Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Weight Loss Motivation

Weight loss has become a multi-billion dollar industry.  There are health clubs, supplements, surgeries, books, trainers, meal plans and even something called “Hot Pants”.  With so many facts, fads and findings one can become completely overwhelmed by the industry, and perhaps give up before even really beginning.

Despite what the industry makes you believe, weight loss does not have to be complicated.  For me, weight loss came down to three simple things: acknowledging that I had a problem, educating myself and staying motivated to get healthy.  The hardest part for me was actually realizing that I had a problem.  I was overweight for years before I even really noticed.  That may sound crazy, but the human mind is very good at rationalizing and making excuses for things that it doesn’t want to acknowledge.  It took the thought of having to buy size 14 pants and reaching “clinically obese” on the BMI scale for me to realize that I needed to get healthy.

Lucky for you all, you have already passed the first stage and acknowledged that you need to get healthy or else you would not be looking at this lovely blog :). The second stage, educating yourself, is something that I hope to be helping you with through my blog postings.  The last thing, staying motivated, is something that you need to focus on every single day in order to lose weight and keep it off.  The more educated you become, the more you will realize that weight loss can be a difficult process, and the more motivation you will need to continue!

Here are some of my tips for staying motivated:

  • Make very specific goals.  Do not simple say that you want to “lose weight”. Instead, list a specific weight that you would like to reach.  Having a target will in itself be motivating.  

  • Share your plan to get healthy with other people.  This will keep you motivated because you will not want others to see you fail.
  • Reward yourself when you reach certain goals.  When you finally beat the bad habit of late night snacking, reward yourself with a new workout shirt, a hot new pair of jeans or something else that will boost your self confidence (never use food as a reward).
  • Listen to motivating music whenever you can (at the gym, in the shower, while cleaning the house).  My new favorite workout tune is Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”.
  • Do not delete your “fat photos” and keep one pair of your “fat pants”.  Use these as reminders of where you have been, and where you do not want to go again.
  • Keep a record of what you do for exercise, what you eat and how much progress you have made towards your goals.  Putting things in writing will help hold you accountable and motivate you to keep going.
  • Keep your exercise bag packed somewhere where you can see it.  The visual cue may be enough to get you out the door.
  • Think both about how far you have come and how far you need to go.  If you only think about how well you are doing, you may get overconfident and slip up. However, if you only think about how far you have to go, you may just give up.  Think things like, “If losing 20 lbs feels this good, I can’t wait to see how good I feel after losing 20 more”.
  • Find someone who inspires you and use them as motivation.  You know that super mom who has the power career and killer thighs?  Don’t spend your energy hating her, instead spend it figuring out how she does it, and use her as a motivator.  
  • Think about how good being healthy makes you (or will make you) feel.  
  • When you go to eat or drink unhealthy foods, think not about how good they will taste, but how bad they will make you feel afterwards.  Avoiding things like heart burn, indigestion, gas,  hangovers, guilt, headaches, disappointment and bloating can be very motivating.
  • In a reverse approach, figure out what causes you to lose motivation, and deal with the issues at hand.  You may have underlying issues, like depression, that need to be addressed clinically before you can truly find the necessary motivation for weight loss.
  • Surround yourself with things and people that motivate you:
    • Stop following the woman on Pinterest that posts the latest cheesecake recipes and start following those with healthy recipes and exercise tips.
    • Make friends with people at your gym or weight loss center.  You know that they share your desire to be healthy and that they won’t ask you out for Margarita Monday or Taco Tuesday.
    • Workout with people who are at least equally as fit as you.  I just switched from a gym where I was one of the most fit members, to a gym that is full of people in better shape than me.  Although it is intimidating, it gives me motivation to be better.
No matter what your motivation, make sure that you are committed to making a permanent change in your lifestyle.  If you only think in the short term, the weight loss is almost guaranteed to be short lived.  Anyone can lose 10 lbs, but not everyone can change their habits enough to keep that 10 lbs off for life!  For example, losing weight for a wedding is a motivating goal, but even if you lose the weight you may end up gaining it back (plus more) after the event.  Instead, incorporate the long term goal of being a healthy wife/husband and parent.  You, and your family, will be grateful.

