The Journey Never Ends

No matter if your issue is weight loss, addiction, mental health or any other struggle the journey will never end. It is important to remember when you reach that final goal thinking the journey is over, getting careless is your new biggest enemy. It is really easy to backslide. Before you know it you’ve gained 20 pounds or smoked a pack of cigarettes.

For me, as soon as I reached 155 pounds I thought I was in a place were it was OK to eat that extra piece of pizza or have a bowl of ice cream. Skipping a gym day didn’t seem like anything to be concerned about either. I kept telling myself, I’ll pay attention tomorrow. One day won’t hurt. Before I knew it I gained 20 pounds and was still saying the same thing to myself. I’ll start again tomorrow.

We need to never forget how much work it took to reach the summit. Maintaining is hard and it is important not to beat ourselves up when we make an error in judgement. This is one of the biggest reasons I think we all need support from others. We need someone to say it is OK to not be perfect as well as be encouraging when we thrive.

One of my friends, years ago, encouraged me to create a picture journal of my journey thus far. I have to say that was one of the best ideas ever proposed. I look back at the old me and barely recognize myself. It brings back the memory of how I felt physically and emotionally and I find it a great reminder to never forget. I suggest to do the same to everyone that has been through or is working on transformation.

The Weight Loss = Health Misconception

First, I have to be clear that I am not an MD or dietitian. I have studied the sciences; hard, social and psychological so when I read the research I do understand what is being reported. It is crucial that we, as a society, stop accepting something as gospel just because an MD published it. I am not saying that the information they, and others are providing is not correct just that we need to question everything. Nutrition research as a whole is inconclusive so I beg you to not just jump on the most recent plan. I read a lot about nutrition, fitness and health as a whole. Lately, I have run into MDs saying that exercise does not matter for weight loss. If you do not pause once reading or hearing that phrase you will miss how empty this statement is.

Your weight does not define you or your health. It is a factor of health and often weight gain is a result of something else before it turns into a cause of further dysfunction. Weight loss, by itself, is possible without fitness or counseling but what about everything else? You can cut carbs and loose those extra pounds or count calories (something that seems to be going out of fashion) or a combination. The thing is that loosing 10 or even 20 pounds does not mean you are healthy.

People with an acceptable number on the scale can suffer from all sorts of ailments that we generally associate with obesity. Overweight people can have great stamina, strength, bone health and happiness.

I am not saying that weight loss is something to ignore just that it is not the only thing to worry about if you are concerned about holistic health. Exercise strengthens your bodies structural integrity. It also gives you mental and emotional vitality. To top it off focusing on the scale can be discouraging!!!!!! Often, the mental block caused by that focus intern causes failure. If you set performance goals and stick to a plan you will see results. Weight loss then becomes a side effect and you are emotionally/mentally stimulated with your bodies positive feedback mechanism to continue to challenge yourself.

Weight loss does NOT help build strong bones. Your bones need impact and movement to be strong. Weight loss does NOT build cardiovascular wellness (I admit it reduces the stress placed on the system but does not strengthen the system). Weight loss, depending on how it is done, can slow down mental acuity and reduce your emotional coping skills. Movement increases the links made in the brain and quickens the responses. Exercise provides endorphins that provide lasting joy and a feeling of power and peace.

Helping people loose weight as well as become strong mentally and physically is my passion. My point is simply that weight loss does not stand alone and it is time we change the conversation.

“It’s Embarrassing”

Have you ever thought that going to the gym is too embarrassing? I definitely had that same thought hundreds of times. Recently, I have been talking to friends and family. The common theme in almost every conversation is that the gym is an embarrassing place to be. I understand the phrase fully and am at a loss as to how to convince those people I care about that the gym is not a place to fear or feel self conscious. What words could I possibly say to convince you to throw out self doubt?

We use the word “embarrassing” in casual conversation almost daily. What is the real meaning of this casual term and how can we remove it from our vocabulary? Embarrassing in an adjective used to describe something that makes us feel self-conscious. From an athletic conversation “performance anxiety” is a better description of the phenomenon. Performance anxiety is a consequence of fear and cognitive interference which results in withdrawal (Smith, Smoll & Schultz, 1990). We punish ourselves because we are afraid of a self-perceived expectation of our abilities.

