Can you notice deeper changes?

Everyone I counsel has one goal in common:  health.  Beyond that the details vary a little, but for the most part, almost everyone wants to lose weight.

The goal seems simple on the surface:  be healthy, lose weight (the goal), and it’s all good, right?  In other words just follow the plan, whatever plan that is, and your success can be measured on the scale.

Not so fast!  There’s one not-so-little detail to consider.  Temporarily following a diet without actually changing the long-time habits that have driven eating in the past is bound to be a short-term venture.

Behavioral habits that lead to extra pounds are controlled by habits of thinking.  Thoughts like “Oh, just one more won’t matter.  They are so tasty, and I won’t be eating these again anytime soon, if ever!”  Or maybe “I’m up 2 pounds today and I was PERFECT yesterday!  I give up.”

There are endless habitual thoughts that play out like a well-worn tape, and the results we see in our behavior are predictable.  Outwardly it may seem like you just lost control and someone else – an alien perhaps? – is driving your choices.

Binges often follow negative or unsupportive thoughts – maybe after taking a bite of the cookie you told yourself you would never eat again?  If automatic thoughts were more neutral or positive, the binge would be much less likely.  Positive thoughts create more desirable actions.  Allowing thoughts to run wild without any awareness of them is simply not a good plan!

Changing habits of thinking is hard – really hard – but also really important.  Because so many thoughts are unconscious, and because thoughts affect feelings, it is easy to feel bad without knowing why.  When we notice the thoughts, it is possible to see how the feelings developed.  Then there is an opportunity to really change – from the root of the feeling – the thought.

As it turns out, we are better off when we just observe thoughts without judging the fact that we are thinking them.  We can then use a very useful tool – the brain – to work with us toward finding solutions to problems.  The brain is not very creative when it is judging.  It is too busy sending uncomfortable emotional messages that affect feelings.

With practice, different kinds of thoughts become more automatic.  New habits of thinking can develop – how exciting!  That means that healthier habits will play out in actions too, and the body will become healthier overall.

So let’s return to how we measure success.  Even when weight loss is the goal, the scale does not have to be the main focus.  The number is not entirely within our control day to day – too many opportunities for false conclusions and feelings of failure.  It is true that regular weighing is one of the habits associated with people who keep weight off, but I would bet they don’t take the daily variations too seriously.

Drawing attention, without judgment, to thought patterns that drive actions gets to the root of the problem.  The scale will take care of itself without a need to fixate on it.  This may sound like a subtle difference in focus, but it is really the key to maintaining weight loss.

A long-time dieter I know has been working on this.  She is still getting used to viewing progress with her thinking.  Her comments illustrate how shaky it feels to change over to a new way of evaluating progress, but the progress is obvious upon a closer look (my comments in bold).

The only thing I can think to say is, “struggling but not giving up.”  . . .  So I continue on. I am becoming much more aware of my hunger and of what I am eating.  (Awareness of hunger – great!  And not giving up – essential!)

Work has been stressful but just yesterday I convinced myself that I don’t need to get so hung up with it. It was making me sick . . . .  (Yes, other areas of life affect eating – good to realize that.)

I find it hard to understand why I am having so much trouble with this.  (At least she is trying to understand.)

I’m grateful . . . that I haven’t given up.  (Hooray!!)

Being able to see these glimmers of positive change are so important to moving forward.  It would be easy – frankly easier for someone used to thinking negatively – to throw in the towel.  That’s the old way of life that lines up with the old habit of thinking.  Here is what would have stood out:

The only thing I can think to say is, “struggling but not giving up.” . . . So I continue on. I am becoming much more aware of my hunger and of what I am eating. 

Work has been stressfulbut just yesterday I convinced myself that I don’t need to get so hung up with it.It was making me sick . . . .

I find it hard to understand why I am having so much trouble with this.

I’m grateful . . . that I haven’t given up.

It is likely she would have at least temporarily given up.

