than what you are doing now.  With me, it was simply eating out less.  Not even ‘no eating out’- just ‘less than what I was doing before.’  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) made a similar change with fast food when she started.  That one change for me and for her started us moving and once in motion, we stayed in motion.

When we take the right approach to the task at hand, I think we are better prepared for the obstacles that come up along the way.  Thinking something is going to be easy and then finding out it’s much harder than we anticipated can knock us on our butts, and once down, we are tempted to stay there.  When we realize that the job is going to be  a tough one, we are better prepared and we expect that problems will arise: we start looking for ways to head them off.  Losing weight is not the no-brainer some of the supposed professionals tell us it is, but neither is it an impossibility.  It’s a hard job, but it’s one we can all do if we prepare for it and do the work.  We may get knocked down a few times (I know I’ve kissed the canvas quite a lot!) but once down, we need to get back up.  Remember: a moving target is harder to hit!