I hope that you find the entries in this blog to be a source of motivation.  If there is anything else I can do to help, please let me know! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Staying Healthy While Traveling

I am sorry it has been so long since I have posted.  I spent the last two weeks in France and for some reason my blog was not responding well to the French Wi-Fi.  Perhaps it was a sign that I was supposed to just forget about life and relax for a couple of weeks :).

Since I am fresh off of vacation, I thought this would be a good time to talk about how to stay healthy, while still having fun on vacation.  Whether you travel for work or for pleasure, you probably know what it is like to come back from a trip, step on the scale and see a number a little bit higher than before you left.  This may not seem like too much of a problem, but over time these little pounds add up to large numbers.  My husband was traveling a lot for work a few years ago and he managed to gain about 20 lbs that year.  That is when I really started looking at our behaviors when traveling.

When you are on a weight loss plan and you go on vacation it usually means one of two things:  you will either not enjoy the vacation because you are too obsessed with the weight you will potentially gain, or you will completely binge because you have been depriving yourself of treats.  After years of going back a forth between these two scenarios, I have finally figured out a way to enjoy my vacations and come back feeling just as healthy as before I left.  Here are a few tricks:

-Make a few healthy dishes and freeze them before you leave (soup works well for this).  You will want to get back on track with homemade, healthy eating as soon as you return.  I can’t count the number of times I had to order pizza when I got back from a trip because I had nothing to eat in the house.  Now, I try to be prepared with something healthy on hand and I am always very grateful for this upon my return.

-Do not go on any crazy new diets before your trip.  If you deprive yourself  before you leave, you will be more likely to completely indulge/binge on your trip.  I learned this the hard way when I woke up in a hotel room one morning surrounded by cupcake crumbs. :(

-Instead of decreasing your calorie intake before vacation, add a little more umph to your exercise routine the week before a trip.  Either add in a new exercise for the week, increase the length of your current workouts, increase the intensity of your workouts or add sprint intervals.

-Make sure to stay hydrated, especially on the plane.  It is easy to forget to drink water when traveling.  Carry an empty water bottle with you and fill it up in the airport drinking fountain (after you get through security).  When you are dehydrated your body will sometimes send you signals that you are hungry. Staying hydrated may stop you from overeating.

-Instead of sitting in the airport waiting for the plane, go for a walk around the airport and explore.  You are going to spend a lot of time sitting on the plane, so you might as well move around a little and burn a few calories while you wait!

-Airplane and airport food is notoriously expensive and unhealthy.  I try to always bring my own snacks and meals from home.  Skipping the soda and alcohol on the plane is also a good idea.  Not only will it dehydrate you, the calories can add up quick (one can of ginger ale has 120 calories).  I usually opt for club soda because the bubbles are satisfying and it is calorie free!

-If possible, book a hotel with a gym on-site.  If none are available, look for nearby jogging trails before you go.  I recommend getting in at least 30 minutes of exercise first thing in the morning.  That way it is done and you don’t need to think about it the rest of the day.

-Skipping the hotel’s continental breakfast is a good way to avoid extra calories.  I have a pretty strong will, but when one puts a buffet of free food in front of me I am almost certain to eat way more than I should.  I try to book hotel rooms with a refrigerator in the room and I buy some yogurt and high fiber cereal for breakfast.  I have found that I feel a lot better on vacation when I am not eating every meal at a restaurant.

-Walk, walk and then walk some more.  The best way to get to know a place and see the sites is by walking.  I am a huge fan of public transportation, but you aren’t going to be able to see the sites from the subway tunnel.  If your destination is a mile away, it will only take you 15-20 minutes to walk there, and you may discover something really cool on the way.

-Include exertive activities in your itinerary.  My husband and I love to rent bikes in order to explore the places that we are visiting.  Rollerblading along the beach, hiking through parks/mountain trails, skiing and swimming are also great vacation activities.

