At least once a week, someone tells me about the new challenge they are undertaking to lose weight or get healthier. They are going to stop eating anything white, or they’re going to cut out all carbs, or exercise every single day at their new gym.
I saw a 30-day “get skinny” challenge online that listed about twenty-five things to avoid: no sugar, no alcohol, no red meat, no tropical fruits, no fast food, no fried food, and of course, no excuses. Then followed the comments of people who had accepted the challenge, and said, “this is what I need to finally get myself in gear!”
And I couldn’t help but ask, in gear for what? Never one to shy away from a challenge, I love and appreciate the thrill that comes from achieving something difficult, even if that is its own reward. I get that. Doing the difficult thing just to say you did it is a legitimate source of confidence and accomplishment. But when the goal is to get healthier, I find that success is much more accessible when we make things pretty easy.
First, let me define what I mean by success. When the goal is to lose weight and get healthier, I declare success when my client has reached a healthy weight, is able to maintain it through holidays and travel and tailgate season, and feels at ease with their ability to stay there physically and emotionally. Most of the time, when people drill down to what they want from their healthy goals, it is the ability to get to a good place and stay there.
That’s not the kind of thing that happens in thirty days, and it surely doesn’t happen in a state of survival conditions. It just doesn’t. I can’t say that you won’t feel triumphant and accomplished at the end of your month of no fun, but I can almost guarantee that you won’t be healthier or at ease with your ability to stay at the weight you’ve dieted down to.
To succeed and thrive, we need to step out of survival mode and into a safe zone. I encourage you to simply ask what would make it easier to do the things that will lead to weight loss and a healthier body.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s use the most common methods for healthy living as examples: eating healthfully, exercising, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. Instead of asking what should be removed from your diet, consider asking, “what would make it easier for me to eat healthier this week?”
Instead of signing up for the most rigorous workout in town and jolting your body into boot camp, ask, “what would make it easier to get more exercise, the good kind that really gets my heart pumping?”
What would make it easier to find time for meditation or relaxation in your day? What would make it easier for you to get to bed earlier?
It’s a bit of a trick question. Yes, it would be easier if we didn’t have to do anything, or if wine didn’t have calories, or if we had personal chefs and could quit our jobs so we had complete control of our time. Ha ha, yes, I know. But for real. In your real life, what would make it more realistic that you’re going to do these things?
Life is already hard enough, and there are plenty of opportunities to challenge your body and mind every day. And, challenge is good for us and I love a good kick in the pants to work a little harder and level up. But if you have been trying to convince yourself that you just need to work harder and try harder to make changes in your health, then I invite you to instead ask, “what would make it easier?”
The pharmacy where I worked as a teenager had a sign in the back displaying the store’s hours of operation. You’ve probably seen it in other businesses as well:
“We’re open most days around 9 or 10. Occasionally as early as 7, but sometimes as late as 11 or 12. We’re closed around 5:30 or 6. Occasionally as early as 4, but sometimes as late as 11 or 12.”
It goes on with more exceptions to the rule, and it always gets a chuckle. It also sounds a lot like me when someone asks me whether their weight loss plans will work. Reducing calories and increasing exercise should work, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you lose weight at first and then stop losing weight. Sometimes you do everything “right” but some other medical condition is causing a plateau. Sometimes you and your friend do the same things, and one experiences results when the other doesn’t. The reason is because losing weight is more of an art than a science.
Science is exacting. It is either right or wrong, and can almost always be explained with facts, data, and reason. Science is using a food scale to measure your portions so you know exactly how many calories you are eating each day. There is a definite element of science in how we manage our health, especially of numbers like cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar need to be monitored. Science allows us to know statistics like how losing 10% of your body weight can reduce risk factors for heart disease, or whether you need insulin. Science plays a role.
Art, on the other hand, is open to interpretation. The same piece of art can be seen differently by different people, just as a size 10 on one person feels as comfortable and manageable as a size 4 on someone else. Art is connected to our own personal values, and when health is art, we are able to create a picture of what balance means for us.Health as art is about quality rather than quantity, and knowing that maintaining healthy habits will result in healthy returns, even if the numbers don’t always add up. Art makes us whole.
Science plays a role and art makes us whole. The truth is, we need a little of both to make magic happen in the world of weight loss. Consider these balance points as you work on your goals of achieving a healthy weight.
Balance Calories with Consistency.
