Monday, December 13, 2010

Words of Wisdom from Glamour

"Don't try to mold yourself into something you're not. Stop trying to attain this unnatural state where you're skinny and plucked and shaved and waxed and Botoxed and have no hips - it's stressful for your body and mind, and it's not going to make you happy either. Believe me! I see it all the time these days: Women like that come to my office because none of it is feeding their soul." - Julie Holland, M.D., a psychiatrist in New York City

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Patience is a Virtue in the Weight Loss Game

This morning I weighed myself and have lost two pounds from the last time I weighed myself, two weeks prior. In that moment I thought, wow I only made small tweaks to my diet and exercise and am seeing results, how great! In fact, I can’t remember a day in the last two weeks where I felt like I was dieting or deprived or felt like I had to kill myself in the gym. Nope, I pretty much ate what I wanted, and stayed consistent about going to the gym 4-5 times a week. Losing two pounds was actually easy. And, then it hit me, we approach weight loss so backwards that it is no wonder we fail, it is no wonder we loathe diets, or can only last one day on a ‘diet.’

You see, whenever we’re on a mission to lose weight, we first determine how much we want to lose, then we figure out how fast we can lose this amount of weight, and therein lies the problem. Weight loss is a mathematical equation, and it is possible to figure out how many calories you need to cut each week to lose a certain amount each week. And if you follow the formula, yes, you will lose weight. Sounds so easy, right? But the problem is this, weight loss is also a mental equation. And, while our body can react to dramatic changes, our minds can’t always keep up. See, we usually want to lose the maximum amount of weight we can as fast as we can. So what do we do? We take our 1700/day calorie diet and cut it to 1150/day and then add in an extra workout or two. There are three problems with approaching weight loss like this:

1. Cutting that many calories from your diet all at once is going to leave you feeling deprived, which will in turn make you want to binge or crave “no no” foods more since you’ve made such a dramatic change to your diet.

2. Because you are exercising more, your body will crave and need more food to sustain itself, leaving you feeling extra deprived on workout days.

3. Because making such dramatic changes requires sacrifice, and a list of “no nos” we’re likely to act out just like children when our parents tell us we can’t do something. Yes, we’ll actually want to defy our own rules because the rules are telling us what we can’t do.

Yet, despite this illogical approach, this is the approach most of utilize to lose weight. And then, sure enough, we wake up one morning wondering why those 5 pounds we lost so quickly became 10 pounds gained back. The answer? THIS APPROACH IS NOT SUBSTAINABLE IN THE LONG RUN!! That’s all there is to it. You’ll start off doing great, you may even reach your goal weight in your desired time frame, but as soon as you hit your goal, you’ll start adding more calories back into your diet as a sort of ‘pat on the back’ for reaching your goal. And then, you’ll add in some more calories because you see your journey as complete. Then, you’ll add even more because you’ll see yourself as invincible from weight gain because you’re feeling confident about where you’re at. And, finally one day you’ll step on the scale and you will have gained back all the weight you lost and then some.

So what is the better approach you ask? The one where you make small, incremental changes. You should never feel like you are on a diet. You should never feel deprived, or ravenous. You shouldn’t dream about the cookie you can’t have all day or have a list of restricted foods or rules. All you need to do is make small changes. Once you are used to the changes you’ve made, make a few more. This way, cutting back doesn’t seem like an impossible challenge, but instead it seems doable, easy in fact, and gives you body a chance to adjust to the changes. If you’re eating 1700 calories a day and working out 3 times a week for 30 minutes, try eating 1600 calories a day and working out for 40 minutes those 3 days. I guarantee you’ll see a difference, and it won’t pain you to make these changes. Then, let your body get used to this. Then assess your diet and exercise. Could you work out a little longer? Or add another day in? Would you be ok with eating 100 calories less in the day? You’ll probably say, yup that’s totally doable. This approach allows you to lose weight slow and steady, gives your body time to adjust to your changes, without ever having to slash too many calories at a time or increase your workouts too much too quickly.

