Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Quit the Gym and Lost Four Pounds

Sometimes you need to chuck conventional wisdom aside and just figure out what works. Like many other people, I've been "donating" at the gym for years. I'm not one of those people who hates to exercise.  I actually like it a lot, once I finally stop making excuses and lace up my sneakers. But my gym membership was breeding stress, guilt and the downward spiral that comes with them.

Once exercise becomes "a thing", the excuses breed like cockroaches. If I'm going to drive fifteen  minutes to and from the gym, I feel like I need to stay at least an hour, which means I need to carve ninety minutes out of my crazy schedule. I don't like to go if I haven't showered, but showering before working out seems crazy. So instead of offending the person next to me on the treadmill with my "I have two young kids and haven't showered in 36 hours" funk, I just skip the workout. My optimum time to exercise is right after I drop the kids off at school, but that's when the gym is jam packed with other Moms who all have the same idea.  If I wait until later in the day when the gym is less crowded, it's too easy to get side tracked with errands. Sometimes the stars align and I'm ready to go to the gym, but I don't like the class offered that morning. Or my iPod isn't charged. I forgot to put my contact lenses in. I feel like a stuffed sausage in my workout clothes. The dog ate my homework.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

Thankfully a friend of mine finally talked some sense into me. She said "Don't try to carve ninety  minutes out of your day. Just walk ten minutes in one direction. Then turn around and come home. Done." This idea sounded like heresy. Just walk? For only twenty minutes? What about the strength training? The yoga? The cross training? All of the things that have been drummed into our heads about exercise? But the truth was I spent a lot of time thinking about going to the gym, and not a lot of time actually AT the gym. Twenty minutes of actual exercise trumps zero minutes in the gym every time.

So I decided to give it a try. I forgot about the gym. I blocked out the $40 per month I was paying. Instead, I committed to myself that on the days I didn't work, I would exercise IMMEDIATELY after dropping the kids off at school. It didn't matter if I did a video at my house or went for a walk outside, I would do it at 9:00 every Tuesday and Thursday. Both the "too crowded" and showering excuses were cured - it was only me and my dog at my house and frankly he smells worse. I can't complain about the class offerings because I control the DVD player. If my iPod isn't charged, I can plug it in. I can't feel self conscious because there are no mirrors in my living room.

A funny thing happened. Once I found a routine and a way to quiet my usual excuses, I wanted to exercise more. I started bringing sneakers to work so I could fit in a quick walk one or two days each week.  After a few weeks I dropped four pounds. Without the gym. Without the blaring music and  overly cheerful instructor. Without the guilt.

Then I finally did the unthinkable. I wrote a certified letter and officially quit the gym.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Mom, Why Are You So Fat?"

Oh Lord. My son's innocent question felt like a sucker punch in my zaftig stomach. Only I knew that, unlike adults or teenagers who have hurt me in the past, he had absolutely no idea that those words could hurt my feelings. He was just geniunely confused about why my biceps have the circumference of a Progresso Soup can.

I decided to go the honest route. I matter of factly answered him with "Because Mommy made a lot of bad decisions." I tried my best  not to put any emotion into it, but reminded him that there are consequences to the choices we make.  As a recovered bulimic and recovering compulsive eater, I know that there is a fine line to dance between teaching kids the importance of eating right and pushing them towards a future eating disorder.

I'm all out of  answers tonight, but wanted to share this story because it felt so universal. I'm sure similar episodes have played out in other American households. How did you handle it?

Monday, February 13, 2012

What the Diet Industry Doesn't Tell You

Fitness magazines and diet books have taught me a lot over the years, but I always felt like they were leaving out a giant piece of the equation. After devouring the latest dieting tome, I would excitedly plot out menus, shopping lists and exercise plans for the week. Yet two days later the plans would fall by the wayside and I'd be left feeling guilty, ashamed and frustrated that I couldn't seem to follow through.

In recent years the diet industry has added more discussion about healthy behaviors . In addition to the ubiquitous lists of approved foods and ever shifting focus from fat to carbs to protein, attention is now being given to habits that naturally thin people have. Advice like sticking to the outer perimeter of the grocery store (to avoid the packaged garbage in the center aisles), eating every few hours to regulate blood sugar, never skipping breakfast and not bringing trigger foods into the house are all excellent suggestions, but a major component is still missing: even after learning all of these tricks, many of us still have difficulty following through.

There have been many times where I’ve had an almost out-of-body experience, mentally screaming at myself to put down the 11th cookie and step away from the kitchen. I would get so fustrated. I knew what I should be eating to fuel my body properly, yet I continuously made terrible choices, even when I desperately wanted to change my diet.

After years of searching, I’ve finally found the missing link. I had to determine WHY I ate the wrong things (besides the fact that they taste delicious!) Like a detective, I recorded everything that was happening while I was eating, then scoured my emotional eating journal searching for clues. What were my triggers? What situations led to compulsive eating? What did I truly need, because it's not really about the food, it's about something in my life pushing me over the edge and feeling spiritually disconnected.