I’ve been maintaining my current weight for about five years now, but I still weigh my portions most of the time. Calorie management is a big part of weight loss, and attention to the details can make the difference between losing weight and maintaining. But what’s more important than the everyday ratio of calories in versus calories out is the consistent pattern of a deficit over time. It’s just like watching the stock market or investing for retirement; it’s performance over the long haul that matters.
Balance Your Weight with Your Waist.
The science of weight loss tells us that 3,500 calories is equal to a pound of fat. So, using 3,500 calories through exercise and reduced calories should equal a pound of fat lost...right? Yes, it should. Except when it doesn’t, which is usually about a week before you need to fit into a bridesmaid dress or rented tuxedo. Relax. There is so much going on inside your body that can make those three little numbers on the scale go haywire. Medications, not drinking enough water, your current hormonal state, the workout you just returned from, and what you ate for dinner last night will all factor into the number that shows up on that scale.Your body is a living thing that in flux all day long. Put the scale away and focus on the waistband of your jeans instead. If it’s changing, so are you, regardless of what that hunk of metal and plastic tells you.
Balance Perfection with Progress.
One of my favorite things to do is read stories of people who faced immense odds or setbacks and figured out a way to climb out, sometimes to epic levels of triumph. I often refer to these stories when someone is stuck in the muck of imperfection, thinking they are never going to make progress because every day, something happens to push them back. That, my friends, is called life. Success is not found in everything going according to plan, but in finding a way to move forward despite setbacks. I am going to say this part really loud: you do not have to get it right, you just have to get it going!
The truth is that weight loss is not just a numbers game, and it’s also not as easy as just making better choices. It takes a combination of science and art to make progress in changing our health, especially when the canvas is an ever-changing living thing that sometimes plays by its own rules.
So, relax. You got this. Enjoy those days when it all comes together and you knock it out of the park. Balance them with the days when you have to really focus to make any ground. If you are consistent, your success story may very well become a work of art.
When it comes down to the business of losing weight, the to-do list is pretty short: eat less, move around more, and try not to screw it all up on the weekends. But what if you’ve been doing that stuff for weeks now and nothing is changing? You may call your friendly neighborhood health coach, and she will likely say, “well, let’s take a look at how much you’re eating.”
You may reply that you eat a really healthy diet, and that you’ve stopped eating so much fast good, and don’t drink as much sweet tea anymore. And she may say, “that’s great! I am glad you are eating healthy food. Let’s take a look at how much you are eating.”
Knowing how much you eat is important, 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. 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. No, no, no. 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. There is a lot of counting things in weight loss. That’s okay because counting things is easy. You know how the dentist says you only have to brush the teeth you want to keep? Well, you only have to count the calories you swallow.
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 afterwards. 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.
Some people launch into a crazy new diet each spring, knowing full well that fad diets are full of empty promises and that the weight loss, though dramatic, doesn’t last through summer. We know these things, but the beach calls, and we think maybe this time things will be different. It’s what we do.
As for myself, I start a garden. I load up my car with beautiful flowers, plant them in my yard, and stand back to admire the instant beauty. I make a lot of promises. I promise to water them. I promise to mulch. I promise a lot of things.
But, like fad diet weight loss, my garden doesn’t make it past summer. Once the temperature hits the upper 90s every day, air conditioning becomes my favorite thing and I dictate my wishes for the world from the comfort of a climate-controlled environment. Over the past few years, I have gotten better about this. I’ve begrudgingly watered and fertilized them, and they lasted a bit longer and a bit longer, until now I have the very basics of what some might call a landscape.
Well, this year things will be different. This year, while shopping for plants, I pulled out the little plastic tag that tells you about the plant and noticed something I hadn’t paid much attention to before. It was a list of what the plant needed to thrive.
Now, I know you’re looking at this right now and thinking, “does she really not know to read the instructions for a plant before planting it? Come on, girl, that is ridiculous.” That’s cool. There are things I know and things I don’t know, and I we are all still learning so hush and listen to my story.
And for the record, yes, I do know to read the instructions. I just thought that I knew better. Kind of like when medical science tells us all to eat lots of healthy food, and we drink margaritas and eat chips and guacamole instead. It’s the exact same as that.
Anyway, I was shopping for plants, and I pulled out the tag and looked at it, and suddenly it all made sense because of one little word: thrive. In the past, the plant instructions had been just that: instructions. And as a rebel, I ignored them and did things my own way. Some of the really tough plants survived, but most withered away because I didn’t follow the instructions.
