Weight Loss Tip of the Day: Stop Calling it Cheating!

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How many times have you cheated on your diet?

How many times have you tortured yourself over eating bad food?

How many times have you stared at that cookie for hours on end like a starving dog?

Do you think that is healthy?

I don’t.

Often, when people start dieting they don’t seem so much to be making better food choices as declaring an all out war on all that they used to eat.

This way of thinking misses the big picture.  One Oreo cookie didn’t make you obese.  One cookie didn’t even make you fat.  10 cookies didn’t do that.  Not even the whole package.  It was days, weeks, months, maybe even years of Oreo cookies and other less than healthy food.

What make us fat wasn’t that we ate junk food, it was that we moved its position in our diet form that of an occasional treat to a majority stakeholder.

I believe that a proper weight loss regime should focus on moving that balance back to a more appropriate level.

The 80/20 rule is a popular concept where one tries to be 80% perfect.  It’s a more realistic way of living in the world where things are rarely perfect.  By settling for 80% perfect, you allow yourself to move forward and achieve your goals despite being unable to perform perfectly.

I think this can easily be applied to your diet.  If 80% of your food is healthy, you are doing a pretty good job.  Go ahead and enjoy the 20% of treats.  Whether it’s 80% of your calories or 80% of your meals, as long as you are consistent, you will see results.

I think it is far better to work unhealthy foods into your diet than to have to resort to cheating.  You’re going to eat them anyway, at least this way there will be a way to work around it without all the stress and guilt.

It isn’t cheating, it’s eating reasonably.

Who wants to spend their days lying to themselves and then punishing themselves with guilt?

Not me!

Book Review: The Last Lecture

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This book has held an almost mythical place on my bookshelf.  I read an article somewhere about how moving and life changing it was and asked for it for Christmas, thinking that it was the answer to my prayers and would bring the change I needed.

Apparently, I wasn’t ready for that change.  I got that book for Christmas and it sat on my shelf.  For years.  I’m not sure what was holding me back, but I’m sure it isn’t a coincidence that I also stagnated in other areas of my life during that time span.

With my new push to better myself, I took down the book, dusted it off, then read it on my tablet. (Hey, there was a deal and I wanted to try out my new toy, so sue me.)

Man, was I disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book and I’ll talk more about it later, but it wasn’t the be all, end all book I was looking for.  That is really my fault; I built it up too much.  To be fair, so does everyone else it seems.  The book is regularly placed on lists of inspirational books and suggested as a gift for graduates.

The book does make a good gift.  It’s short, easy to read, and has an attractive cover.  Add to it the emotional element of being written by a man who knows he only has months to live, and it isn’t hard to see why people buy it for recent graduates.

I just wish it were marketed as a memoir instead of an instructional booklet on how to live your life.  It just sets the reader up for disappointment and, if you are like me, spending a large portion of the book readjusting expectations.

The book is an expansion of a lecture that Randy Pausch gave at Carnegie Mellon in 2006 after learning that his pancreatic cancer was terminal.  The lecture quickly became viral on YouTube. Two years later, he would publish this book with most of the same advice in the lecture but with added background stories about himself and the people mentioned in the video.

The book is really an autobiography of someone successful who has fulfilled his dreams, written as a guide for children who will never get to hear those lessons from their father.

He lived a great life and achieved things that people often dream about (floating in zero gravity, working with the Disney Imangineers).  This book is full of advice and and stories to explain how he succeeded.  Some lessons require digging by the reader to learn, others are stated plainly.  My favorite quotation from the book is from Seneca (Roman philosopher): Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.  Be prepared to get teary eyed at times and jealous of the large stuffed animals he won at carnivals.

Not all of the book was for me.  I had a different childhood and my personality and values don’t line up with his.  I do, however, recognize that all of the book is useful to someone. For that reason and the ones stated above, I would definitely recommend this book to other people.

Just do yourself a favor and don’t make the book into a mystical creature.  The author was only human and the story is about his own very human journey.  Read it for the earnest window into how another person lived a successful life.