Picture yourself with a new pair of glasses – perhaps rose-colored ones that notice more positive thoughts developing.  Noticing them and giving yourself credit for that important progress is the first step toward long-lasting healthier eating habits.

Happy Mother’s (Martyr’s?) Day!

I always wanted three!  (My 2 kids with my daughter-in-law Marina)

I always wanted three! (My 2 kids with daughter-in-law Marina)

If you are a mother, I hope you find the time to mother yourself today.  This can be very VERY difficult for many women to do without guilt.  I know, because I spent too many moments martyring myself to others’  needs when my kids were small.

When offers of help came my way, my response was always something like this:  “Oh, no, I don’t need any help.  Yes, I AM exhausted and overwhelmed, but no . . . (heavy sigh) . . . I can manage.”  I felt more uncomfortable asking for help than doing everything myself.  I wondered, wasn’t asking for help a sign of weakness, or worse – selfishness?

A turning point came when a close friend made a perfectly-phrased comment:  “That is so sad that you won’t allow others to love you.”  Hmmm . . . “won’t allow . . .”:  that was the part that hit me.  This was a choice I was making, one that might not actually be serving anyone, maybe least of all the well-intentioned people who did love me and WANTED to help.

Self-care is a primary need for any kind of quality giving to be possible.  This is a need, not an indulgence.  I have learned this well over the years since my children were babies, and now I find myself sounding a little hypocritical when I repeat the well-worn wisdom “When mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.”  Obviously this is a lot easier for me to follow now that I am an empty-nester without even a dog to care for anymore.

I get it now, and it’s not too late, because there are still plenty of people who would like me to get involved in various investments of my time.  Many are people or causes I truly value, and sometimes I say “yes,” but not always, and certainly not automatically without thinking first.  Learning to say “no” occasionally has allowed me to give more joyfully and freely when I choose to say “yes.”

The basics of self-care include quality sleep, balanced nutrition, manageable stress, and enjoyable movement – sometimes called “exercise,” but the key is “enjoyable.”  Interestingly, they all affect one another.  It is hard to eat well when one is not sleeping well or is too stressed out to feel balanced.  Staying physically active can affect sleep quality, eating choices, and stress level.  You get the idea.

Can you imagine how much more difficult it would be for someone to eat well if they are not caring for themselves with the bare bones basics needed to feel balanced?  Does playing the martyr sound like a healthy strategy to you?

Maybe you have already figured this out, but I notice what seems to be a disproportionate number of women trying to lose weight who are not meeting their most basic self-care needs.  Sometimes the best first step to addressing eating issues is to take a good look at the status of self-care.

Are you mothering yourself well?  Make today a day to commit (or re-commit) to this very important role.  Yes, we are all responsible to some extent for others, but we are first responsible to ourselves.  No martyrs, please!  That kind of giving is not sent with the best motivation anyway.  The best kind of giving is the joyful, conscious, deliberate type.  Enjoy your day!

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Reason #1001 Why My Husband Is So Smart

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Without the proper rest, we could end up like this – “dog tired” (and very sad-looking).

I married a very, very smart man.  Why?  He listens to me.

Peter loves to ride his road bike, and he likes to go on long rides, long enough to be “completely worn out.”  He knows that going out 2 days in a row will just be too much, yet he has such a hard time resisting the urge to ride when the weather is nice.

After a brutal Wisconsin winter, recent glimpses of spring weather have provided quite a challenge for him, to lay low on alternating days and swim instead.  One such day came along last week – sunny, 70-ish, perfect riding weather – and he told me “I might not be able to resist.”

I put in my 2-cents worth.  It went something like this:  “You have a right to do that.”  (In my head I was saying, “You have a right to make an unsupportive choice.”)

I knew he could tell what I was thinking.  When I returned home in the middle of the day, I found this note on the counter:

Kim – Went to the club to swim.  Listened to my body.

As I said, he is a smart man.