The word, “thrive,” changed my perspective, though. I had gotten my plants to a point where they were surviving, but I wanted my plants to not just survive, but thrive. I bid farewell to my hydrangea dreams and embraced hostas and drought-tolerant grasses. And as I did, the metaphors started pouring in.
We all have a list of what we need to thrive, and it can be as varied from person to person as from plant to plant. I know someone who needs daily naps to do her best work. Sure, she can survive on less sleep, but to thrive, she needs that extra rest.
Plenty of folks survive just fine on take-out meals and soda. They’re getting by, and that might be okay for now. But to thrive, they need something different.
For some, a diet high in complex carbohydrates is what has them feeling their best. They enjoy rice and pasta and homemade bread and feel great. But others would feel sick, bloated, and lethargic in those conditions, and they need a different diet to thrive.
How do you know what you need to thrive? Pay attention to how you feel in different circumstances! When you have a high-energy day, look around and discover what could have led to it. What did you eat? When did you eat? How much sleep did you get? Did you exercise? Who are you spending your time with? Have you been in nature, or glued to your office?
On the days when you can’t get any steam, pay attention to that, too. What’s been going on recently that is enough of a trend to mean something?
Collect all of this information about yourself and start creating your own list of what you need to thrive. Then, honor it. Sure, you can survive in less than ideal circumstances, just like my poor pitiful plants. You deserve better than that. Discover what you need to thrive, and give it to yourself. You are going to love what blooms.
Ah, you gotta love that new-lifestyle feeling. It’s great, isn’t it? Everything is bright and full of promise, energy is high, and you just feel like things are about to change. For real this time. You’ve signed up at the gym, bought all of the food needed for your meals, and this time, things are going to be different.
And it really is different. The workouts are challenging but fun and you feel like you’re getting the hang of it. On the weekends, you’re able to make healthy choices when everyone else is drinking beer and eating chips. There was that time when you ordered veggies instead of fries and you didn’t even have to convince yourself to do it. You are riding the wave and the view is fantastic.
But then, one day, something feels off. Nothing’s wrong, really, it’s just kind of a normal day of doing your healthy thing. But no one comments on it anymore, and the breakthroughs feel less exciting, and it kind of seems like your new healthy life is just...your life.
When this happens, there are usually two different paths we can take. The first is to settle in and enjoy the ride, taking pride in the hard work that has gone into creating habits that stuck. The second is to poke at it with a stick until it falls apart and needs to be fixed, which is what we usually do, by sabotaging our progress with a “cheat meal,” or unintentionally looking for drama to get involved in.
It feels weird when everything is going well, doesn’t it? Sometimes during one of those weeks when I arrive to meetings early, I don’t need to go to the grocery store three times, and there isn’t a growing pile of laundry in the bathroom, I think I must have forgotten something. Surely one of my children was supposed to be at the dentist or someone is sitting in a restaurant waiting for me to arrive. It’s unsettling when things go well. But sometimes things are going well because the strategies we put in place to improve our lives are actually working. What? Yes, it can happen.
It is at these times when I encourage my clients to take the first path.
Imagine that you are in a tunnel on a busy highway. Before you reach the tunnel, the road is loud and cars zip around you, and it is kind of stressful. Then you enter the tunnel and are absorbed in white noise. Cars have to stay in their lanes in the tunnel. The radio signal gets lost for a few seconds, and all you hear is the quiet hum of your car. It’s different, and a little weird, but not bad. Then before you know it, you’re back out into daylight, among the chaos of the highway, and things are normal again.
The weird place where life is going pretty well and your healthy habits have become rote is like that tunnel. It’s different, and a little weird, but not bad. And, it’s temporary. Believe me, there will be a time soon enough when your life gets crazy again and maintaining your healthy habits feels like work, and you wish you could go back to that time when things were boring and healthy living was easy.
Starting new habits can feel like that chaotic highway, especially when you’re making progress and seeing results every day. It’s expected for things to feel different as you travel down the road; after all, making things different is why you started in the first place!
If your habits have become your life, and you’re in that weird tunnel this week, congratulations. That’s what is supposed to happen. Enjoy that weird place. It’s not bad.
