When it comes down to the business of losing weight, there are a few standard tactics that we all turn to: eat less, move around more, and try not to screw it all up on the weekends. In most cases, those approaches work great, and when we apply them consistently, change happens pretty predictably. But, as many of us have experienced, there are other times when the standard approach hits a wall, and results become more elusive.
The solution can be as simple as adjusting calorie intake for a new body weight or shaking up the old exercise routine to get things moving again. But other times, we’ve let old habits creep back in and fill the gap between weight loss and weight maintenance. That’s when most of my clients say, “are you going to make me keep a food journal?” And I reply, “I am not going to make you do anything. But yes.”
But not for the reasons you might think. Yes, if you want to lose weight then the math of calories in and calories out is something to pay attention to. But food journaling isn’t just about portions and calories. Sometimes, the best awareness we can build is the behind the scenes motivations for why we are eating, not what. Consider keeping a different type of food journal that encourages you to qualify your food before you quantify it.
I have three rules for food logging, and they are easy to follow. First, if you bite it, you write it. I would say that if you swallow it you write it, but that doesn’t rhyme and rhyming is more fun. The point here is that every bite of food contains calories, even the healthy ones. Yes, it is completely possible to sabotage your weight loss by eating too much healthy food! So, if weight loss is a goal and it seems like you are doing everything right and not making progress, it might be time to get into the nitty gritty and focus in on the details. Write it down. Everything. Yes, even that.
Second, resist the temptation to evaluate what you just wrote down. This is data collection, not a performance review. If you don’t like what you wrote, that’s cool. You can change how you eat any time you’d like. But in the initial stages of food journaling, I just want you to write it down and put it on the list of things you ate, without deciding whether it makes you good, bad, or ugly. It just is.
And third, be as accurate as you can be with your portion sizes. Sometimes that means counting out how many nuts were in that handful. Sometimes that means putting your ice cream bowl on a digital food scale and portioning out exactly what you intend to log. Yes, there is a lot of counting things in weight loss. That’s okay because counting things is easy. I’ll bet you’ve been counting since you were a kid, right? See? You’re already a pro.
Those are my rules. Shake off the apprehension and guilt and just track what you eat, as if you are observing someone other than yourself. Once you are logging away, it’s time to take your food journal from a simple list of things you ate into something from which you can learn and draw conclusions.
Look for patterns. Perhaps make a note of why you decided to eat, how hungry you were, and how you felt afterward. Ask yourself whether you’d like to keep doing things that way, and if you want to change, what would have been a better idea. What can you do to make that easier next time?
Pay attention to the time that you eat to identify whether you are eating at regular intervals or going too long between meals. If you are a creature of habit, you may find that you eat at the same time of the day whether you are hungry or not. If you are always in survival mode, you may be surprised to see how long it’s been since you last ate.
Take a big-picture look at your food journal and look for the obvious signs of what needs to change. It is my philosophy that sustainable change affects as few areas of our life as possible, so I take the approach of changing as few things as possible to set things in motion again. Look at what you’ve eaten objectively, and ask yourself if you are creating an environment where you can be successful or one where you are doomed to fail.
Change is not easy, but if the payoff is great enough, it can be rewarding. Awareness leads to behavior change, so being honest about why you decided to eat can play a leading role in forming new habits. Put down the calculator, step back and look at the big picture, and take a holistic approach to your food journal this week.
A friend and I are about 15 days into a 30-day pushup challenge.
It started innocently enough; I needed some external motivation to work on building my upper body strength, and I knew he would be up for some friendly competition. So, I found a simple month-long push-up challenge and off we went, smack-talking our way to stronger muscles.
It didn’t take long before we decided that our next challenge would be pull-ups. I’ve never been able to master them, and it’s been a goal of mine for years. Surprisingly, I was able to find a program that will allow us to start with being able to do zero pull-ups, and it is set for February.
Soon after, it became apparent to me that what I really needed was an ab challenge. Perfect for March! But March seemed kind of far away, and I wanted to get started. Thankfully, that wise, practical voice of reason tapped me on the brain and whispered, “pssst! Heather! You know abs start in the kitchen!”
