Thursday, April 30, 2009

on listening to my gut

I used to be a religious 3-meal-a-day eater: breakfast, lunch, dinner, no snacks, no exceptions, everyday. Rigid structure was my best friend, giving me a clear set of lines to stay inside no matter what. The longer I've maintained my weight, however, I've noticed that I can take cues from a source that I used to think was part of the problem: my stomach.

In my mind, my tummy was a bottomless pit: nearly no amount of food or drink could fill it to the top. He was a seemingly-insatiable beast bent on foodstuff annihilation. Sound dramatic? It sure is! But for years, I only barely knew what "hungry" and "full" felt like - all I knew was that I wanted more.

A funny thing happened, however, after I "tamed the beast:" my former adversary became one of my greatest partners. If I'm willing to listen (which, admittedly, takes some trust both in myself and in my gut), my belly will tell me all kinds of things. WHEN to eat, WHAT to eat, HOW MUCH to eat, even WHERE to eat can become clear if you're willing to pay attention. Go figure!

I feel like I've just barely begun to explore the intricacies of my relationship with my stomach, but one thing is for sure - only good can come from it! I bet you'll find that to be true for you, too...

Monday, April 27, 2009

the apple diet

Earlier today, as I was sitting waiting for a class to start, a number of the students in my class started discussing the "Apple Diet," which one of my more portly classmates had just committed to. "This week," he explained, "all I'm gonna eat is apples and water. If I do, my buddy's gonna give me 20 bucks!" The students and the teacher questioned how he could stand it, whether he could eat applesauce or drink apple juice, etc., ignoring what I thought was the central issue:


This particular one might be a little more over-the-top than some others, but it got me thinking - how many people go on hopelessly unsustainable diets thinking they're really going to make a long term difference, when they're really doomed to fail? So many require their followers to unrealistically (and needlessly) restrict their diets:
... and dozens (hundreds?) more. Anybody who has tried these, or approached their diet from sustainability viewpoint, knows these plans don't work - they're band-aids at best, hopefully facilitating weight-loss but avoiding addressing the underlying causes for your weight problem.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems like a successful approach to long-term weight loss and management must take at least these two factors into account:
  1. Your Priorities (What do you want? What will you give up? What won't you?)
  2. Your Food Intake/Expenditure (What/how much are you eating? Are you burning it all off?)
It might seem like a pain, but only a holistic approach to our weight can really help us lose our love handles.

You can put down your apple now :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

actions DO speak louder than words ...

I'm a firm believer in the idea that you reap what you sow when it comes to working on your weight loss. That's not to say, of course, that it always shows up on the scale (wouldn't that be nice!), but, in general, if you're working hard, you'll see the benefit, and if you're having trouble or just plain slacking, you may be disappointed when you weigh in. Most people I talk to tend to agree that this is generally true.

So, that having been said, ask yourself this: What does your weight say about your priorities? I'm thinking that, if you're slimming down nicely, weight loss is probably pretty important to you. More important than, say, donuts or pizza or cookies or bread or hot dogs or whatever your weight-gain pals are. If the pounds aren't coming off as consistently or as quickly as you'd prefer, though, maybe it's time to check your priorities.

Let's get something straight - I'm not saying that losing that gut has to be the #1 most important thing in your life. It's not for most people, and although it was for me once, it sure isn't right now. But if you want to get top results, shouldn't this be a top (or top-ish) priority for you? I certainly think so.

This is what I'm getting at - too often, we demand and expect big, ongoing losses at the scale without having to "do the work." Our actions show us what's truly important to us. We can all make this happen for ourselves, but we've gotta be willing to sacrifice some bad decision-making and some bad habits in order to be successful.

If you really want it, be willing to work for it!

If you don't, it shows.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

so what about exercising?

I blogged a few weeks back about my "Spring Break Exercise Challenge" (described here). Initially, I was looking forward to checking in sooner, reporting on how the week-and-a-half went afterward, but something amazing happened: I never stopped exercising!

Nobody could be more surprised about this than I - my disdain for the gym is no small secret, and I avoided regular exercise throughout my weight loss and for more than two years at my goal weight, mostly due to issues related to lack of time and of interest. I had always exercised sometimes, very inconsistently, but never seemed to discover what would turn the occasional recreational outing into a regular part of my lifestyle.

Magic happened over spring break, however. Getting out daily for a while turned exercise into a habit for me - I don't do it every day, but now it's a part of my consistent part of my life (like drinking!). I just don't feel like I've had a great week unless I've been able to make it out to the mountains for to the basketball courts at least a couple times. Turns out that all I really needed was to find that initial motivation to move more, and the habit building took care of itself.