“Results not typical.” There’s a reason for that small-print disclaimer on advertisements for popular weight loss schemes: for every person who experiences lasting success on most commercial weight loss programs, there are many more who are starting again from scratch. There are plenty of reasons why we don’t experience long-term satisfaction from these programs, but the before-and-after photos keep inspiring us to see if maybe, this time, we are the ones who will strike gold.
In a recent conversation with a client, we talked about the twisty, winding road that leads to permanent health and body transformation. Marketing companies and social media posts make it easy to believe that a new life is a quick 30 or 90 days away, and have the photos to prove it. Just look at the inches lost and sizes dropped! And then, she made me very proud. She said, “my before and after pictures would have to be of my brain.”
Friends, there are times when you work really hard, taking two steps forward and one step back, take the long road to success, and do the inside work for months before anything shows up in the mirror, and it can seem like you’re not actually making any progress. But then you start noticing things, like the time you got excited about a bowl of ice cream and it was just okay. Or when on Sunday night you realize that you don’t feel sluggish from a weekend of overdoing it. And it feels weird to hear yourself order a side salad instead of french fries or say, “nah, I’m good,” to that second beer. Guess what? Those are your before-and-afters.
If you’re taking the winding path, the one that looks more like a roller coaster than a bridge to change, I challenge you to discover your own before-and-afters this week. Notice when you are doing something that is different from what you would have done before, and snap a mental picture of it.
When you jog the stretch of road that you used to walk, take a mental picture.
When you pass by the mashed potatoes and get two scoops of broccoli, snap a pic.
When you don’t listen to the voice that nudges you towards the pantry in those times when you’re nervous or anxious or just feeling antsy...remember that.
Keep those mental images with you so when everyone else is showcasing their body before and after their latest diet, you can appreciate the before and after of your life.
Now, yes, I know you want your body to look better too. We all do! It is part of being human. And I guarantee you, if you keep making progress along that crazy, crooked path, your results will be visible on the outside, too. And when that happens, post a picture for everyone to see so we can all cheer for you! That is hard work and it deserves appreciation.
But don’t discount the before-and-after transformation that you can’t take a picture of, the one that no one else really sees. The milestones you reach might not be measured in inches and pounds for a while, and that’s okay. It can be a really good thing when your results are not typical.
The car that cut you off in traffic the other day is long gone, but did you know that the reaction your body had to that event may still be with you? Tell the story to a friend, complete with hand gestures, and you can double the impact. In fact, every time you recall a negative event, it is as if your body is experiencing it for the first time. Over time, that stress can build up into a ticking time bomb that can threaten your health by making you more vulnerable to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.. Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? I have good news for you: you can reverse the effects of stress and learn how to change the way your body responds to it.
Many times we pin the label of “stressful” on events that happen to us, rather than on the way we respond. But the deadline, traffic, or argument at work is not necessarily what stresses our bodies. Rather, it is the way we react to those events that causes us stress. Managing stress doesn’t mean eliminating stressors from your life. It means developing positive strategies for dealing with stress. Here are a few ways to do that.
Look for the Positive.
Not everyone is a glass-half-full kind of person, but you can become one with intentional desire to look for the positive in life. It’s worth the extra work; studies show that optimistic people commonly enjoy greater health. Spend time in the evenings writing down what you are thankful for, or the best thing that happened each day. This intentional time to reflect on good things will help you begin to see them without looking.
Talk About It
We were not meant to shoulder life’s burdens alone, and simply talking about what is on our minds can ease stress. Talk with friends who share your viewpoint. Talk with folks who don’t. Talk to people about completely different subjects; laugh, appreciate the lighter side of life. Whether you connect with a friend or a therapist, talking about what you’re experiencing is a key step in relieving stress and moving beyond it.
Respect Your Own Boundaries. We often think of personal boundaries as being for others to respect, but how often do we ignore our own needs for balance? When we over-obligate ourselves, shortchange ourselves on sleep, or routinely put the minor needs of others ahead of our own self-care, we push our boundaries. Signs that you are approaching a boundary are headaches, chest pain, increased sweating, dry mouth, increased heart rate, or generally feeling overwhelmed. When you notice these things, recognize that you are approaching a boundary, and move to this next idea.
Use Meditation Techniques to Stay Calm.