How well do you listen to  your body.  There are many opportunities to make unsupportive choices, even though we know we won’t feel well later.  Being more mindful – without judgment – of what the body really needs can be a doorway to a healthier lifestyle, but only when we realize that we are not “wrong” no matter what we choose.  In other words, we need to know we have a choice.

An Eating Experiment: The Bachelorette Weekend

What would happen if you just agreed to be present with your eating experiences, especially when involved in an overeating experience that feels uncontrollable.

This was the experiment I proposed to someone facing a weekend of planned overindulgence at a bachelorette party.  “Just be present, no matter what is happening.”  Overeating, drinking too much:  that is what “girl’s weekends” have been like for her in the past.  At the end of those weekends, she could always predict how physically toxic she would feel.

Here’s what happened this time, with a new attitude:

Hi Kim!
I survived the weekend! I think our experiment was quite successful, but not in the way that I expected (surprise!).  I found that Friday before I went I was really anxious, but I did get in a yoga class and ate well through the day. Friday night there was snacking and drinking, but I didn’t go crazy, and was able to walk away from the snack table! There was a late night pizza order, but instead of having many pieces, I just had one.

Saturday I was tuned in to what I was eating, and did end up not feeling so well – upset stomach. So I guess I didn’t catch myself quite early enough the day before, but I was able to identify that I didn’t want to keep feeling like that, so I stopped eating and drinking.

Sunday is usually my “wallowing” day after an event like this – where I beat myself up and have the negative self talk and end up saying screw it and ordering a pizza. But it didn’t happen this time! I think by acknowledging that it wasn’t “bad” to eat and drink I headed off the shame tornado. I still ate the leftover cheese and crackers all day – but I didn’t leave my house for junk food or order anything to fill that void. I made some jewelry (hobby) and I took a bath.

Today I got up and went to my 5:30am workout class. I meditated and I started my week fresh, without all of the guilt. What very well could have been a three-day hangover didn’t happen! This let me do something mentally that really worked. I’m not quite sure how to explain it but taking a look from the outside made this lifestyle something I could manage rather than going completely off the rails and having to recover.

This is real progress.  Even a conscious binge is better than an unconscious one, because it sets a new thought process in motion – even if the same amount of food is eaten.  I love the phrase “taking a look from the outside.”  That is what a non-judgmental attitude can feel like.  It is not all wound up in emotion and habit.

The big surprise here is that she went into the weekend expecting to just be aware of the overeating and excessive drinking, but she actually ended up not needing to be so excessive.  That is a real learning experience.

Quick Start, Pause, Cool Down

Vacations are great for pausing to reset, but everyday practice is even more important.

Vacations are great for pausing to reset, but everyday practice is even more important.

These are the choices on the treadmill I use regularly:  quick start, pause, and cool down.  I can also enter a pre-programmed workout, but I always just press “quick start.”

Without an iPod this morning, and with no interest in the TV options, I found my pace and settled into my thoughts.  My eyes again glanced at the words:  “quick start, pause, cool down.”  They began to mean more to me than options on a treadmill.

“Quick start.”  I’m good at that, I thought.  Get going, just do it, take action!  I have that mastered!  I am someone who finds it uncomfortable – really! – NOT to be productive.

I started thinking about the potential down side to that.  Possible  drawbacks include anxiety, trouble sleeping, . . . all of the consequences that result from not using another choice on the treadmill:  RESET!

Everyone needs to reset hormones and brain chemistry, which in turn resets mood and restores a healthful balance.  Adequate sleep, healthy eating, enjoyable physical activity, and pleasant interactions with people all help to keep body chemistry “happy.”

It goes beyond that as well.  Balance brings more balance.  Erratic hormones and brain chemistry, left unattended, often lead to more chaotic emotions and a less balanced lifestyle.