Like so many things in weight loss and in life, habit building is essential to making exercise a part of your life long-term, beyond that initial burst of motivation that we all get from time to time. I suppose the most important morsel of knowledge I gleaned from my exercise challenge is this:
When you attack a problem head on, making a clear, achievable goal and working it through to success, you've already taken the hardest step towards successful, sustainable habit-building.

That having been said, I look forward to balling my way to the biceps of my dreams ...

I'll let you know how that goes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

special occasion eating

Happy Tax Day, Father Damien Day, and Vasakhi! Stay tuned for tomorrow's festivities as well - it's Emancipation Day in Washington D.C.

The bottom line with special occasions? They're not all equally special. But if we're looking for excuses to eat, we can always find them.

Easter is a great example; it's a religious holiday, it's a family holiday, it's great holiday for kids, and it can be an eating holiday. But should it be? Does it really, truly need to be?

I won't lie - I overeat every Thanksgiving (I'm better than I used to be, but it happens). But I don't usually overeat on Easter. To me, the big difference is that Thanksgiving is an eating holiday, and Easter is about connecting with my family. It's different for everybody, but I think it's important to figure out when eating is a big part of the occasion (like my Thanksgiving festivities or a wine-tasting excursion), and when the food can get in the way of what's really important. After all, is the cake what makes the wedding? Is the champagne what makes New Years? It might be for a lot of folks, but if you can do without, you'll be that much skinnier for it.

Focusing on what's important to you in a specific situation can keep you satisfied and thin - if it's about the food for you, enjoy yourself (responsibly!). But if it really isn't, fill up on the soup and pass on the seconds.

Your waistline will thank you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

the gym

In light of both my exercise pledge and my earlier allusion to my disdain for the gym, now's as good a time as ever to explain why exactly I prefer to exercise in the great outdoors. It's a combination of two factors: I love nature, and I can't stand the gym environment. Whether you're like me, or exactly the opposite (you can't wait to jump on the treadmill at Bally's), one thing is for sure: getting regular exercise is a lot easier if it's on your terms.

As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing more beautiful than the world around us. I love the breeze, the trees, the grass - the everchanging scenery of the outdoors makes exercise infinitely more enjoyable for me. Conversely, the gym triggers the exact opposite response in me. I'm not sure why exactly, but it just seems boring to walk on a conveyor belt watching closed-captioned MSNBC.

My goal to exercise daily over my Spring Break has helped me realize how much my enjoyment of an exercise impacts my inclination to sustain it. The moral of the story: You want to exercise more? Make sure you love what you're doing!

See you on the mountaintop!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Spring Break Exercise Pledge

" I hereby pledge to engage in significant physical activity daily for the duration of my Spring Break (3/26-4/4) "

This endeavor has been a long time coming - despite my affinity for outdoor exercise, I've rarely committed to regular athletic recreation, and even on those occasions, only for short periods of time. I've got some goals to accomplish now, however, so I'm trying to keep my focus on what's important to me:
  1. Staying trim (losing weight is too much work to allow myself to gain much back)
  2. Feeling fit (who wouldn't want to feel like they're in peak physical condition?)
  3. Improving my tan (I've never minded looking a little bronzed!)
So far, I've done pretty well, playing some basketball, going on a 2 1/2 hour hike in a local park, playing lots of drums (my favorite), and my crowning achievement this weekend: a 37-mile bike ride from my house to the coast, then pedaling down the beach from Playa del Rey to Torrance.

I've learned that there are two key elements to success in any endeavor I undertake: clarity in purpose (setting specific goals), and making the task at hand more enjoyable. My goal is clear, my motivation is clear, and, to avoid wrestling with my strong antipathy towards the gym, I've decided to focus on engaging in outdoor recreational activities that keep my interest and are enjoyable to me - especially with friends!

Since activity is squarely in my sights this week, I look forward to making movement happen! If there's something you want to get done for yourself, try doing the same thing: set up a clear goal to do over a short time (a day or two, or a week, is fine). The result may surprise you!

Well, I'm back off to my drumkit ... I'll keep you posted on my results. In the meantime, happy trails!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Keeping our eyes on the prize

I think the weight-loss journey is kind of like a roller coaster - sometimes it's easy to handle, sometimes it's hard, sometimes you can see the next twist or turn before hand, and sometimes you can't. It's not always simpler to stay motivated through all the trials and tribulations of slimming down, but I've always found that having a clear and important goal in mind makes it a lot easier.

Why do you want to lose weight? For your health? For your physical fitness? Maybe vanity is your biggest motivator - it was, and is, for me. Perhaps a combination of these and other reasons is what finally drove you do decide, "now is the time to lose the fat."