Now technically, you could keep cutting and cutting, but there is a limit, and I would never advise anyone to eat fewer than 1200 calories in a day. As you make these incremental changes, you need to assess the point where you feel that the changes you’ve made are unsustainable. If you keep cutting calories down to 1200 and working your way up to 7 workouts a week, even done incrementally, can still cause burnout and be unsustainable. As you cut back incrementally, you need to stop at a level you can accept for the long run. And more importantly, you need to accept what your body looks like at this level because this is where your body naturally wants to be. Just because our minds are set on being 120 pounds, doesn’t mean our body is. Your body knows where it’s happiest; listen to it, instead of forcing it into some ideal you’re set on.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It’s Not About the Food

I just finished reading a book titled, “Women, Food, and God” by Geneen Roth and its message really hit me; it’s not about the food. After finishing the book and watching the Biggest Loser last night I have come to the conclusion that this couldn’t be truer. If you turn to my blog because you have issues with your weight and you’re looking for guidance, it’s most likely because you have an adversarial relationship with food, whether you over eat or under eat. But, why is this? Is it really just because pizza is so damn good that eating anything less than four slices would be a sin? Or, do you eat the same five to six meals week in and week out because it is the only way to maintain your weight? Where do we even come up with this stuff? When you really repeat the questions back to yourself you realize how absurd these thoughts are. Yet, every day millions of people feed themselves these lies to justify what they do or don’t eat. But, it isn’t about the food.

Our relationship with food runs so much deeper than we care to be aware of. Ten seasons of the Biggest Loser has shown this time and again. Our adversarial relationship with food stems from how we perceive ourselves. If we were truly honest with ourselves, we’d see that the reason we under or overeat is to mask pain, avoid feelings, or confirm lies that we’ve fed ourselves for so long that we actually believe they are true. During contestants’ time on the Biggest Loser ranch, they slowly begin to uncover why they’ve let themselves go. For some, loss of a loved one made them turn to food to cope, to feel loved again. For others, being teased at a young age made them equate being thin with being accepted. Whatever the reason, they always seem to uncover the real reason they have struggled for so long, and it isn’t food that has destroyed them, it is their perceptions that have destroyed them.

I could give you a million tools I use to stay on track, but if you don’t understand why you have issues with your body, none of that will matter because you’ll be using these tools out of self loathing and not out of love for your body. Geneen Roth’s book has encouraged me to really look at why I’ve had ups and downs for so long. Now, I think I understand why, and I know that my perceptions are completely absurd. But, breaking through years of absurd perceptions is no easy feat, but a necessary one if you ever want to get to a healthy place spiritually, mentally, and physically. If you relate to what I am saying, I encourage you to read “Women, Food, and God.” While it may not be new information, it forces you to take a deeper look at yourself and your relationship with food beyond what is on your plate.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Do We Blame Our Bodies and Not Our Clothes?

It’s funny how each day you can look in the mirror and see something different. Some days you feel ‘small’ and some days you feel ‘big.’ And, yes a lot of factors contribute to how we feel about what we see in the mirror every day, some real, some imagined. Maybe you ate a lot the past week and really do look bigger. Or, maybe you are wearing a shirt that’s too small and you only feel bigger. Either way, we’re usually quick to blame ourselves for these real or imagined changes in our bodies before we point the finger at anything else. But, maybe, just maybe, something else deserves the blame more often than not.

In our image and size obsessed culture we’re always measuring our self worth by the size of our clothes. If we can’t look good in a size 6 then we feel we need to lose weight. If a size medium is too tight in the chest, then we must be fat. We seem to always point the finger at ourselves. And, I admit I am not immune to this sort of ridiculous and irrational thinking. But, when you really step back and think about it, you realize how absurd it all is. Why not turn the blame to the clothes? Why is it our bodies’ fault for not looking good in a size 6 and not the size 6’s fault for fitting our bodies? What if instead of demanding our bodies conform to clothes, we demanded that clothes conform to our bodies and accentuate our attributes? It’s amazing what a good pair of jeans will do for your self confidence, but it’s also amazing how an ill-fitting pair can derail your self image just as quickly. It leads me to believe that we tend to obsess over small changes in our bodies too much when in fact the real culprit eating away at our self image is our obsession with size.

Instead of squeezing into sizes that don’t fit us or getting upset when not every pair of size 6 pants fits, maybe we should try to ignore sizes and go with what actually looks good. Hmmm imagine how much better we’d feel every day if we didn’t measure our happiness or success by what size we wore. What if we just bought clothes, regardless of size, that looked great and made us feel confident? Would we be as unhappy and self loathing? Or, would we walk around with our heads high proud of our bodies just the way they are?

