Tag Archives: lifestyle

Black-and-White, Disguised as Gray

I keep thinking about a recent interaction with a client.  After a fairly significant weight loss – 20 pounds – she was stuck . . . couldn’t get motivated, and was in fact gaining.  Life threw her a curve ball – injury – causing the loss of mojo.

After looking at the plan she still thought she should follow (but wasn’t!), I could see that it was quite rigid and restrictive.  It was probably a struggle while she was losing, but she could manage it . . . it’s so much easier to do that when weight is coming off!  It was easy to see that without the weight loss to make it worthwhile, it was so hard to get back to it.

I suggested loosening up the plan a bit.  “I just can’t ‘gray it up’,” she told me.  “Whenever I loosen things up, I lose it!”

Hmm . . . this is what seemed so interesting to me.  If, in fact, she were thinking in gray terms (flexibly, realistically, humanly), she would have been more likely to keep moderate eating habits going, even if they were not by the book (or diet in this case).  I’m sure she would “lose it” (control, that is) less frequently if she were not so black and white in her thinking.

What was really happening:  She was viewing anything less than “perfect” as bad (the “black” in the black-and-white cycle).  She couldn’t seem to get back to “good” eating (the white side of it), so it all looked bleak . . . and, as a result of this thinking, the situation was much bleaker than a gray scenario ever would have been.

Truly gray thinking would have validated the change of circumstances and set some new guidelines (flexible ones) that took into account the new situation in which she found herself.  Maintenance would have been a more realistic goal until her injury healed, and maintenance is better than gaining.

Without the positive feedback the scale offered when she was able to follow a vigorous exercise program, the drive to follow a rigid eating program just wasn’t there!  This is where truly gray thinking would have helped by  making the eating plan less restrictive, making maintenance seem like a just and fair outcome.  In other word, if you are not sacrificing much, you do not expect as much in return – simple “return on investment” thinking applied to behavior change!

Willpower: Tips for Finding More of “IT”

Willpower is usually much better when a person is well-fed.  Being over-hungry is like tossing your willpower right out the window!
 – The same can be said for pleasure from your food.  After days on end of boring, tasteless food, it is usually not long before willpower wears thin and cravings for tasty food intensify, often leading to a loss of control.  The message?  Be sure to incorporate enough enjoyment into eating on a daily basis.
 – Recent studies (described in a New York Times article) suggest that willpower might be more related to predictability of a reward than to our own natural ability to resist temptation.  If someone is working hard to change eating habits but is not sure they will lose weight, or when it might happen, a decision to quit could be seen as a calculated decision.  It may be more like a cost-benefit analysis than a measure of your character.  A warm brownie (yum!  now!) faces off against the more distant reward (not guaranteed) of weight loss you may or may not see in the future.
The key to developing willpower?  Set realistic weight loss or health goals and make sure the task is not too difficult.  Better yet, focus on improving what you DO, and focus less on outcome.  You determine whether or not you exercise or stop snacking after dinner for instance.  Setting a timer for 10-15 minutes is a good strategy when you feel tempted.  Often a short delay is all need to “clear a craving from your brain.
You have much less control over the number on your scale – talk about unpredictable!  Your weight will take care of itself with time and improved habits.  Focusing too much on it can be discouraging.
Waiting for the payoff on the scale is easier if day-to-day living is a manageable challenge.  That includes keeping irresistible items out of sight to limit the mental gymnastics of decision-making!  Did you know that willpower requires mental energy?  Try to minimize situations that would sap it unnecessarily.  
More predictable rewards can help too.  Instead of rewarding that wiggly number on the scale, you might reward the behavior goals you meet.  Try banking money for meeting weekly challenges – like $5 for every day you have vegetables at dinner.  Have something in mind that motivates you, maybe a new pair of shoes or dinner out (healthy, of course!).  It doesn’t matter if you would buy it anyway; feeling like you really earned it is rewarding!
Remember that you are human.  Your goals can only be met by continuing with imperfect effort, because that is all any of us can manage.  The important part is CONTINUING, not giving up.  You may surprise yourself!

Is It Much of a Stretch . . .

. . . to change “quitting smoking” in this quote to “dieting”?  

“Quitting smoking is the easiest thing I ever did. I ought to know. I’ve done it a thousand times.”

 Mark Twain

For so many people in our diet-driven culture, losing weight is a serial activity.  When approached with a  more long-reaching outlook – and a good dose of patience – great improvements are possible.  Real changes simply take time.