Have you ever heard that abs are made in the kitchen? You may also hear your health guru friends say that fitness is 80 percent nutrition and 20 percent exercise. It’s a reference to the power of nutrition in building a better body, and the amazing head start we can give ourselves when we let our workouts and our nutrition be best friends forever.
So, I created this 4-week abs challenge that requires no exercise. If you keep saying you don’t have time to exercise, this is definitely the plan for you! Just follow these week-by-week instructions and you’ll see amazing changes in your body! This is a progressive challenge, so each week you will add to the skill set you have established. Don’t worry, you can totally do this.
In the first week of the challenge, do three sets of not going through the drive-through for any meal. That means three times during the week, do not buy food through a window. Or over a counter of an establishment that also sells food through windows. Also, add in three sets of drinking a bottle of water with each meal. Add some lemon, mint, and cucumber to that water and let it steep overnight to create a tea that further eliminates belly bloat.
In addition to the week one tasks, in the second week we will add four sets of replacing animal fats with plant-based fats. That means four days out of the week, eliminate butter, cheese, cream, and red meat and replace it with fats that come from plants, such as avocado, nuts, olives or soybeans. Then, add three sets of including leafy green vegetables in your meals. You don’t have to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet to see changes, just some of the practices. Don’t worry, if the vegetables make you hate the way you feel, you can always go back to your old ways.
In week three, you get a little bit of a break. You’ve been making a lot of changes, so this is an easy week. In addition to the habits of the first two weeks, add four sets of decreasing the amount of sugar in your beverages. Opt for plain coffee or tea instead of a frozen coffee drink. Skip the sports drink and drink water instead. Hey, you asked for a challenge, right? Real change comes from real change!
By now, you may be feeling lighter, more energetic, and slimmer around the middle. It’s working! Now we’re ready to increase the intensity. In week four, continue the practices of the first three weeks and add two sets of fewer alcoholic drinks and five sets of replacing anger with gratitude. Relax, you don’t have to give up alcohol entirely, just drink less of it less frequently. When you start to feel aggravation or anger brewing inside of you, stop and redirect that energy into gratitude for the opportunity to grow and evolve as a person.
Just go with me on this one, I promise you’ll like it.
Once the month is over, if you want to stop doing the habits that have brought you such great results, you are welcome to do so. Begin by slowly reintroducing each unhealthy habit one at a time. If you begin to notice a reaction, such as your waistline increasing in size, that may indicate a habit that you are sensitive to. Speak with your doctor to determine whether you need to be worried about that.
No time to exercise? Hate doing crunches? Bad back? Not a problem. Give this four-week abs challenge a go and results are practically guaranteed. I can’t promise it will be easy or that you will not need to do it more than once. But, if you don’t like the results, let me know. I like a challenge.
Do you find yourself reaching for a snack when you’re stumped on a project at work? Does it feel weird to watch TV and not nibble on something? Does making something to eat come to mind whenever you are bored? If so, you may be a mindless emotional eater.
Mindless emotional eating is any time you are eating for reasons other than hunger. A client expressed surprise recently when I mentioned emotional eating habits, because from her perspective, she wasn’t eating to soothe a broken heart or calm anxiety or avoid dealing with difficult emotions. But any time we reach for food and eat even though we are not hungry, we are eating mindlessly. If we feel gratification from eating even when we are not hungry, we are eating emotionally. It’s OK. We all do it.
What might not be OK, though, is the impact that it has on your health. Obesity is at an all-time high, and weight loss is a common goal at this time of year. Often, the catalyst for that weight loss is simply getting a handle on mindless and emotional eating. But, since what may be simple is not always easy, here’s how to go about it.
First, recognize that you are doing it. Just noticing that it is happening helps. Knowing why helps, too, but right now I just want you to notice it. “Woah, I just reached for one of those cookies even though I am not hungry.” That is noticing. The most important part of this step is to avoid going into negative self-evaluation. That means ending the observation with, “I just did that,” and not continuing with, “I have no self-control. I am never going to be able to do this. Why did I let myself get this way?” Imagine one of your children berating themselves for making a mistake on a homework assignment or when completing a project. Would you stand idly by and let them put themselves down? Of course not! Let’s give ourselves the same courtesy. Notice that you’re doing the thing that you want to stop, and then move on to the next step.
