Sunday, December 5, 2010

No, I'm not "on a diet."

We’ve all heard that annoying line “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change.”  This is true, but don’t you get completely fed up with over-used statements like this? Especially when you’re trying to lose weight and all you really want is for it to happen, and to be able to keep eating the foods you like in the process? I mean really, who wants to give up their favorite things? Pretty much nobody, as far as I can tell.

I also get really sick and tired of television ads for diet programs, exercise equipment, or DVD’s promising you incredible results “with just 20 minutes a day every other day” with teeny little fine print that says “results not typical” at the bottom of your screen. Believe me, I would love nothing more than to make 5 easy payments of $19.99 and wake up tomorrow morning a buff, toned, size 2 but the fact is, that just doesn’t happen. And if you think any of those people with six-pack abs standing by the pool with their arms around each other’s waists were ever as doughy and soft as Homer Simpson you’re really kidding yourself. Trust me, they looked that way when they were hired to do the infomercial; they didn’t get that way in four weeks with a little plastic machine every other day for 20 minutes a day.

As for “diets” … please let’s just not get me started. Anybody who tries to tell you to cut out a food group should be ignored. In fact… anyone who tells me to cut out a food group can just exit my earshot post-haste before they get hit with a flying shoe. And please don’t give me any crap like “no eating after 7:00 pm” or “drink 6-8 cups of green tea a day” or any other such ridiculous nonsense.

There’s so much “information” all over the place about diets and exercise and what is or isn’t a healthy body weight or how to achieve one… it’s just craziness. Anyone who really needs and wants to lose weight is going to become discouraged almost immediately trying to figure out what “the right thing to do” actually is. So what IS the right thing to do? I hate to say it, but the fact is, you can’t “go on a diet.” You have to make a lifestyle change. Awful thing to say, I know, but brace yourself because I’m going to spout off a bunch more completely over-used statements, too! Bear with me, though, because all of what I’m going to say actually worked for me, and none of it is all that difficult. The main thing, above and beyond any advice that anyone can give you, though, is simply this: MOTIVATION. Without that, you won’t actually do anything. Get motivated and stay motivated, because we only live once and you deserve to be happy and healthy.

After that, the right way for anyone… ANYONE… in my opinion:

Step #1: Don’t look at is as “losing weight.” Look at it as “getting yourself healthy.”
The best thing anyone can do for themselves is attempt to be healthier. Maybe you don’t feel unhealthy. Maybe you just don’t like the way you look, or maybe you just want to fit back into a favorite pair of jeans. But just like all of our teachers used to tell us: You can always do better. (*You see what I did there? Another totally over-used statement. Told you!) The fact is, if you made healthier food choices and added more movement to your lifestyle, whether you intended it or not, your weight and shape would also change. Consider the “weight loss” just a happy side-effect of getting healthier and feeling better.

Step#2: Tailor your “lifestyle change” to your own specific needs.
Nearly every single diet or exercise plan has the disclaimer “See your doctor before starting this or any other (diet/exercise)plan” … another one… but honestly, I actually did go get a physical when I decided to make “big changes” and it really did give me a jumping off point. I found out that I have slightly elevated cholesterol. Maybe you don’t. My blood pressure is just fine. Maybe yours isn’t. I wasn’t at risk for diabetes. Maybe you are. I have some arthritis in my joints. Maybe you don’t. Some people may have a vitamin deficiency or anemia… you see what I’m getting at? Get a physical and find out where you, personally, are in the grand scheme of things and what you need to work on in order to make positive changes. There are any number of things that can contribute to how you need to adjust what you are or aren’t doing in order to get healthier, which brings me to my third piece of advice.

Step #3: Educate yourself.
After you find out what your specific needs are, do some research. When I got my blood tests back and they indicated that my cholesterol was high, the doctor’s office told me that they’d send me an eating plan via snail mail. Naturally, I never got any such thing. But no matter, I have a brain and I’m more than capable of finding out what it is I need to do in order to help myself. So are you. The research I did on high cholesterol took on a kind of snowball effect, too. Finding out about how the body processes foods and manufactures cholesterol kept opening up other areas for research. I just kept going. I read about all different kinds of foods, about chemical additives, about the food industry… anything that seemed like it might provide me with useful information. I read voraciously, always keeping in mind that you can’t believe everything you read. The great thing about being human is that we can make up our own minds about things. We can think for ourselves, we can apply logic and reasoning, and we can decide what we think is best for ourselves. In any area of life – always do this. Just don’t be a sheep! (Ok, that’s a post for another day…) Really, though, there are endless resources out there and you’ll be surprised at how motivated you get when you’re armed with knowledge about your own health. And, don’t expect your doctor’s office to send you that eating plan. If they do, that’s fantastic, but the reality in this country is this: Our primary care physicians are completely over-run with appointments and can hardly keep up. Do yourself a favor and be proactive about your own health.