Since this is all internal we can make a decision to change it. Let’s work backwards, step by step to see how we can accomplish this intellectual challenge. Once we can understand something from an intellectual perspective we can move on to changing the emotion and the resulting behavior. I found this great article concerning strategies for overcoming embarrassment. https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-overcome-embarrassment/

Let’s begin with the self-perceived expectation of our own abilities. I challenge you to write down what you think you should be able to do. PAUSE Was what you wrote down based on what you see others doing? Was it based on what you could do when you were 20 years old? Now write down your current activity level. Somewhere in between these 2 items is a realistic expectation. When I was morbidly obese and stepped into the gym for the first time in years. I looked around and saw people running, jumping lifting heavy weights and my first instinct was to do what they were doing. Because the expectation I had of myself was not realistic I was embarrassed. The first thing I did wrong was to compare myself with others. We ALL MUST STOP this practice. Many say it is human nature I say it is a learned behavior. If I am correct, and it is a learned behavior, then we can can teach ourselves to stop the unhealthy comparison.

Now that your self-perceived expectation has been adjusted then the rest of embarrassment falls apart at the seams. If we shut down the unrealistic expectation then we cannot be afraid anymore of not being able to perform. Hence the cognitive interference that we build for ourselves dissolves and failure is not possible. Every time you catch yourself saying that something is embarrassing investigate the reason you believe this to be true. I bet it is because you are afraid to fail. The only way to fail in life is to not try because all progress is a success even if that progress is simply learning what not to do.

Time Investment + Habit Change = Exponential Return

I don’t think it matters if you are a medical professional or working fast food, we know what is good for us.  If we know, why don’t we do the right thing for our physical being?  Is our daily activity habitual?  I know mine is.  I find great comfort in routine and this was one of the reasons beginning the journey to health was difficult.  We struggle as human beings to see outside our current space.  So how can we change where we are?  When was last time you decided to do something different?

The payroll company I work for is in the process of a major software upgrade.  The functionality of this upgrade is unbelievable at times.  I am sincerely excited about the possibilities this brings!  My excitement does not out way my hesitation and often frustration!  I know how to utilize our old software and can manipulate data to meet client needs efficiently and without hesitation.  My point is that what I have been doing day in and day out is what I am holding on to even though if I spend one day figuring how a new function works it may save me the equivalent of three days in just the first month.   As a result, my return is 3 times my investment.  If this were a financial investment the answer is simple.  As a time, investment it is a bit more difficult.  Last, as a change in my routine it can be outright nerve wracking!

Now let’s point this idea at health.  With today’s hectic life style and high stress jobs time is precious!  We work all day and when we get home we want to spend time with family or quite frankly, just relax!  Time and effort spent today, tomorrow and the next day will save you wayyyyy more than time in your future.  Focusing on Health Treatment today rather than Disease Treatment tomorrow saves you and your loved one’s time, stress, money and pain (physical and emotional). 

Excess weight causes a plethora of trouble down the road, but I am just going to focus on one aspect because of how tangible it is.  The general idea can be expanded into all the other troublesome realms of excess weight.  Throughout our lives we put stress on all of our joints and they slowly breakdown. Excess force (from weight or overuse) causes the tissue to breakdown faster than is natural.  As the tissue breaks down you feel PAIN!  Very strong, physical, tangible PAIN.  Right now, my own mother is not able to walk because of the pain associated with arthritis in her hips.  She is now experiencing a very real result of prolonged excess force placed on her joints.  The only way to relieve pain is to lose weight but, when you cannot move how is that a possibility?  Her time, her life and her money are all wrapped up in excruciating PAIN!  This is not a life that I want for myself or my family. 

I know that if I am not healthy now I will be spending my retirement in a chair just like my mom.  I want to be traveling world enjoying my life with my partner!  I want to be able to spend time with the younger generation of my family and be able to keep up with them.  Don’t you?  Many of you have children and your future will have grandchildren.  Do you want to be able to play with the kids, enjoy life and all it has to offer?  If so, then you must take steps NOW!  Your future depends on it!  Your family’s happiness in the future depends on it!

Build a Foundation

I have been working out for years on my own with the thought process that it isn’t that complicated.  I chalked up my many injuries to lack of coordination without connection to any suspicious underlying dysfunction.  Currently, I am healing from bi-lateral patella-femoral syndrome, something that was totally preventable (come to find out).  Now that I am studying to attain my NASM personal trainer certification I am learning all about core and joint instability and how it triggers injury. I believe there is a general misconception that strength = health.  Until recently it was my personal misconception.   