The ability to see the world from another’s perspective is a gift in itself.  Plus, there’s a rocket ship on the cover!

Life Lessons from Frogger: Obstacles are Fun!

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I’ve seen too many times where people raise a possible problem then give up on the project all together.  They act like they created a wall when all they did was highlight an obstacle on the course of success.  These people need to take a lesson from my favorite childhood video game: Frogger.

In Frogger, you play a frog that is trying to get to the safety of its home.  Unfortunately, you are on the other side of a busy road full of traffic that inexplicably alternates directions with each lane. (How does one pass on such a crazy road, I will never know.) After you get pass the busy road, you land on a stretch of grass that’s home to moving snakes that will kill you. Now, you just have to traverse a crazy river of hazards just waiting to end your worthless existence.  Apparently, the water itself contains a chemical that kills frogs and only frogs as turtles and crocodiles swim around in it just fine.  Be careful not to land in a crocodile’s jaws or stay on a turtle that dives underwater, though.  And heaven forbid you travel to the edge of the game, apparently there are giant nets that will push you off whatever you are riding.

Still, if you pay attention and avoid all the obstacles, you make it safe to your home (assuming a crocodile doesn’t sneak in and kill you first).  You might even pick up a sweet little hunny on the way!  What’s your reward for making it to safety?  Having to do it all over again with even harder obstacles!

Why do we even bother when the entire game is clearly set up to get us killed?

Um, BECAUSE IT IS FUN!!!!

We do it because it is a challenge.  We do it to see just how far we can go.  Even though we know that we will eventually die and the game will end, we do it because the game itself is fun.

The obstacles are there to show us what to do.  Imagine if your jerk brother threw a ball at the TV and cracked the screen so badly that you couldn’t see the road or the river.  It wouldn’t be much fun then, would it?  You’re just blindly moving the frog around, hoping to get to the end without dying.

Having problems with your project is a blessing: they tell you what you need to do to reach your goal.  If you have no problems, you are working in the dark.  The problems are still there, you just don’t know where they are.

Thinking of obstacles as challenges or puzzles to solve will get you a lot further and have more fun  than just giving up and walking away.

Good luck and enjoy your problems!

Perfection is an Illusion

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Today, I was thinking about a lesson from an art class I took once.  The professor asked us what color an apple was.  When we responded that it was red, she asked if a picture of a red apple looked realistic.  The answer, of course, was no.  An apple isn’t just red.  It’s black, yellow, brown, white, green, and probably many other colors.

When we say that an apple is red, we make a generalization.  Generalizations and categories make life easier for us.  If I said that this apple is black, brown, green, red, yellow, and white and that apple was black, brown, green, red, yellow, and white, they would sound like the same apple.  That’s why we say one apple is red and the another is green in order to distinguish them.

The problem is, that life doesn’t fit nicely into categories.  The world is a mushy, complex thing that doesn’t understand nor care about our crisp, clean categories.  That’s why a painting of a red apple doesn’t look realistic.  It’s a creation of our imagination.  There are no red apples.  Apples are more complex that that.

Perfection is like that apple.  Perfection is a creation of our imagination.  It is how things should  be.  It is something we create because it is easier to understand than reality.  But don’t mistake it for reality.  It is no different than that picture of a red apple.  It is a shadow of the truth.  It is false.  It lacks the complexity of life.

We are not the masters of the universe, only citizens: we don’t have the power to create perfection.

Stop trying to be so gosh darn perfect, it’s never going to happen.  You’re playing the game with the wrong set of rules!  Learn to appreciate complexity.  You are a combination of so many colors.  Study those colors, understand their complexity.  Then use them to make the beautiful picture you’ve always wanted.

Stop selling yourself short by trying to live up to your own illusion of perfection!

Weight Loss Tip of the Day: Write it Down!