-Remember, you are on vacation, enjoy what the region has to offer.  If you are in the South, it is okay to enjoy a bit of Southern fried chicken.  Relax, this is the fun stuff that makes life so great!  Just don’t have too large of a portion, try to refrain from eating fried chicken for every meal and abide by the other tips on this list.

-Lastly, It is important to get back into your normal routine as soon as possible after you return.  On vacation we get used to allowing ourselves a few more treats than usual and it is important that we do not keep this habit upon our return.  It is also hard to get back into the routine of going to the gym.  The first few times you may have to give yourself a pep talk, but it should not take long before you are back in the routine.

Next time you take off for vacation, review this list and try to keep your health and happiness in mind!  If you have any other tips you’d like to share, I would love to hear them.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Simple Weight Loss Boost

Do you know anyone who appears to be thin no matter what they do? I sure do.  One of the thinnest people that I know orders waffles topped with ice cream every time he goes out to brunch.  People like that used to drive me nuts, then I realized three things:

1. Getting stressed out about another person’s weight (or lack of weight) was going to do nothing to help my cause.  I have learned that stress, anger and self-pity only lead to unhealthy habits.

2. Thin doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.  I wanted to be thin AND healthy, which meant I had to change bad habits (like eating ice cream for breakfast).

3.  These “naturally thin” people must be doing something special, and figuring out what they do differently could help me reach my weight loss goal.

There are hundreds of factors that determine what a person weighs and thousands of articles discussing the significance of each of these factors.  I have read a lot of articles over the years, but one of them was so different from the others that it sticks out in my memory.  This article talked about how some people are thin, not because they spend hours at the gym, but because they are more restless than others.   The results of studies done by Mayo Clinic suggest that thin people are naturally more inclined to move throughout the day than obese people.  Could this be the secret of those “naturally thin” people?  

Whether this article shows the secrets of the “naturally thin” or not, it made a big difference in the way I live my life.  During one of my weight loss plateaus I realized I needed to make some kind of change in order to continue to lose weight.  I turned to the ideas in the Mayo Clinic study and began increasing my activities of daily living (in addition to my time at the gym). Sure enough, I started to lose weight again.  Now I am in the habit of being active in my daily life and I tend to take the path of most resistance instead of least resistance.  This is one of the factors that I believe has helped me to keep the pounds off for so many years.

Here are some of the things you can do to boost your daily activity level:

  • Walk around your neighborhood while you are talking on the phone
  • Walk or bike to the grocery store and carry things home in a backpack
  • Use a hand held shopping basket to do your grocery shopping instead of a push cart
  • Go for a bike ride, hike or walk with your friends instead of meeting for a drink
  • Park in the furthest parking stall instead of the closest
  • Always take the stairs (I live on the fourth floor of my apartment building and I take the stairs 95% of the time, even with groceries)
  • Get up during TV commercials (feed the cat, get some water, stretch)
  • Dine out at restaurants within walking distance
  • Keep your cellphone out of reach so that you have to get up to answer it
  • I have started listening to Pandora “workout stations” at home when I need an energy boost.  I have found that I am less likely to be sedentary when this music is playing.
  • Don’t ask other people to get things for you even if they are closer, get up and get it yourself
  • Take time out to play with your kids, pets, friends
  • Stand while you are waiting for something, you will burn 50% more calories than if you were sitting
Don’t forget that these things are in addition to the time you spend doing your normal exercise routine.  Cardiovascular exercise and strength training are still important for weight loss/maintenance and your overall health!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fighting Sugar Addiction

I read an article several years ago about a woman and her struggle with sugar addiction.  The article, titled “Sugar Rush”,  played on the similarities between her addiction to sugar and the characteristics of drug addiction.  The article was written with an air of humor (an accompanying illustration showed policemen gunning down a cupcake), but the seriousness of sugar binges, withdrawals and cravings was certainly not downplayed.