I like to ask clients this question:  Where would you like to be in 6 months, at the same weight or higher (after losing the same 5-10 pounds 3 or more times and gaining them back), or 15-25 pounds lighter with some genuinely different habits?  The answer is obvious, so why do so many people behave as if they prefer to yo-yo back and forth?

What are the healthiest actions you can take in the moment . . .

. . . to have the healthiest overall health in the long run?  Think about it.  I didn’t ask, “What are the healthiest actions you can take in the moment?”  The answer to that question for most people would be a form of “super behavior”, maybe an ideal super activity (if there is such a thing) or perfect eating (whatever that is!).  Even if we could define a perfect set of habits, ideal – or perfect – health behavior is just not something any of us can keep doing for long.

So the real question – the one that will cause you to be your healthiest – has to have a longer range outlook.  In other words, how does this way of living that I am doing right now affect how I behave in future moments, weeks, or years?

Over-aggressive effort usually ends up polarizing our habits.  We get really “good” sets of habits and equally “bad” ones.  And then we have the overall habit that includes swinging between the two poles.  Not ideal for health, not ideal for mood, and not ideal for ultimate well being.

So, looking at how current health-related activities will affect our ultimate health outcome is crucial.  It is why I am a proponent of finding the balancing point between the two extremes and making an overall habit out of being more consistent.

The result?  A level head, a level weight, a level mood, . . . . simply more balance.  Simply better!

Never Underestimate the Value of Maintenance

We all forget to be grateful for what we have.  It’s human nature.  Every so often we get reminders, usually when we lose something and then we appreciate it.  Sometimes it is money or material items.  I recently lost my iPod, and I really appreciate it now that it’s gone!  Even if we have not personally had major health issues, we at least have heard stories of other people who only truly appreciate their health once it is gone.  Time spent complaining about minor aches and pains can be seen as petty in light of such insight.

The same feelings are connected with weight loss.  So much energy is spent working toward an ideal weight, or just a weight that can be tolerated, that many dieters forget to be grateful they are not gaining when the pounds are not falling off quickly enough. Continue reading

Something old, something true, something followed, something brewed


Pike’s Place Market – decked out for the holidays

Seattle is one of my favorite cities.  I am here for the weekend, mainly to see Allen Stone and the band (which includes my son, the bass player) perform at the Paramount Theater.   The show last night was sold out, and the group did not disappoint Allen’s home town crowd.  Of course I was not disappointed, but hey, I’m the mom of the bass player – not exactly unbiased, I admit.

Don’t worry.  I’m not going to just go on and on about my wonderful son.  I know that may not be all that interesting to many of you.  So . . . I promise to tie in some health and nutrition themes.

Something Old

Let’s talk about age.  My kids call me “old”, a “geezer”, etc.  (all in fun, of course, because otherwise I would give them a good whack, even if they are 20-something).  There is, in fact, no more of a reality check on chronological age than attending a show put on by a group of young musicians.

This is not so true when one attends a show by an older artist – say, Jackson Browne.  When Peter and I recently did just that, we found ourselves in the midst of an amazingly homogeneous group of people with lots of gray hair (or no hair at all).  We looked at each other, wondering if it could really be possible that we did not look out of place, considering how young we must look – hah!  We may be a bit in denial about the aging process, but we are not completely delusional.

This is when I remind myself how much FUN I am having!  I am truly happier than ever, and I am looking forward to many of the parts of what comes next:  grandchildren, travel, time with friends, time for hobbies, in general more TIME.

So I am a little on the more “experienced” end of the groupie spectrum.  I’m OK with that.  A young spirit can be cultivated.  Staying healthy really, REALLY helps.  And please try to avoid magnifying makeup mirrors.  Every time I stay in a hotel, I am reminded of how “distorting” they are.  I prefer the look from a few feet away – which actually works just fine as my eyes get more “seasoned” with time. Continue reading

The Importance of “Mindset”

A Driver’s Perspective (above)

In My Runner’s Mindset

The process of changing habits is a topic of huge interest to me.  It is a large part – arguably the largest part – of helping people get healthier.  For this reason, earlier this month I found myself at an all-day seminar on the subject.

One piece of new information has been rattling around in my head ever since I heard it:  Habits are permanently stored in the brain.  Wow!  That really amazed me.  Does that mean that we cannot change habits?  Of course not, but it can be very difficult without the knowledge of how it happens.  Truth be told, it is still going to be hard with better understanding, just not as hard.  Considering the health consequences of everyday habits, every advantage is super important.