 

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For someone who likes to write, I sure hate keeping journals.  They are so time consuming and bland.  I’d rather spend that time reading a book or staring off into space day dreaming.  That said, a food diary has probably been one of the best tools I’ve ever used in my past weight loss journeys.

There’s something very real and satisfying about holding a notebook that’s filled with your own writing.  You can look at it and say, “I did that!”  The journal becomes a symbol of all the hard work you put into losing weight.  Days, weeks, even months later, you can look at all those filled pages and know that you have accomplished something.

When you want to give up, look at those pages and understand just how much time and effort you have put into becoming a better you.  It’s sometimes very easy to belittle what you have done and only focus on the negative.  With a journal, you have proof that you HAVE done well in the past.  Instead of beating yourself up for that ONE night of indulgence, look at all those good, healthy meals that you’ve eaten the rest of the week and give yourself a pat on the back.

When I first started using a food diary, I used a simplified version that was quick, easy to use but also still held me accountable.  If you are like me and hate the idea of journaling, consider trying my method.

Write down all the food items you eat in a day.  Don’t worry about portions or sizes, unless it is unusual like eating one grape or a whole pizza.  Don’t even bother with calories. Include your weight to find patterns with how much you weigh and what you eat.  Figure out how many days will be on each page, then find a notebook that will be filled when you reach your weight loss goal date.

Even if you don’t count your calories or actively try to eat healthier, you will become very informed about your eating habits.  After a few months, when you become more in the habit of writing stuff down, you can even expand to occasionally spot checking the calorie counts of some of your meals to become more informed about just what you are eating.

Try it for a week.  Experiment with different methods or different journals.  Find one that works for you and have at it!

 

Book Review: The Nice Girl Syndrome

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There are some books that you want to buy multiple copies so you can hand them out to people from time to time.  For me,  this book is one of them.

The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel is a self help book that aims to help women break the nice girl habits taught to them by society and become a strong women who stands up for her rights and stops being taken advantage of. The book is marketed towards someone currently in an abusive relationship, but I found it very helpful without being in one.

I am not fond of books telling me what to do.  It is very rigid and cannot always be adapted to everyone’s lifestyle.  This book, fortunately, relies heavily on teaching and story telling.  Engel is very thorough in breaking down the false beliefs that many women have and why they have them.  She uses plenty of stories from her own counseling practice as well as the traumas of her own past to let us know that we are not alone.

She also shows us how to remedy these false beliefs and ways we can try to start acting like a strong woman.  Not all of the sections of the book applied to me, but I found myself reading every page because she explained people’s thought processes so plainly that I began to understand some of my friends’ puzzling behaviors.  I found myself wanting to photocopy those pages and pass them along.

One of the most interesting things that I learned is that women sometime cry or overeat out of anger.  Women are not allowed to express their anger in our society, but they still feel the emotion.  Some have found more acceptable ways to express the emotion through tears or food.  It has become so second nature that many women wouldn’t even know that they are angry.  They don’t know why they cry or why they eat.

This is certainly true for me.  That was a “Eureka!” moment for me.  I had so many things that I was angry about, but I wasn’t expressing them.  It was destroying me.  Since reading this book, I haven’t anger cried once and only anger binged once or twice. I can’t describe how much a relief it has been for me to stop those behaviors.  Sure, I’m learning to deal with new ones.  I have to learn to express my anger appropriately and I’m finding that is a challenge in its own right.

I strongly recommend this book for any woman who is struggling to find her own voice or doesn’t understand why things are happening to her.  It is such an easy read and has something for every aspect of the nice girl that I’m sure you will walk away with some worthwhile knowledge.

Interested and want to learn more? Check out the reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Weight Loss Tip of the Day: Waste Energy!

Pinching pennies and not being wasteful can be great for your bank account but it can wreak havoc on your waistline.

That’s what your fat is: your body’s energy piggy bank.  When you take in too much energy (food), your body saves it for a rainy day.  This was very useful back in the day when people didn’t know when they’d find food, but not really necessary in a world where Twinkies can outlast an apocalypse.