Among the many benefits of attention to self-supportive care are better sleep, less anxiety, and all-around better self-care.  I know this sounds a bit repetitive, but my point is that good self-care leads to more good self-care.  Unfortunately lack of attention to self-care makes it all too easy to skip a workout, eat poorly or skip meals, and let unsupportive thoughts run wild.

What we do not see is how body chemistry that we create through our actions can affect how we act moving forward.  This is powerful knowledge!  Work with your body, because mere will-power is no match for body chemistry!

This is where a “pause” or “cool down” can be very helpful.  I’m right there with all of you overachievers and perfectionists!  This can be hard, but it is absolutely necessary for health.  For me, sleep is key.  I know I need to wind down and pause at the end of my workday and resist the temptation to schedule one more appointment, answer one more e-mail, or make that last phone call.   I know that ultimately this will lead to more efficient use of my time once I’m ready to “quick start” again.

I remind myself I can start again, but the most productive thing to do at that moment is to take a break and pause.  Do you notice how I managed to call a pause “productive”?  That is one way to make pausing a little easier for a productivity freak like myself.

Here’s the real secret to weight loss that lasts!

Right here.  Right now.  I am going to reveal the secret to the question that drives people to try every eating plan under the sun, spend billions of dollars every year, and endure endless suffering in pursuit of its answer.  The answer to the question – what is the secret to lasting weight loss? – is not as complicated as many make it.

I have watched many people as they move toward the answer.  Many start out thinking that they just need to know what to eat.  “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!  Tell me EXACTLY what to eat and when, and I’m good to go.”  Some remain stuck here for a long time, moving from one diet to the next, waiting for “the one,” the magic plan that will be discovered any day now.  In fact, each plan provides new hope, but little else.

Others think the answer is having something or someone control them, to save them from their out-of-control tendencies.  A task master who penalizes lack of results is what they think will help.  Fear of not following orders drives them to comply to avoid shame and disappointment.  This usually works for a while, but when results are not as expected, derailment usually happens, along with plenty of feelings of failure.

Supplements and formula diets appeal to many dieters, especially when magical claims are made.  Advertising can make it sound like the secret has finally been discovered in the form of a pill or powder.  “Melt fat instantly.  Lose inches and pounds in days.”  Don’t get too excited.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

So what is the secret?  Well, it’s not quick, or easy, or sexy, but it is real, lasting, and bound to improve the way you look at your entire life.  When I notice a client has stopped panicking and fighting with themselves, and is moving toward a more self-compassionate acceptance of their abilities at this time, I know they will succeed at healthier eating that will become a part of their lives.

When this happens, I hear things like, “I don’t know when it happened, but the healthier habits are just what I do now.  I don’t think about it, and it isn’t hard.  I’m not perfect, and I allow myself to have what I want, but what I want has changed.”

Asking “What is the best I can do for my health today” is a good practice.  Do the best you can at any moment.  If today seems hard, just know that not every day is the same.  Ride the waves.  Be kind – yes, to others, but mostly to yourself.  Feel good about what you can accomplish, and move on when your eating is disappointing.  This is a life-long process, because we are always changing.

When every eating experience feels like your choice, and when the choices feel kind most of the time, that’s as good as it gets.  But that is certainly good enough!

Quick and Easy Roasted Veggie and Hummus Wrap

I came home hungry today with no patience for a complicated lunch preparation.  The wrap I made was so easy, and this was the best lunch I have had in weeks!  I had leftover roasted veggies – always a good idea – and the homemade hummus was leftover from the weekend.

The wraps I found are new at my grocery store.  They are high  in fiber and protein and made with sprouted wheat instead of flour.  As long as you tolerate wheat, this is a great choice since it is less processed than flour products.

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Ingredients:

Sprouted wheat tortilla (or other kind)

Hummus (homemade is easy; try the Barefoot Contessa’s super quick and delicious hummus recipe)

Roasted veggies (I used mushrooms, fennel, red onion, eggplant, and carrots)

Avocado slices

Just wrap and eat!  

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