There is a difference between being relaxed and being calm. You may feel physically relaxed after a glass of wine or time spent on the porch swing, but that physical state of relaxation can disappear as soon as the phone rings. Calm, on the other hand, is a mental state that enables you to process chaos differently. It lasts a lot longer than physical relaxation! Achieving and maintaining calm is a learned process, and proven strategies include meditation, breathing exercises, and regular yoga practice. Check out apps like Breathe2Relax or Headspace to be guided through breathing exercises, and set an alarm on your phone to do it throughout the day. Join a yoga class. Find a guided meditation video on YouTube to start or end your day.
Stay Active and Sleep Well
Even the most powerful, robust machines need maintenance. For our bodies, that maintenance is exercise and sleep. Healthy food helps, too! A brisk walk can clear a cluttered mind, and a good sweat-fest can fill you with energy. A good night’s sleep gives your body - and your busy mind - the time it needs to recover and embrace another day. It is worth the time it takes to make these things happen!
Negative events won’t go away after you implement these techniques, they just won’t bother you as much. If you’re not sure yet if you can imagine a day like that, just smile. You’re already on your way.
If you’ve read to a small child recently, you may be familiar with a certain very hungry caterpillar who ate lots of healthy fruits and vegetables all week long. He was so good!
Then, the weekend arrives, and our caterpillar friend does what many of us do on the weekend. He went off the plan. In the child’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he eats through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon. And that night he has a stomachache!
The very hungry caterpillar had a cheat day. You know, that one day of the week when you cheat on your diet. You eat whatever you want and throw caution to the wind because you deserve it! You’ve worked so hard! You’ve been so good! You deserve….to cheat?
As a wellness coach, I hear a lot of stories of being “good” during the week and “bad” on the weekends, and plenty of justification for having a cheat day. I used to do the same thing, anticipating my day off from trying to be healthy all the time. But over time, I began to feel that when I stopped my healthy habits and went in reverse, the only one being cheated was me. Food became more central in my life than I wanted it to be. And, I began to believe that if I felt the need to cheat on myself, maybe I wasn’t managing my health in a very balanced way. So, I started to investigate why I felt the need to rebel.
Rebellion is human nature! We all rage against the machine at some point, and at times that machine is us. After all, everyone needs a break now and then, and rebellion can be a therapeutic release from the restrictions of polite society. But cheating is a little different from rebellion. While rebellion comes from a place of confident defiance, when we cheat, it is because we don’t think we can succeed on our own. If a student cheats on a test, it is because he is not prepared. When someone cheats in a relationship, it may be because they don’t think they can bring what needs to be brought. When we cheat on our nutrition, it is like telling ourselves, “I cannot do this on my own.”
Making the choice to choose to overindulge in food or eat something that is not healthful does not necessarily mean that you are cheating. It means you are human! You have the power and ability to make a healthy choice, and are simply choosing something else. That’s okay! When you are ready to get back into your healthy habits, you will. Consider it an open relationship; you’re allowed to see other habits.
You deserve better, and can give it to yourself by changing one little word. Turn “cheat” into “choice” and step into a positive place where it’s easy to see that your health is not a test, and you don’t need to cheat.
On Monday afternoon, I sat in the glorious Florida sunshine and watched two of my dear friends, and about 35,000 of their comrades, complete the Boston Marathon in cold, freezing rain. Knowing the level of commitment, discipline, and tenacity it takes to accomplish any marathon, much less qualifying for one of the most prestigious races of our time, I was in awe and inspired. Wow.
Then, I took to social media to share in the energy of the running community, where my friends were posting their reactions to the finish. One post stood out for all of the hearts that surrounded it; my friend Denise had highlighted an element of the race that made me grin from ear to ear. It is a story of self-doubt, selflessness, and what I hope it a sign of the radicalization of our time.
You may have already heard it, but I am going to tell it again, and tell you about three things that 2018 Boston Marathon winner Desi Linden did that makes her like you and me, and which look to me like the extended hand of camaraderie.
She Had Doubts
It’s hard for me to imagine that a person who has run as many races as it takes to qualify for the Boston Marathon at such an elite level would ever doubt themselves, but Linden admits that in the early stages of the race, she wasn’t sure that she would finish. Now, most marathon runners will tell you that their goal is simply to finish the race, but we know that they have something much more specific in mind. So while her context of finishing a marathon may differ from yours and mine, the concept of self-doubt is universal. We doubt whether we can make it to the gym three times in the week, or if we can resist the nachos at the ballpark, or if we can keep the weight off once we’ve lost it. Knowing that an elite athlete who I admire has the same doubts that I do helps me feel more willing to keep going despite my own.