As I learned to solve my issues and become more spiritually awake, my compulsion to eat the wrong things honestly subsided. Notice I said "subsided", not "disappeared." Maybe someday I'll be able to be neutral about my favorite trigger foods, but for now I'm just thrilled with the progress I've made and the feeling that I'm finally on the right path.

Our emotional and spiritual health is the missing link that the diet industry rarely talks about. I understand why they don't. It's complex, it's ugly and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. “Learn to feel your emotions, communicate with your loved ones and process anger, fear and resentment like a mature adult” is not quite as sexy and simple as “Eat This to Have Rock Hard Abs!” But it's a vitally important part of the weight loss equation.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Are you a Compulsive Over Eater?

For years I've felt like an alcoholic who ate sugary confections instead of drinking tumblers of vodka. After decades of fumbling around in the dark, I finally found a program that addresses the compulsive nature of my disastrous diet. I finally have hope that I can get my life back on track and stop letting myself be controlled by food. This is the quiz that changed my life:

  1. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  2. Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
  3. Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
  4. Do you give too much time and thought to food?
  5. Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone?
  6. Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time?
  7. Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone?
  8. Is your weight affecting the way you live your life?
  9. Have you tried to diet for a week (or longer), only to fall short of your goal?
  10. Do you resent others telling you to “use a little willpower” to stop overeating?
  11. Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet “on your own” whenever you wish?
  12. Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime?
  13. Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble?
  14. Have you ever been treated for obesity or a food-related condition?
  15. Does your eating behavior make you or others unhappy?

I'm sure many of you think these questions are crazy and can't begin to fathom how some of us can think like this. Please don't judge - this post is not intended for you.

But if you feel like you can answer 'YES' to at least three of the above questions, let me introduce you to the program that is saving my life: Overeaters Anonymous.

It is a sister program to Alcoholics Anonymous in the same vein as Narcotics and Gamblers Anonymous. It is NOT a diet program, it is a program to help you learn how to make peace with whatever has power over you.

I don't want to speak for OA, they describe the program far better than I ever could. I just wanted to provide a resource for those who are seeking it. My life was out of control for far too long. I wish I'd found this program years ago.

If the quiz above had you thinking "Did she put a Nanny-cam in my house? How did she know!?", then let me reach out my hand and tell you hope is nearby. In addition to the traditional "face to face" meetings, OA has a long list of phone and online meetings also. The online meetings are a great way to test the waters and get a feel for the program. I have learned a tremendous amount in just a few weeks.

Check out www.oa.org
Good luck and welcome home.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Benefits of Temporary Blindness

What do you do when reality threatens to derail your progress?

Yesterday was an unbelievably gorgeous day here in the Northeast. It's not too often you see the temperature hit 65 degrees on January 7th. As I raced around completing errands in the morning I mentally calculated that I had exactly 75 minutes to fit in a walk outside and a shower before taking my oldest son to a birthday party. After grocery shopping I burst through the door, rapidly told my husband the plan and was dressed and out the door within five minutes.

Forty five minutes later my lungs were full of fresh air, my head was clear and I felt  really happy. I was proud of myself that I had made the time to exercise  - something that is easily pushed off the agenda when life becomes busy.

The smile was quickly smacked off my face, however, as I caught an unexpected glimpse of myself in the mirror while climbing into the shower. I sucked in my breath as I remembered "Oh that's right, I'm still 50 pounds overweight." I felt the air leave my lungs, my stomach lurch and tears rise in my throat. Two seconds ago I had felt so good! My body felt strong and healthy. How could there be such a huge disconnect between perception and reality?

I was suffering from what I call "Dieter Dementia" - that unrealistic voice in my head that says "I've eaten vegetables, resisted the siren call of sugar and exercised for four whole days - shouldn't I be a size six by now?" It's easy to forget that it took me thirty years to get my body into this state. It's not going to magically morph in a few days' time.

Normally this frustrating moment would turn into a death spiral of emotional eating. But this time I decided that the best thing I could do for myself would be to pretend I was a racehorse and put some temporary blinders on. If my body felt strong, than I was going to stop looking in the mirror and focus on the fact that I was feeling physically stronger than I've felt in a long time.

I'm not advocating for ignoring reality, that's not healthy either. We need to be honest with ourselves about the state of our health. But if the image in the mirror is going to destroy a groove of healthy eating and exercise, than it's better to put some blinders on until the moment passes.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Crisper: Where Good Vegetables Go To Die

Apparently I am running some sort of subsidy program for the Vegetable Farmers of America. Each  week I buy crisp, vibrant produce while visions of  soup, stir fry and salad dance in my head.  Yet three weeks later these once nutrient laden powerhouses lie limp, bruised and rotting in the bottom of  my fridge. The promise of nourishing meals having been erased by the realities of busy schedules, bad habits and picky palates.