Whether you need to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your current weight, you should go through each day feeling confident and beautiful. To stress, obsess, and berate yourself over your perceived imperfections will not benefit your mind, body, or soul. Furthermore, to convince yourself that fitting into one size or being one specific shape will equal happiness will only set you up for disappointment and failure because this simply isn’t so. What makes the world so beautiful is that there is an endless assortment of colors, shapes, sizes, etc. that all exemplify that one word. So accept yourself just as you are and dress your body in a way that makes you feel confident and accentuates your beauty. I encourage you to continue to focus on your goals, but in the meantime love your body just the way it is by making your clothes work for you and not the other way around because great-fitting clothes can make all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Balance and Happiness before Vanity

Moving from the Bay Area back to LA was the best move I made this year. I am having an absolute blast living in LA with my two great roommates, friends, and family. I don’t think there has been a dull moment yet. But, as I alluded to in last month’s entry, my new lifestyle has been tough on my diet and exercise routine. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on where I was and where I am at now and whether I was happier then or now? Overall, I am happier now, but it is hard to accept that I am not in the same peak shape that I was in the Bay Area. I haven’t stepped on the scale since I left the Bay, and honestly I’m a little afraid to. I can tell by how my clothes are fitting that I’ve gained a couple of pounds through this transition back to LA. Sometimes I get down on myself for it too, but then I try to remind myself that this was a hard transition and even though I’ve been here two months now, I am still adjusting and trying to carve out a new life in LA.

I look back on my Bay Area days and realize that maybe what I achieved there isn’t going to be possible for me to achieve in LA. I might need to find a happy medium between what I was doing and what I am doing now (which isn’t quite enough). I work much longer hours in LA and I am surrounded by a lot more temptation and distraction, which isn’t all bad, but can really take its toll on your diet and exercise. But, to be at my peak would mean cutting out a lot of my social life and even some of my sleep. Is it worth it? Is it worth being at the peak if it means being alone? That’s what I’ve really been thinking about this week. I may need to accept that working out 5 days a week for an hour and a half and cooking 90% of my meals isn’t workable anymore. Maybe this lifestyle just isn’t a reality in the context of my new LA lifestyle. I don’t want this blog entry to be misconstrued as me justifying my sliding backwards a little bit or telling people to not work hard on their diet and exercise goals. That is not my point. My first point is that sometimes what worked swimmingly at one point in your life may not work as well at another point and you have to learn to accept that reality and stop beating yourself up. And, my second point is sometimes you need to really reflect on whether your diet and exercise goals are allowing you to lead a full life; don’t throw balance out the window for the sake of vanity. In the Bay, I feel that my routine worked perfectly with my lifestyle. I had the time to invest in it as much as I did and I didn’t have the social demands I have in LA. But, I am happier in LA now that I get to see more friends and family more. And, sure I indulge a little more, but I also feel more connected and fulfilled down here than I did in the Bay. I can’t imagine my Bay Area routine working as well here, and it’s not worth sacrificing sleep or isolating myself from friends and family for the sake of being 2-3 pounds less when I am still very healthy.

Nevertheless, now that I am starting to get used to my lifestyle here, I do see that there is room for improvement with my diet and exercise and I’m ready to take that challenge back on after a little bit of a hiatus (when I say hiatus I mean hitting the gym three days versus five, not letting myself go completely). I have really reflected on these past two months and I think that four days in the gym is probably most manageable for me. I’ve also noticed that I’ve indulged more at work than I should and I think I can easily cut this out as well. These are tweaks I can make that’ll help me manage my health, but still allow me to feel balanced and happy, and that is what truly matters.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Coping with Change

A few weeks ago, I moved from the Bay Area back down to L.A. where I am originally from. I started a new job a couple days after I arrived, and will be moving into my new apartment today (I’ve been staying with my family these past few weeks living out of my suitcases). Life has been moving fast since I got here! It has been hard to have a normal routine when I am living out of suitcases and boxes and still feeling out my new schedule.