She Had Help
Desi Linden crossed the finish line alone, but she didn’t get there alone. None of us do this amazing stuff on our own. Somewhere along the way, people have helped us, supported us, and given us a leg up so we could get our footing and carve out a little place for ourselves in the world. We may think we’re self-made people, but we’re not. Having a strong network of support and guidance is not reserved for professional athletes or celebrities; it is part of what everyone deserves and needs to achieve greatness. Reaching and sustaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy, and we all need a little help from our friends. If you don’t have ready access to people who support and cheer for you along the way, look online at the hundreds of positive communities dedicated to just that. Join one. Give the same to others. Ask for help and be the help.
She Had Perspective
Now this is the part of the story that I want to really zero in on. You may have heard by now that during the race, Desi Linden’s teammate and fellow runner, Shalane Flanagan, defending champion of the 2017 New York City Marathon, veered off the course about halfway through the race to duck into a port-a-potty. And in a move that was fueled both by camaraderie and strategy, Linden waited for her. She waited for her competitor to rejoin the race. And as they returned to the front of the pack together, Linden eventually pulled ahead and won the race.
So what does this have to do with healthy living? We all have doubts. We all need help. And even though there is a big skill gap between us and the people who win marathons, there is not a gap in our ability to persevere, especially when we are willing to slow down and help each other to the finish line. In an age when competitive advantage and political rivalries dominate the news, sometimes the greatest gains are made when we work together.
Do you remember the first time you held out your hand, right under a dog’s nose, as a tentative gesture of introducing yourself? Extending your hand was a signal to the dog that you could be trusted, and the wet sniffing around and possible lick of a drooling tongue was the beginning of a long-term relationship. As long as you held up your end of the bargain – feeding the dog and keeping it safe and loved – you and your new friend would have a long, happy coexistence together.
But, if that dog had been abused or neglected in the past, if it had been ignored and kicked so many times that it learned that people could not be trusted, you might not have gotten that affirming nuzzle on your first attempt. You may have had to extend your hand several times, patiently demonstrating that you are kind and trustworthy, before that dog believed that you could be trusted. Only after consistently proving your steadfastness would you be rewarded with that reciprocal relationship of unconditional love.
Well, your hunger is like a dog. When your body signals hunger to you, and you ignore it, it is like kicking that dog. Kick it away enough times, and it will simply stop coming around. You may notice that you don’t feel hungry anymore. Advice to “eat when you’re hungry” may seem confusing because you’ve ignored your hunger for so long that you never even feel hungry.
How do you get that feeling back? What if you want to stop kicking the dog but he won’t trust you enough to come over?
Regardless of whether you hear your body’s hunger signals or not, you still need to eat during the day to fuel your body’s energy needs and to manage weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Hunger can show up in ways other than a growing stomach; headaches, feeling weak or tired, grouchiness, and feeling dizzy are all signs that you have kicked the dog. Reconnect with your growing stomach by demonstrating consistently – with regular meals and snacks – that you can be trusted to provide nourishment to your body. Feed that dog!
Be intentional about eating something small at regular intervals – every three hours or so – and when you eat, make a note of your hunger level on a scale of one to five, with one being not at all hungry and five being ravenous. Pay attention to whether your hunger varies during the day and as you are more intentional about eating. If you are worried that you may eat too much, pay attention to signals that you are full, such as eating mechanically without enjoying the food or feeling pressure in your stomach. Remember, wellness is about progress, not perfection. It is okay if you don’t master your hunger signals right away. Make notes, adjust, and try again in a little while.
Yes, this means that at first you may need to eat when you do not feel physical hunger, and that does feel counter-productive. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sit down to a three-course meal! A piece of fruit with some peanut butter or low-fat cheese, a cup of protein-rich yogurt, or some crackers and hummus are low-calorie snacks that can be enough to wake up your metabolism without making you feel stuffed.
As you consistently extend your hand to yourself in a gesture of goodwill and nourishment, you will be rewarded with that welcome feeling of a growing stomach. That is your metabolism jumping into your lap and giving you a big wet slobbery kiss like a happy dog whose owner has finally come home!
Once you are reunited, all is forgiven. All you need to do maintain your new relationship with is to keep providing food, love, and compassion to yourself. It won’t always be simple and of course you’ll mess up now and then. That’s okay. A happy dog comes home eventually.
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!