This morning I learned something about habits in the best way possible – I observed it in myself.  I was driving home down a road I use at least once every day.  Once in a while – the once or twice a week I put a few miles on my running shoes –  it is also a part of my usual running route.  So here’s what happened. Continue reading

More Clues to a Long, Happy Life

The title grabbed my attention – “The Island Where People Forget to Die”. The article appeared in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, and I have been thinking about it all week.  Click on the link, if for no other reason, to see the picture of the absolutely radiant, very elderly man with the sharp outfit.  It made me smile looking at his uninhibited partially toothed grin.

I spend the bulk of my working life focusing on the way people eat, yet it is clear that longevity and quality of life are determined by more complex combinations of lifestyle factors.  The people on the Greek island of Ikaria do not own watches!  They do not pay attention to time at all!!  Think about that for a moment.  How much of our stress is connected to the clock, deadlines, perceived life-or-death goals?

Another thing that struck me as significant about their lifestyle, made all the more evident as I watch the news accounts of people coming together in response to Hurricane Sandy, is the importance of interconnectedness.  We simply live better and longer when we have strong social bonds.

And what about activity level?  We like to call it “exercise”, but the people on Ikaria just keep active in their daily lives – no need for a gym.  In fact, the vast majority of those over 80 are still active.

Yes, they eat well too – a Mediterranean diet, with locally grown food and very little meat.  They drink some wine and a little coffee, and don’t eat processed foods.   Home-baked sourdough bread is a staple, along with herbal teas from local plants.

This way of eating has an impressive amount of research supporting it, but I think there may be another factor at play.  I cannot picture Ikarians poring over the internet obsessing about what they should or shouldn’t eat.  I think they just eat as they live – in touch with their bodies.  They eat what is fresh, when it is available, in the quantities needed to feel nourished.  I believe they enjoy their food and do not over-think eating.

And they smile.  Check out that picture again.  What a nice look!  It’s called happiness.

Life As A Run 5

I picked up my fancy Garmin GPS watch this morning.  The sun was shining here in Wisconsin – a beautiful crisp October day was just warming up – and I had the itch to get out in it.  I started to strap the watch on, when I realized that it was nothing more than a gray disc with straps.  No numbers, no time, no life!  A dead battery . . .  @#$*!!!

“Now what?” I wondered.  Clearly a Plan B was needed to satisfy the statistician in me.  The best I could come up with was a plan to check the time in the kitchen before I left and again when I returned.  I know my pace, give or take, and on such a beautiful day, this might just be a good exercise in imprecise feedback.

What I noticed was that my pace was not exactly constant.  I allowed myself to do whatever made the effort feel constant.   As I climbed the hills, my steps were a little smaller, and my speed a little slower.  Downhill segments were slightly faster, with longer steps coming easier.  I was feeling downright carefree!  With no one marking my progress or speed, the morning run became all about the tree colors – magnificent! – and the alive feeling of the cool air on my skin.

Arriving home 37 minutes later, I didn’t really care about the time anymore.  With all the technology now available – devices that can evaluate every aspect of our lives – I think it may be a good idea to ask whether or not we know too much.  Is all the detailed information we can track, from weight lifting reps to number of calories in our breath mint, surely not all of it is helpful.  Are we missing a little of the “soft side” of accomplishment?  Let’s not forget how good it feels to move and  nourish our bodies.  A successfully balanced lifestyle is not as easy to measure as it is to know in great detail our height, weight, blood pressure, . . . .

This is a great day to do what is needed to feel as well as personally possible.  And on that note, I’m heading out to give Stella a chance to smell a few light posts and moisten a few leaves.  Dogs have mastered the art of enjoying the moment.

Lifestyle Is More Important

I just read results of another study that draws a possible connection between heart disease risk and a genetically determined trait.  This time it is blood type.  I am Type A, so I am – according to this study – 8% more likely to develop heart disease.

Those with A, B, or AB blood types appear to have a higher risk than those with the O blood type.  The researchers point out that this is probably not a very powerful indicator of risk, and that lifestyle makes a big difference.

I think lifestyle is THE most important determinant of heart disease risk in almost all cases.  The expression of genetically inherited traits is influenced by how we live – how we eat, what we eat, how we manage stress, activity levels, even happiness.

As someone with a family history of heart disease, I find this comforting.  So far there is no truly accurate way to determine who is going to develop heart disease and who will not.  Cholesterol measurements in a standard lipid panel are just not very predictive of risk.  More detailed testing is better, but there is still no consensus on an accurate predictive test for heart disease.  I think it is more complex than the presence of an ear lobe crease.  Whatever our risk factors, advice is similar.

Focus on lifestyle.  Improve eating habits and stay active.  This is what we can control.