The next step is to redirect yourself towards something else. Diet advice often encourages finding a distraction from the temptation, as if simply being out of sight will put it out of mind. It takes a deeper intention than just a distraction to change habits. I want you to redirect yourself towards something more productive. The difference between distracting and redirecting is in the purposeful intention to change, not just delay, gratification. The purpose is to become gratified by something else.
Make a list of activities that you can take on quickly when you notice that you are doing the old habit. For bonus points, include on that list some of the goals you may have set for the year. Did you resolve to read more books? Put that on the list. To stay in touch with loved ones more regularly? Write a hand-written note. To sharpen your brain power? Pull out a crossword puzzle. The key here is to not just distract yourself with something until the feeling goes away, but to purposely redirect yourself into an activity that actually feeds the life you want to be living. Distractions are a piddling away of time. Redirections are a better use of it.
Once you are engaged in your redirected habit, it is time for step three: acknowledge that you choosing to do something different and the reason why. It’s not enough to just say, “nope, not doing that,” and change course. Our pesky little brains will just try to go back later, and we’ll have to repeat the process over and over. Instead, tell yourself, “I just reached for those cookies even though I am not hungry. I’m committed to ending mindless eating. I’m going to read my book and learn about something new.”
Mindless eating habits develop just like mindless habits that are positive, too. How you pick up your tooth brush, put on your seat belt, or make your coffee happen without you giving much notice to them, right? But when you first learned how to do those things, you paid more attention so you could learn. The way we mindlessly nibble on food throughout the day has developed in the same way, but that can change. Yes, you can tell your brain what to think! Notice, redirect, and acknowledge the intent. You did it when you learned how to brush your teeth, and you can do it with anything else.
Do you have a mindless habit that needs some attention? Look for opportunities this week to redirect yourself into something that is not just a distraction, but a better use of your time.
Feed your life!
In case you haven’t heard, it’s a new year, and time for a new you. All of the commercials and advertisements say so! Out with the old you; move over for the new and improved version. As I drove through town last week and listened to a radio commercial encourage to enter a sweepstakes so I could become the new me, I wondered, “what if I like the old me?”
Okay, I know that’s not what they meant. But still, as I listened to the words and absorbed “new year, new me” messages on billboards and in magazines, it kind of felt that way. The truth is, unless you’re going out every day and purposely trying to screw things up for people, you’re just fine the way you are. No new you needed.
But, if the new year has you thinking about taking things to the next level, adding some new skills, and fine-tuning your current level of spectacular, then you may have made some new year resolutions. And your friendly neighborhood wellness coach wants to know: why?
That's the first question to ask when embarking on new goals: why? Why is reaching the goal important to you? Why is now the time to act? Why are you excited about the outcome? Why haven't you done it already? The answers to these questions become part of the vision statement that you can turn to when the work gets hard. Knowing why you started in the first place is helpful in February, when the New Year shine wears off and reality sets in. And all of the other times when you don't wanna.
Knowing the motivation for your resolutions can also help you identify when it is misplaced. I recently came across a quote that I saved because it spoke to me and so many of my clients when we are going through times of change: "Confidence is not about knowing they will like you. Confidence is about knowing you'll be okay if they don't."
When the answers to why a goal is important to achieve include being accepted by others and reaching their expectations, that’s a signal that motivation is misplaced. Your resolutions and goals are best when they come from a place of confidence, not shame. Your goals are more rewarding when they fuel your heart and soul, and yes you deserve that, regardless of whether others approve. But how do we get there as a starting point? If the motivation for your goals feel a little misplaced, consider these tips for building confidence in the new year.
Look Your Best. Are you wearing baggy or tight clothes because you’re waiting to lose weight before buying new ones? Buy clothes that fit you now and the boost will be a big one. I used to put off buying new clothes until I reached a goal weight, but when I needed an outfit for a special event and bought one that fit, just feeling better in my clothes gave me the energy to work on my weight. Get a haircut. Spruce yourself up. When you feel good, good things happen!