Notice this has little to do with what others want - "the doctor wants me to lose weight" isn't enough. If the doctor told you to lose weight for your health, and you want to be healthier, focus on that: "MY weight is unhealthy, and I want to lose weight for MY health." Now, I'm not saying that what other people want isn't important, because it sure can be. But what the doctor wants - or what your spouse, sibling, friend, child, coworker, or anyone else wants - is nowhere near as important is what YOU want.

So, now that we have a "ME-centric goal" (I want to lose weight because _________ ), let's visualize it. What does "slimmer you" look like? What can "skinny you" do that you can't do now? Make this visualization as detailed and vivid as possible.

If you want this goal enough, if your visualization is powerful enough, this can be a great tool to help you overcome temptation. Think about what "slimmer you" looks like, and then ask yourself whether what you're eating is helping or hurting your efforts. I think you'll be amazed at hope much this exercise, with your new clear goal in mind, helps you keep your eye on the prize.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

This is why you're fat.

I'm not gonna lie - I've had a perverse obsession as of late with If you haven't surfed over there, it's essentially a collection of photos featuring disgustingly caloric edible creations which, if a made a regular part of your diet, would provide a clear explanation for why you're fat. Having a couple deep-fried beerritos a week can't be too good for the old love handles.

But this site, gross and comical though it may be, really made me think - it really isn't that hard to tell why we're fat, is it? Whether you wear them on your sleeve or carry them deep within your subconscious, people struggling with their weight have at least a couple obvious causes of their robust waistline, and addressing these must be key to slimming down. Stated simply, I think we should try to figure out why we're fat, then figure out how to be skinny. We can do this through simple observation.

Ever watch skinny people eat? Most of them don't eat like folks with food issues do. My sister is one of these slender freaks that eats half of what's on her plate, savors every bite of her fave foods, and won't eat dishes that aren't that satisfying. Eating in moderation, tasting every morsel, and choosing foods wisely, huh? That must be why she's skinny!

Myself, at my old weight, was the polar opposite. Why would I want to leave perfectly good, uneaten food on my plate at the end of a meal? Why bother to taste and chew when I could shovel food straight into my throat? And as for just eating foods I like? EVERY food was my favorite food! Why was I so big? Probably because I was eating like a fat guy - that's why I was fat.

So I guess that's something to think about - if (to a great extent, anyway) our eating habits our connected to our physique, then what does your eating style say about YOU? My transformation from fat to slim was accompanied by an ESSENTIAL eating-habit-shift from "fat eating" to "skinny eating." It's not magic; our weight is determined by our calorie intake and expenditure, effected to a great degree by our style of eating.

I know the shift can be made - I did it. And YOU CAN TOO!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why I LOVE Fast Food

I'm a college student, so it almost goes without saying that I end up in a drive-thru now and then. It's cheap (I'm broke), it's open late (I like to have a good time!), and it's quick (sometimes I've only got a couple minutes to spare) - all pluses in my book. Aside from economic and temporal concerns, however, I think there's a lot of benefit for the weight-conscious to gain from the occasional visit to their favorite fast foot eatery.

First off, I'm a big fan of the a la carte menu. Plenty of restaurants have them, but they usually constitute the basis of the menu at fast food places. I almost never get combos, preferring to pick and choose the most enticing (and healthy) menu items - I get exactly what I want, nothing more, nothing less.

As you may have noticed, the quality of the average fast food menu has improved dramatically over the last several years. In their text, Persuasion, Social Influence, and Compliance Gaining, Robert Gass and John Seiter attribute this to all the bad press these establishments have gotten. Makes sense to me - I have trouble believing that these most companies really have our health in mind when creating their menus. Whatever the reason for the change, though, we can now reap the benefits - from Taco Bell's Fresco Menu to the Healthy Indulgences (including their tasty Sinless Sans Fat flavors) you can now find at Coldstone Creamery, it's certainly easier now than ever before to be kind to your waistline with fast food. Plus, most chains post their nutitional info on the web, so you can do your homework beforehand - knowledge is power!

As far as I'm concerned, the best things about grabbing fast food are the portions - I love to make meals out of a bunch of random menu items. I'm a big fan of the value menu at El Pollo Loco (reviewed by Cheap Eats here), and two of those little Honey BBQ KFC Snackers make a satisfying (and healthy) lunch on-the-go. Plus it's so cheap!

I think it's time folks think about letting fast food back into their lives - like everything else, in moderation, it can be a part of your successful weight loss. Plus the time- and money-saving benefits speak for themselves.

So next time you stop by Taco Bell to order a Bean Burrito Fresco Style, tell them Ben sent you - they know me over there.