In a society where efficiency is king,  we’ve become the masters at saving energy and our thunder thigh piggy banks are bigger than ever.

It’s a skill the obese and overweight could live without.  Literally.  It’s killing you.

Let’s break it down for a minute.

Each calorie you “save” goes into fatty tissue.  3,500 of those calories make 1 pound.   Someone who is 50lbs overweight has “saved” 175,000 calories over a lifetime.

And for what? An alien invasion? When are you possibly going to need that many extra calories?

STOP BEING SO FRUGAL!

Waste those calories, you don’t need them! Tap your feet, twiddle your thumbs, chew gum.  Take the long way to the copier at work.  Park further from the entrance to the store.  Bring groceries in one bag at a time, even one item at a time.  Pace while on the phone.  Stand while you wait at the pharmacy.  Click a pen.

Be creative.  Have fun thinking up the most inefficient way of doing things. Make it your Rube Goldberg device of living.

If each day you picked 10 activities that wasted 10 calories each, you’d waste 100 calories a day.  In one week, that’s 700 calories.  That’s a pound every 5 weeks and 10 pounds in one year!

Talk about a boost in your weight loss efforts!

Some years ago, a Dr. Levine did a study where he found that a process called NEAT (Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis) could account for as much as 2,000 calories burned in a day.  NEAT is responsible for the burning of calories not used for body maintenance or through exercise.  People with a healthy weight use NEAT as a means to burn off any extra calories they may have eaten in a day.

These people were more likely to be fidgety and less likely to sit still for long periods of time.

For more information, read this PDF from the Mayo Clinic.

My challenge to you is to try to break the thrifty habit and try the NEAT new habit of being wasteful!

The Runaway Car: in Defense of Antidepressants

“You don’t need to be on antidepressants.”

The person who said this to me long ago had no idea how presumptuous it was.  He also didn’t know how dangerous such a statement could be.

There’s something people who don’t suffer from depression and anxiety (and some who do) need to know: we are very good at faking it.  If we were better at showing our true emotions in public, we’d likely not have problems in the first place.  We are terrified of people learning the truth, terrified that we’d lose control and lose that last semblance of respect that we possessed.

Many of us try to solve our problems on our own or even just surrender to the belief of hopelessness.  The second group lead a kind of living suicide; they are living, but there’s no life.  It takes great strength to expose ourselves to a health professional for therapy and, yes, for medications.

There is a great stigma in our society against therapy, especially drug therapy for depression and anxiety.  While some might benefit from this “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” approach to mental health, to those it doesn’t help, it only serves to push them further backwards.  Years ago, I would listen to these opinions and go off the medication. They would become some of the worst years of my life, fueled further by my sense of worthlessness and failure by not being able to live up to this ideal.

The truth is that I need medicine.  I take Effexor because my brain doesn’t process neurotransmitters correctly.  I also take Singulair because my lungs don’t function properly and Synthroid because my thyroid produces the wrong levels of hormones.  Does this make me a bad person?  Does this make me weak?

How ridiculous would it be for someone to tell me, “You don’t need Singulair, your lungs work just fine on their own.”?  Why do people feel it is acceptable to say that about my Effexor?

Let me use the analogy of a runaway car to show what medicine does for me.

Imagine there’s a car sitting idle on a slight slope. A gust of wind knocks something heavy that disengages the parking break and lands on the gas pedal. The car shoots off down the hill and you are unable to catch up to it.  You watch as it careens on, hoping it runs out of gas or hits something before someone gets hurt.

That’s what an emotional trigger was like for me when I wasn’t on medicine.  I was always a little on edge, but when a trigger came along, my panic center received a full burst of fuel and spun out of control.  I couldn’t do anything.  I was powerless until it ran its course.

Now, imagine the same car except there’s no fuel in the tank.  When the heavy object disengages the break, the car starts to roll, but slowly.  You’re now able to catch up to the car and park it properly.  No harm, no foul.