Now here is where I should be offering inspirational ideas on how to change this travesty, but at the moment I don't have any. This is actually a huge problem in my house, one that I'm moving to the forefront of my health battle.

I CAN tell you what my new plan of attack is for this situation. An acquaintance of mine is a   certified health coach and hard core vegan. Who better to teach me how to use all those lovely green orbs than someone who only eats plants? So I've scheduled a meeting with her. I've also attended her free cooking classes at our local health food market. Honestly, the first class I was terrified of actually tasting the samples. I wanted to attend because her first recipe featured kale - something that is so unbelievably good for you, but it looks terrifyingly tough and bitter. As I put the kale on my fork I was like a little kid - wrinkling my nose and already planning how I could sneak the rest of my plate into the garbage without getting caught. To my surprise I honestly really liked it. I'm not saying it will become my go-to side dish, but I ate the entire portion and truly enjoyed it.

If you're interested in testing the waters of the nutritional powerhouse of kale, but are wary of its reputation, my coach turned me on to the magic of kale chips. They give the illusion of eating  potato chips, and are typically covered in a delectable cashew coating. This sounds like a sneaky way to get my tastebuds used to a new flavor and they are on my shopping list for this week.

So at the moment my plan to change my vegetable murdering ways consists of getting new ideas from a knowledgeable source, attending free classes to taste test professionally made samples, and looking for the simplest ways to start making vegetables a habit instead of a stress-inducing chore. I'll be sure to report back on my progress and I'd love to hear how you manage to seamlessly incorporate vegetables into your life.

A Su Salud! (To your health!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Different Type of New Year's Day

I've always loved New Year's Day. It represents a clean slate. It's a chance to start over, do things the right way, "get my act together" and stop killing myself slowly with bad habits.

I've spent previous January 1sts surrounded by a stack of  fitness magazines and notebooks, making endless lists of menu plans, workout itineraries and weekly schedules. Like many other "dieters",  I would attempt a way-too-intense workout and make a spartan meal to start the year off right. And by 9:08 a.m. on January 2nd all of the previous day's planning had been nullified by a craving and caving in to a sugary foe.

This January 1st is different. I am still planning out a weekly menu, but it's something I do all of the time now. I am still making a schedule of when I will work out this week, but that's because if I don't put it on the calendar other things can easily become "more important." What's different this year is that I understand that planning is not the Holy Grail of weight loss. Don't get me wrong, planning is important. "Failing to plan is planning to fail." We can't feed ourselves properly without having the right food in the house and making time to prepare it. But the number one thing that I need for a healthy lifestyle is my mental game plan.

This is the whole point to Brownie Rehab. Most of us are intelligent people who understand that we need to exercise and eat healthy food in order to be fit. But for compulsive or emotional eaters, this knowledge is not enough. We need to have the mental tools to help us make the right choices WHEN LIFE IS THROWING US CURVEBALLS. Menus and workout plans can't help when the kids are screaming, the checkbook is in the red, your Mother is gossiping about your cousins and the car is making a $1000 noise.

The first tool in my mental game plan is the emotional eating journal. If you don't have one, click here to read all about it. Once you've tracked your triggers for a few weeks, the next step is to pause and ask yourself "What do I REALLY need?" when you find yourself reaching for that brownie. This is the part that takes practice.

The first question to ask yourself is actually  "What am I really upset about?" The mental conversation might sound like this: "The kids are fighting and I can't take it anymore. My nerves are on edge. I don't have any patience left. I'm exhausted and raw."

The second question is "What do I really need?" The obvious answer is that you need the kids to stop fighting. But what else specifically can help the situation? Maybe the kids need some time to themselves - not necessarily a punishment, just time without their sibling to feel like they can do what they want instead of having to constantly negotiate.  It could be as simple as having one kid play in the kitchen and the other one play in the family room. 

If you keep pondering "What do I really need" you might find other answers too. Maybe you'll admit that you need some time to yourself to decompress. It's like the pre-flight instructions on a plane - put your own oxygen mask on first, before you try to take care of anyone else.  Try to get a babysitter, negotiate free time with your spouse or call another Mom that you can trade drop off playdates. You might realize that you're just physically tired and you need to force yourself to go to bed earlier instead of staying up sucking time on Facebook.

This example happened to be parenting related, but the idea is always the same. When you find yourself staring into the pantry, searching mindlessly for something you know you'll regret later... pause.  Ask yourself  "Am I actually hungry? Why am I looking for something that I know I'll feel guilty about later? Am I actually upset about something? What can I do to resolve whatever is bothering me?"

The deeper you delve into "What do I really need?", the closer you'll come to gaining control of emotional eating.

The core of emotional eating is that we eat to stifle our emotions, the same way an alcoholic drinks to escape their problems. Actually dealing with our emotions and trying to problem solve are equally, if not more, important than any menu plan or exercise routine.

Happy New Year. May this be the year that you find what you really need.