Tackle Small Projects First. Nothing breeds success like success, even small victories! Get some momentum by knocking out some easy things you’ve been procrastinating on, and ride that wave of confidence into bigger goals. Get on a roll! It doesn’t have to be a fast one. Just get going.
Zap Negative Thoughts. There’s a difference between being a realist and being negative. It’s totally healthy to be realistic about whether a goal is likely to be reached. But when you notice your brain saying mean and negative things to you, that will become a confidence killer in an instant. Pay attention to when you hear yourself get caught in negative self-talk, and stop it immediately when you notice it. Negative thoughts can be reversed with a message as simple as, “it’s not so bad, I can do this,” or “just five more minutes and then maybe a break.” Ease yourself into just a bit more, and confidence will grow.
Seek Opportunities to Give. Being kind and generous with your time and resources makes other people feel great, and it makes you feel great as well. Even better, serving others connects you with other people who are also serving others, and their positive energy will rub off on you, becoming an endless cycle of good stuff. If you’re not sure about this one, just give it a try and see what happens. I will give you all your happiness back if it doesn’t work.
Confidence is not about knowing they will like you. Confidence is about knowing you'll be okay if they don't. Embrace the new year, the old you, and the awesome power you have to up your game in 2017. Happy New Year!
When I got married, I remember reading an article in a bridal magazine about couples who were celebrating long and happy marriages. As we do, they had been asked for their secrets to wedded bliss, and as we love to see, the responses were a mixture of poignant, sarcastic, practical and funny. One stood out to me.
When asked for the secret to her long and happy marriage, one woman told the story of her wedding day, when she made a list of unforgivable things she would divorce her husband for. She didn’t share what was on the list or how long it was; that was left to our imaginations. But, that was not the secret. Every time her husband did something that ticked her off she would say, “you’re lucky that’s not on the list.”
I laughed and tucked that bit of wisdom away. None of us are perfect, and we all need a wide berth of forgiveness sometimes. As we have arrived at a brand new year, I wonder if it is a good day to make a list of our own: a list of forgivables.
We’ve done this New Year thing before, haven’t we? We know the drill. I’ve written more articles on how to set the best New Year's goals than I care to recall. It’s all good stuff; new energy is not to be underestimated. So make your goals, and make ‘em good. Be specific about what you want to achieve, and chart a course of small steps to reach it. Go for it!
And then, make a list of the things you will forgive yourself for. Things are going to happen. We’re going to screw up some of it at some point. Let’s go ahead and put it out on the table right now. Here is what is on my list of forgivables for 2017.
1. I will forgive myself for not eating perfectly healthfully all the time. I love healthy eating, and I do always regret it when I stray from that path. Except when I don’t. There will definitely be times this year when I wonder why I kept eating even though I was full. But, I won’t let that stop me from eating healthier the rest of the year.
2. I will forgive myself for sleeping through my strength training workout. There will be days this year when I push the snooze button too many times, or check to see if my workout buddy messaged that she wasn’t going to make it and go back to sleep. It will happen. I’ll forgive myself for that, and make sure I do more workouts than I miss.
3. I will forgive myself for negative self-talk. It happens before we even know it! That voice in our head says, “I’ll never get this right,” or “what made me think I could pull this off,” or “I’m not strong enough for this.” I’ll forgive myself for that, and counteract those negative thoughts with louder, positive ones.
4. I will forgive myself for not being able to do everything that people want me to do. This is a big one. I just love it when people are happy and will do just about anything to make it happen. But, it’s impossible for me to do everything that people ask me to do and also be a good steward of my own health and caretaker for my family. So, I will hold up my “I’m just human,” card and carry on.
5. I will forgive myself for not always having excellent blog ideas. I love writing this each week for you, and sometimes I think my ideas are great and other times they are just so-so. I am going to forgive myself for that, and I hope you will too.
What is on your list? What are you willing to forgive yourself for so you can move on and keep making progress? So many times we let one bump in the road, one mistake, one miscalculation mean the end of our journey. Ain’t nobody got time for that. We all screw it up, and we all deserve a wide berth of forgiveness sometimes, even from ourselves.
As you go into this great new year, go boldly. Make mistakes. And when you recognize them, stop and make corrections, thankful that whatever you just did was on the list.
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!