Step #4: MOVE IT!!!
Oh…. Nike says it best. Just do it. Any form of movement is better than no form of movement. But, the key to exercise is to find something you actually enjoy. I’m baffled by people who go to the gym, and say “I hate going to the gym.” Uh… then why do you do it? There are a billion ways to get exercise. If you have dogs, walk them. Play Frisbee with them. If you have a bike, ride it. Maybe you have an old Jane Fonda VHS tape hiding in the closet that you used to love. Nobody has to know! Honestly if anyone had told me ten years ago that I would become hopelessly addicted to martial arts and cry a river every Tuesday and Thursday night for MONTHS after having to give it up (for financial reasons) I would have laughed hysterically in their face, but it happened. Mom always said: You never know what you might like until you try it. I found out that I love lifting weights. I love punching a heavy bag. I also found out that I hate jumping rope. Do what you like to do. Try lots and lots of things. Try things you think you won’t like. You might be shocked. I never would have thought I’d like yoga, but I tell you, if you have any kind of back or joint pain get your butt into a yoga class ASAP. It’s an odd combination of relaxing and challenging at the same time and BOY OH BOY does it alleviate pain. Even within yoga, there are many different styles that you can try in order to locate one that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be the treadmill unless you really like the treadmill. Get yourself an mp3 player if you don’t already have one, and put your favorite music on it and just get moving. Even doing the simple things like parking really far away from the store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator DO make a difference.

Step #5: Make good food choices.
Yeah, I know… “DUH!!” Really, though, this is probably the most argued portion of “health” that I ever discuss with anyone. It’s something I am really, really passionate about, as well. When I say to “educate yourself,” I beg you to educate yourself in this area, as well. Food is something very personal to everyone. If there’s one thing I could never, ever do, it’s allow someone to say “Here’s your shopping list and menu plan for the week, this is what you will eat.” And then look at the list, see 50 things I either don’t like at all or would not get any enjoyment out of eating, and stick to that for the simple sake of winding up in smaller pants. When it comes to food, it doesn’t take a genius to know that a Big Mac is not health food, but kale is really good for you. We’re not idiots. We all know that a salad is a better choice than fettuccini Alfredo, but I hate salad and I love fettuccini Alfredo. We also all know that portion control is a major factor in what we eat, but if you’re currently eating double or triple portions, it’s really hard, if not impossible, to cut back to proper portions just because you decided “I start on Monday.” My advice where your food choices are concerned is this:

Don’t torture yourself; Do educate yourself.

For me, the food choice portion of my life is not difficult because I am not hard to feed. I’m not very picky; I like just about everything. My choice, after all my research, was to cut out fast foods, fried foods, processed foods, massed produced “junk foods” and to consume as much organic food as was available to me. This might not work for you. I’m not suggesting that you do what I do. But, I will explain why I chose to go this route.

For one thing, the research I did on food additives and preservatives just plain grossed me out and made me mad. I could dedicate an entire blog just to that. Secondly, by cutting out the items I mention, I was pretty much on an eating plan that would lower my cholesterol without even trying. Thirdly, by purchasing organics with the same food budget that I had previously been spending on much lower cost “processed” foods I was able to control portions simply because, for example, if you only have 6 eggs for the week, you aren’t going to have a three egg omelet every day of the week.

Pick nutritious foods that you like and eat correct portions. Don’t try to starve yourself and don’t try to force yourself to eat things you don’t like. If you go to a birthday party, have the cake. Maybe you don’t finish the whole piece, there’s no law against that. But torturing yourself is not the goal here, and it won’t get you results because eventually you’re going to say “This is awful, I am unhappy living like this” and you’re going to blow off your plan. Read up on nutrition, read food labels, and try new things. Hang out in the produce section. It starts to look really pretty and mouth watering.

Step #6: Get your required amount of sleep.
This is actually really, really important. The amount of sleep is different for all of us, but we all need proper sleep. Some people only require six hours, and some people require as many as nine. I have discovered that for me, the magic number seems to be seven hours. This is based on the fact that no matter what time I go to bed, if I allow my body to wake up naturally (as opposed to with an alarm clock) it is virtually always after exactly seven hours. When I was younger, I required nine. I’m not sure when it changed, but I am always at my best now when I’ve had my seven hours. Figure out what you need, and if you have to, go to a sleep lab and get tested if you have sleep issues. It’s really not a big deal to go, and it makes a huge difference in how you feel and how you function.

Step #7: Be patient!
It’s very true: Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have all come to expect instant results in life. I know I am sometimes guilty of standing in front of the microwave screaming “Hurry uuuuuup!!!!” I get frustrated when I’ve “been good” and don’t see the scale move for a few days, and it’s hard to not lose motivation sometimes. But if you keep reminding yourself that the goal is to get healthy, and if you concentrate more on how you feel rather than how you look or what you weigh, it’s much easier to be patient. The weight WILL come off. It’s a scientific certainty. But as you move towards getting healthy don’t concern yourself with bathing suit season or the class reunion coming up or any other event that you may have to attend. Just concentrate on how you feel, and how you want to feel as a result of making positive changes in your life.

Remember: Healthy, happy, confident, and energetic are sexy as hell. Make THOSE your goals. It’ll show, I promise!

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