That’s what medicine does for me.  It drains the gas from my panic center and allows me to address the situation.  I’m still able to feel.  I’m still able to act, but now I have the ability to stop the runaway car.

That is where therapy comes in.  Therapy teaches me how to catch the car. Therapy conditions me so that I can respond quicker.  Eventually, therapy teaches me that I don’t have to leave the car in idle, that I can park it like normal people do.

Are there people taking antidepressants who don’t need them?  Sure, just like there are 20 year-olds who take Viagra just for that added effect.  Does that mean everyone does that? No, they just probably aren’t as vocal about such a private problem.

Take care of yourself.  Don’t let others’ ignorance stop you. Do what you need to do to get better, that is what is most important.

Breaking the Mountain: Achieving the Impossible

I’m staring at a mountain.  It’s huge, it’s in my way, and there’s no path around.  What am I going to do?

I need to lose 40lbs, preferably 60.

That’s the size of a standard poodle!

How am I ever going to get there?  It seems impossible.

Fortunately for me, I have done this before so I know that it is possible.  So it’s time for me to revisit the lessons I learned last time.

Last time, I didn’t understand that BMI was complete bunk and thought that I had to lose 100lbs.  (I would learn that I naturally have a large BMI and if I were to reach the “ideal,” I would look emaciated.) 100lbs was a very scary number. It stopped me in my tracks and I just couldn’t figure out how I would every achieve something like that.

Then, I took a deep breath and asked myself, “If I can’t lose 100lbs, what can I do?”

I know I can lose 5lbs.

So I did.  Then I lost 10.  Then 15.  Then 20.  Then 25.  I kept losing weight until I had lost 55lbs and learned that I didn’t even need to lose the full 100.  I had torn down that mountain bit by bit and discovered it wasn’t as big as I thought it was.

Setting smaller, more manageable goals makes any monumental task achievable.  Each achieved goal moves you closer to the end, boosts your confidence, and teaches you valuable lessons about the challenge in front of you.

I had a mantra I had used last time and still use when I feel overwhelmed:

Do what you can do. Then do it again. And again.  And again.  Do it enough, and you’ll find you could do the impossible all along.

Do something easy.  Do something positive. See where it takes you.  It could be the greatest achievement of your life.

The Black Prism

I’m sure everyone has come across this phenomenon in their lifetime: person A says something positive then person B acts like it was an insult.

“Have a nice day!”

-“She just can’t wait to get rid of me”

“That’s a nice dress!”

-“He thinks that I look fat.”

“You look pretty.”

-“She’s just being nice.”

What happened? What’s going on inside their head?

I like to blame something I call the Black Prism. Normal prisms produce pretty rainbows by causing different colors of light to pass through it at different speeds.  With black prisms, a similar process happens.  A comment enters the prism and gets bent and twisted by assumptions and a negative self image until it leaves mutated and only vaguely resembling the original statement.

Unfortunately, the product of a black prism isn’t something beautiful like a rainbow; it is a grotesque monster, distorted and downright hurtful to the person in possession of the prism.

The more rules, assumptions,  and filters we apply to the world, the more distorted the end result becomes.

I’ve been a victim of this prism for a very long time.  It is only recently that I have tried to remove it an attempt to see the world in the raw, unassuming truth that it is.

It saddens me to think of how many imaginary walls, how many imaginary insults I had created for myself.

“I can’t walk around the neighborhood, people will see me.”

People can see that I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t want me here.”

“I ate a whole bag of chips. I’ll never lose weight.  I’m worthless.”

This is yet another obstacle on my journey to weight loss that I must work on.  In order to forgive myself and move on, I must move past this prism and see that there was no need for forgiveness to begin with.  Too many of the sources of my shame in the world are of my own creation.

I deserve to be healthy.  I deserve to be happy.  Why? Because I am a human being.  These are basic human rights.

It was the black prism that made me think otherwise.

From now on I will question every negative reaction and ask “Is this the prism talking?”

Hopefully one day I will only have rainbows and not monsters.