The NASM model begins with stability before moving on to strength and only after you are proficient in strength exercises do you move on to power related workouts.  I enjoy weight lifting so I have focused on that.  My personal trainer got me involved in power related workouts.  The problem is that I do not have the stability to be doing these types of movements. After what I learned this week and with my current injury I am going to step backwards and focus on balancing out my body first.  It’s like I built walls without first laying the foundation and many times my walls have fallen in with the slightest jolt.  Before I rebuild my walls this time I am going to be sure that my foundation is strong!

Phases of Progress

Phase 1: Start with small things

Phase 2: Change habits one at a time

Phase 3: Investigate your physiology and trouble shoot

Phase 4: It’s time to hit the gym hard and count calories or points or carbs….just count.

Phase 5: For me, skin removal!  For you, this may be irrelevant.

Phase 6: Finding new interesting physical challenges, just make it fun for you!

Phase 7: For me, helping others to achieve!

When you begin the path to health you can find endless amounts of literature with titles like 30 days to your bikini body or 10 days 10 pounds.  You will also find a plethora of miracle diet plans, pills prescriptions about specific foods not to eat.  If you take pieces from everything you may find something sustainable until then it is important to understand that you don’t get directly from 300 pounds to 160 by doing the same things the whole time.  Often the quick fix can make things worse in the long run because by taking extreme measures all at once you cannot sustain the changes.

Weight loss has many phases and they are unique for all of us.  When you are beginning “Morbidly Obese” small changes can make a fast yet manageable result.  For me, this phase was from 300 to 250 pounds.  I analyzed my diet, activity level and medications.  At first, I was in such bad shape that the medications had to remain but by the time I lost that first 50 pounds I was off the primary weight gain related substances.  I investigated dietary changes I could manage and stick with and began moving my body more.  It worked!  I lacked funds to attain any expert help or even join a club, so it required more patience than anything.

The next phase required more work, walking combined with less fat and sugar was not enough.  I had to find the next set of changes.  I took everything up a notch by adjusting my actions every 14 days.  One small change I could stick with for 14 days and then another small change.  The key was I had to change my habits.  I think this was the hardest part of the entire journey because progress was sluggish resulting in waning motivation many times.  It took me a year to lose 15 pounds and it was discouraging! 

I had to seek out the expertise of a Naturopath to begin making real progress again. For me stage three began and ended with specific medical guidance.  Tests were completed that western medicine does not support.  With the results of the tests physiologic repairs were made.  Hormones were balanced specific to my needs and my adrenal glands regained enough function to make a difference.  They will never function at 100% again but through very tightly managed adrenal rehab I was able to regain 40% function.  These major adjustments resulted in another 45 pounds loss that led into the more active areas.

Once I reached 195 pounds it was time for phase 4 to begin. Challenging workouts at the gym early morning and again in the evening while watching what I was eating.  It may seem like this would be more difficult than earlier phases but by this time it was fun, and I was mentally ready to challenge myself.  I was doing cardio and lifting weights and seeing less weight loss but my body shape was noticeably changing, and it was changing quickly.  I had to stop focusing on the scale because the numbers were barely budging even though I was dropping pant sizes.

Phase 5 was something that I never thought I would do.  I was disgusted by the idea and told everyone I would NEVER do it.  Weight loss was to get healthy no for esthetics! After I had so much skin hanging off my midsection and could no longer see a belly button I developed a disdain for my new body.  I was more self-conscious than I was before I lost the weight and I looked fat even though it was just loose skin.  I ended up last year having major plastic surgery to remove all this excess.  It took so much preparation but was necessary to move forward (there will soon be multiple posts related to surgery).

Now I am in phase 6 were I focus on real fitness goals and less on the way my body looks.  Obviously with greater fitness comes more muscle toning and fine tuning the body but it is the farthest thing from my focus.  I hired a trainer to get me started working out in new ways.  It has worked immensely well!  I had no idea I was capable of the things he has taught me to do.  The first time he told me about squat jumps I could not get my feet to get off the ground.  I never would have even heard of them without a trainer.  The number of things that the trainer has introduced me to will keep me challenging myself for a long time! 

The 7th phase will be when I am able to transfer what I have learned to help others regain their health.  To motivate without judgment and constantly encourage.  Once I complete my trainer certification my focus will always be positive and to support the mental/emotional struggle as much as the physical.