After reading the article, I felt an odd sense of comfort in knowing that I was not the only one who could eat over half of a cake in one sitting.  I felt the same sense of satisfaction after seeing the famous Sex and the City episode in which Miranda pours dish soap on top of a cake in order to stop herself from eating the entire cake.  Although there was comfort in knowing I was not alone in my sugar addiction, there was nothing comfortable about the accompanying mood swings, fatigue, headaches, and self loathing.

The first time I really became conscious of my lack of self-control in the presence of sugar was on Thanksgiving several years ago.  I had finally reached my desired weight and headed home for the holiday feeling very “in control” and proud of my accomplishments.  What I didn’t realize was that I had been living in a controlled environment, a diet bubble, where things like pie did not appear on the counter.  It turned out my ability to control myself around sweets had not truly been tested in a long time.

I thought that the biggest test of my self-control was going to be Thanksgiving day itself, and after a day of only minor indiscretion, I claimed victory.  I thought I was home free.  Then I woke up unexpectedly in the middle of the night and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water.  I spotted a pie plate on the counter.  I lifted the wax paper covering the pan to find a maple pecan pie with only a single slice missing.

It started innocently enough, I cut just a small sliver of pie to go with my water.  Once I realized how good it was, I cut another sliver.  The next thing I knew there was only the equivalent of one or two slices of pie left in the pan.  I went to bed that night hating myself, and woke up with a giant headache.  This was the first time I consciously put together the relationship between my feeling ill and the obscene amount of sugar I had consumed.

I wish I could say that the pecan pie incident was isolated, and that I have not experienced a “sugar hangover” since that ugly night, but if I said that I would be lying.  What I can say is that I have found ways to manage my addiction and change my habits enough so that I can maintain my ideal, healthy weight.  

-I try to eliminate as much added sugar (and artificial sweeteners) from my diet as possible.  The less sugar I eat on a daily basis, the less sugar cravings I have in the long run.  A lot of foods contain large amounts of added sugar (think soda), which is why Americans consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day.  Some items with high sugar content that may surprise you include: ketchup, baked beans, jarred pasta sauce, fruit juice, dried fruit, bottled tea, granola and granola bars, some cereals, coleslaw, flavored yogurt and flavored instant oatmeal.  

- I have learned not to use sweets as a reward.  If you always reward yourself with sweets, your body will associate sweets with pleasure even more than it already does and you will risk increasing your cravings for sugar.  So next time you deserve a reward, buy a nice pair of shoes.

-I found that eliminating sweets altogether is what leads to eventual overindulgence.  To avoid this, I allow myself one small treat (usually under 100 calories) daily.  Even with this treat I always make sure to stay within my daily calorie count goal.

-With things like birthdays, holidays and just plain human nature, occasional over indulgence is unavoidable.  If I have a random day where I eat half a batch of cookie dough, I chalk it up as a loss and work towards making sure that it stays as a lost day and not a lost week.  For me, once the sugar ball starts rolling, it is really hard to stop.  I’ve learned to recognize that, and I work extra hard the days following an indulgence to stay busy and keep sugar out of sight.

-I used to chew gum to avoid eating random treats (Trident watermelon flavor was my favorite).  I also used this trick when baking because if I had gum in my mouth, it was harder to sneak bites of cookie dough.  I try not to chew gum anymore because I have heard that  it is bad for your teeth, and they say that you swallow a lot of air when chewing (which leads to stomach bloating).  It did, however, really help when I was first starting out, so it may be a viable option for you.  

-Exercise seems to really help my sugar cravings, especially running and spinning.  Taking a walk when you are experiencing a sugar craving can sometimes help as well.

-Healthy foods that contain natural sugars can sometimes combat my cravings.  I like carrots, bananas, berries, plain yogurt, skim milk, and apples.

-When we have candy or baked goods at our house I have my husband hide them from me.  This prevents me from mindlessly nibbling throughout the day.  Sometimes out of sight, out of mind really does work.

Managing sugar cravings is a very difficult feet, but the good news is that it gets easier with time.  Believe it or not, this last year I did not have a single piece of pie on Thanksgiving (or the night after). :)