When I was up north, I would wake up at 7 a.m., leave for work at 8 a.m., get there at 8:30 a.m., leave by 4:30 p.m., and be back home at 5 p.m. I had a gym in my garage, so I would get home, put on my gym clothes and be done by 7 p.m., eating dinner and relaxing until bed time at 10:30 p.m. Ohhh the good ol’ days!! Now, my commute is two hours roundtrip. I wake up at 6 a.m., leave by 7 a.m., arrive to work at 8 a.m., and leave work at 5 or 6 p.m. to get home an hour to an hour and 15 minutes later. My new schedule makes it hard to figure out when to workout. Do I eat dinner and workout late? Do I ignore my hunger pains, workout first, and then eat? It hasn’t been easy to figure out. Plus, now I have to commute 10 miles roundtrip to the gym. Ohhh how things have changed!

It’s hard to stay motivated to go to the gym when life feels like you’re on the go constantly. I’m getting to bed later than I like just to fit it all in and I feel tired. I also feel like I don’t have time to just sit back and relax, or go hang out with friends as much. Now, I understand why our country is overweight. When you’re spending 10-12 hours of your day commuting/working it’s very easy to want to ditch the gym, eat dinner out with co-workers to wait out traffic, etc. At my new office, there is leftover food and sweets every day!! I feel constantly tempted and short on time since I moved. So I sympathize with everyone out there who doesn’t know when to make time for the gym, or how to say no to all the temptation. It’s HARD! I had it easy in the Bay in comparison – short commute, no food temptation at work, and gym at home. For me, there was absolutely no excuse not to be on top of my workouts and get at least eight hours of sleep a night. I had plenty of time to do everything I needed to do. I know with time I’ll adjust to my new L.A. life and schedule, but I would be lying if I said it’s easy to do all I did in the Bay. I have still been good about my workouts, and have tried to ignore the temptation the best I can, but I know I have more challenges to face than I did before.

So to everyone who knows how I feel, stay strong and positive! Remember that taking care of your mind, body, and soul is one of the most important and healthiest things you can do for yourself. When you think you don’t have the time or energy for the gym, tell yourself this is my ME time. It’s about shutting out all of the day’s stresses and doing something that makes you feel good about yourself. It’s hard, I know, but it’s worth it!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Don’t Be a Slave to the Scale

Recently, a couple of my friends commented that I look like I’ve lost some weight. But, when I stepped on the scale I still weighed pretty much what I’ve weighed for the past two years (give or take a couple of pounds here and there along the way). I tried to think about what I’m doing differently now than from the past that would make my friends think I look so much different when clearly the scale begs to differ. Funny enough, I eat more calories per day now than I did a year ago and I workout the same amount of days. So what HAS changed? I’ve focused more on my strength training, I eat protein at every meal and strive to get about 60 grams a day, and I continue to up the intensity (but, not the time) of my cardio sessions. So while I haven’t lost weight, I look leaner because I’ve swapped fat for muscle. It just goes to show you that sometimes the numbers on the scale don’t tell the whole truth. Don’t get me wrong, the scale is still a great indicator of your overall health. You should certainly utilize it to keep yourself on track, making sure that you aren’t gaining or losing large quantities of weight too quickly (both can be dangerous). But, when you’re at a healthy weight and you still think you need to lose five pounds, you may want to rethink your mindset. Instead of worrying about the numbers on the scale and focusing on completing more and longer cardio sessions, shift your focus to your strength training and protein intake. I guarantee that if you focus on eating approximately 20-40 grams of protein (20-25 for women, 35-40 for men) at every meal, eat frequently throughout the day, and spend more time on your strength training each week, you’ll look leaner and more toned! While strength training maybe doesn't burn as many calories as cardio, strength training does increase your metabolic rate more than cardio does post-workout so that you continue to burn calories for a couple hours after your workout. So don’t get stuck on the numbers on the scale. If you focus on incorporating more strength training and protein into your routine, you’ll see results!

While I'm on this topic, let me say one more thing about the scale. There is no need to weigh yourself more than once a week. If you weigh yourself every day, throughout the day you're going to drive yourself crazy because your body's weight naturally fluctuates. To stay on track, weigh yourself once a week at the same day and time, using the same scale each time. Preferably, you should weigh yourself first thing in the morning when you're naked. Weighing yourself once a week is plenty to monitor your progress accurately.