Competition

Competition with yourself is the only competition to focus on when you are regaining your health.  In order to compete with yourself all you need is a baseline.  When I began my journey, I used a treadmill to find mine. I was out of breath walking at a speed of 3.5 miles per hour and walking 1 mile at that speed was a lot of work.  However, I lost my first 50 pounds by walking.  I didn’t have the cardio ability to increase to a jog and my weight killed my knees, ankles and back any time I tried.  Now I am doing interval speeds that never would have occurred to me even a year ago.  We all have our own starting point and if you find yours you can watch the progress and stay motivated.  Don’t focus on what you could do when you were young or in the best shape of your life.  Focus on where you are now and take steps forward.

Last week my trainer had me doing obstacle drills that required explosive speed.  He said I had to do 5 rounds of each obstacle course but my 5th time had to be my fastest.  At first that did not make any sense but, by the end I completely understood what he was trying to do.  I competed with myself and with one of the drills I was able to drop from 14.2 seconds to 10.53 seconds.  The point was to find the baseline and then set a goal for my 5th run.  Do not set a goal before you know your own current abilities.  You will be surprised at what you can accomplish by keeping it pure and competing with only yourself.

Failure

I am afraid of failure but not afraid to admit it.  My fear has kept me from trying endless new things.  As I contemplate taking on a new challenge butterflies swell in my gut.  I told my partner, “I want to try ….xyz but I am so afraid to fail.”  He asked, “What does failure look like?”  I did not have an answer.  I know what the ideal situation is in my vision and I know what the next step down and the step below that look like, but I cannot think of any outcome that would constitute failure.

Is failure one of the reasons you avoid setting goals or taking risks?  When you set a goal to lose 25 pounds what is failure?  Anything that happens can only be positive!  Losing as little as 5 pounds is a success even just making a small step in the direction of health is a success.  So how can any outcome be considered a failure.  Next time you say to yourself, “I’m just going to fail” try to define failure with something tangible.  If you learn anything, loose one pound, do one more push up, eat one milligram less sugar in a day it is a W I N.  So, every time you slide backward stop calling it a failure because you learned something, and you did something good for yourself. Keep trying and you can get were you want to be!

Sweet Rewards

If you are trying to lose weight or just make an improvement in your health you need to look at how you relate to food.  I used to say to myself, “I’ve been so good today I deserve …”  The end of that sentence was usually ice cream (my biggest weakness).  Me being good enough for my “reward” could have been, being active, eating healthy the rest of the day, having a stressful work day or any other challenge.  The problem with this ritualistic view of reward is that excess sugar is poison for your body.  Sugar addiction is said to be more extreme than an addiction to alcohol or tobacco. 

Pay attention to your thought process when you are reaching for your next delicious sweet treat.  If you do mentally call this a “reward” try thinking about how increasing your risks for diabetes and heart disease could possibly be a reward.  If you enjoy the taste of rat poison would you call its consumption a reward or fight the urge to consume knowing what it can do to you?  I hope your answer is to F I G H T!  You are worth the effort!  We all are!  We also still need to be able to reward ourselves.  What makes you feel good that is not sugar or fat?  One friend would say massage another would say going for a walk outside, another watching a movie.  I enjoy acupuncture, the sauna, pool, walking outside or curling up on the couch in front of the fire place.  Your reward is one you have to decide on.  The only restriction is that the reward is not sugar or fat.

Does this mean that you should never eat anything sweet again?  Not exactly, but after you decide to change your self-talk the next step is to eliminate it completely for 14 days strait.  It took me 4 months before I made an entire 14 days without cheating on myself.  After 14 days more than my mind changed.  My bodies reaction to sugar changed.  I ate 2 bites of a candy bar and became violently ill.  The cells in my body realized that this was poison after 14 days of being without it and reacted accordingly.  After my body reset, I studied the glycemic index to find just the right fruits so that I was controlling blood sugar spikes.  I find personally that if I control my blood sugar I do not eat as many calories, my brain works optimally, and my energy levels are sustainable.

Please do not think that means I never have sweets these days.  I definitely slide backwards more often than I would like.  It is a life long struggle.  The important thing is that I can recognize when I need to do another 14-day reset.  If I catch myself early enough in my backslide I can reset in 3-4 days and loose the cravings.  That first 14-day reset is extraordinarily difficult and is not for the faint of heart.  But it is worth attempting!  Remember though that if you give yourself negative mental feedback in the process you won’t get through it.  Be proud of every day you succeed and count that as a win!

-References concerning the risks of sugar are coming soon-