Monday, 30 January 2012

I eat healthy and I exercise, so why am I not losing weight? What the Apollo 13 mission taught me

How much do we all love a weight-loss success story?  To read about or watch ordinary, everyday people conquering a goal that is so common to all of us – losing weight – by changing their lives and the way they look is inspiring.  I know I look and think, “I want that for myself.  Maybe I can do it.”

A successful magazine or TV story is one of great contrasts; a makeover consisting of a dramatic before and after.  And it’s not just the pictures; it’s the accompanying story as well.  But too often I read of people with a fast food, 3 litres of cola or block of chocolate a day habit with a preference for being a couch potato and surmise that it’s no wonder they lost weight if they simply ate a diet based on sound nutritional guidelines and got off their butt.  That’s not diminishing their achievement in any way; it’s just acknowledging the answer to their problem was common sense.
And yet there are so many people out there, like me, who consider their diet to be pretty good or healthy and do get regular exercise but still carry excess kilos they frustratingly can’t lose. 

In the information age, we are bombarded with news about what to eat and how to look.  This month, I don’t think there was a single magazine cover aimed at women in Australia that didn’t feature a bikini shot of a celebrity showing the good, the bad and the ugly with a feature story on a diet.  Armed with an excess of ‘scientific’ information and having done so many diets in the past, I’ve got a fairly good idea what I should be eating and try to do so.  I can put my hand up to eating fresh fruit and vegetables each day.  I rarely drink alcohol, don’t like pizza or fast food, and I love grilled fish and vegetables.
Then there is the question of exercise.  I have two beagles that insist on at least an hour’s walk every day – rain, hail or shine.  I like getting out in the fresh air and sunshine.  I exercise.

So the question I grappled with earlier in my weight loss journey was this; “if I’m eating healthy and I exercise every day, why am I not losing weight?”
I have to say, it took me a long time and an ocean of frustration to figure it out.  It was in the process of losing my second 15 kilos that I finally did.  At my heaviest, I needed to lose 35 – 40% of my body weight to be within a healthy weight range or BMI of 20 -25.   As I started to lose weight I realised that the answer lay not in extremes but in the number 40 or 40% to be exact or whatever percentage I was overweight at the time.

The portion size of the healthy food I was eating was about 40% more than it should have been.   If it wasn’t portion sizes, it was the hidden extras like avocado and cheese in a roast beef sandwich that added 40% more calories than I needed.  On the days, where I was strict with my three main meals, my snacks would derail me.  To be honest, they still can (it’s a work in progress for me).  I have never eaten a packet of biscuits in one hit and, this may sound like sacrilege, but I don’t like Tim Tams – of any variety. 
I have restricted my beverages to 1 great coffee a day and 1 to 2 cups of tea but by the time I added 1 or 2 biscuits to each of these drinks, my calorie intake was through the roof or 40% over my allowance.  And that was before I had yoghurt or a paddle pop for dessert at night or ditched the biscuits and had a blueberry muffin with my morning coffee.  I mean, surely the blueberries made it healthy and if my skinny friends were eating it each day, it couldn’t be that bad, could it?
My exercise was 40% less effective than it needed to be too. Yes I walked the dogs every day and when our beagles get the scent of a rabbit, they can run with speed like a greyhound but as they have aged, they have got slower.  Although we could walk for over an hour, I was barely breaking a sweat or getting puffed. I needed to do 40% more.

My inspiration came in the form of the Apollo 13 mission. You know the moon mission where things go horribly wrong and astronaut Jim Lovell says,“Houston. We have a problem.”? It’s a massive understatement of the situation at hand and the realisation there is no quick fix. I could relate to that. The Apollo 13 solution lay in first stating a goal that ‘Failure is not an option’ (another famous quote from the mission). It required systematically working through every possible option, going through a series of diagnostics to rule out and rule in possibilities, marshalling all resources available and finding and trying a series of small solutions that ultimately got the mission home safely. Having visited Kennedy Space Centre in Florida a number of times, I also know that everyone on the Apollo 13 mission team exercised personal leadership and responsibility while working for the good of the team.

On my journey to reach my goal weight I have had to own and acknowledge I have a serious problem.  I have also resolved that failure is simply not an option.  And in finding my solution, it took me a while to find Michelle Bridges’ 12WBT that would get me home to the place where I could live my best life.  I take responsibility for my actions and have, and continue to work through solutions.  I have trust and belief I can lose weight because I know Michelle has the formula right.  It’s hard to put into words the relief I feel to have found something that works and can get me all the way to where I need to be.  I can’t say it is always easy but I have the tremendous gift of the 12WBT family that pulls together like no other team I’ve ever known. 
To reach my destination, I have to keep making a series of percentage changes.  This round, with just over 15% left to lose, my eating and snacking needs to be 15% better than it currently is.  My training needs to be 15% more consistent and effective than it is.  My mindset needs to be 15% stronger. There are other things too.  If Michelle were to ask me how I’m doing today, I’d probably say about 85%; there is room for improvement.

That said, looking for 15% is like trying to find money in a budget that is already stretched.  ‘Nickel and diming’ as my American friends call it, can feel like stinginess and a step too far.  There are tough choices to be made.  Sacrifices to endure.  And there is the joy that I am so very, very close to where I want to be. 
Champions, like astronauts, are prepared to go that extra mile, find that little bit more, and dig deep mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I am no longer weak and broken.  I am a champion in the making.  I can do it.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A Vision for the Future

This week I have been redoing my goals and as I'm a visual person, I decided to create a vision board with my themes and goals so I can put it in a place I can see everyday or tape it to front of the treadmill when I'm trying to conquer my fear of running. Putting effort into creating goals and a vision helps cement it in my psyche so that I have clear picture of where I want to go and how I want to get there. It's also a heap of fun to dream big.

My thanks to some of the people who inspired me with my goals;
Chris Hutton for the push-ups off a barbell and challenging me to dream bigger and expand my horizons when it comes to goal setting,
Bobby Henderson and Jenny Tanner for the Sun Run,
the team at North Shore Gym for the Boxing Class and running up Pymble Hill,
Mary Crea and Erica Sydney for snacking and tracking,
Annemarie Manning for the Bobbin Head Bike Classic,
Angela Wallace for rewards and wanting to look my best,
Fleur-Monique Hall for the burpees, and
Kaz Muddell who insists I can conquer my fear of running.

As always, the greatest thanks goes to Michelle Bridges and the entire 12WBT team.
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Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Excuses You Don't Even Realise You're Making. Is 31 a record?

In my first round of 12WBT last year, I realised I used a lot of excuses that had got me to the weight I was.  It took me five days to write them all because just as I was about to post them, I would think about specific situations that derailed me and find I had more to write.  I’ve ditched some excuses from last round, but heaven forbid, new ones have emerged.  I’ve got 31 excuses this round.  I’m not sure if it’s a record but it might come close.  It reminds me that being the best version of me is a process of constant renewal.

Even though I’m very conscious of my excuses these days, I’ve had moments where I’ve thought, “I still self-sabotage in a way I can’t pinpoint.”  The lovely Leanne Apple Freel (another 12WBTer from Sydney) helped me with a light bulb moment this week when she courageously confessed to eating a garlic bread and hot chip combo (known in the UK as a chip butty) and not knowing why.  It was an emotional response to a social situation that got her there, but I’ve had many of those. 
As an emotional eater I’ve learned I use a series of excuses, justifications and blame-gaming rather than one reason in isolation which results in sabotaging behaviour.  In reviewing my excuses, it has frankly shocked me that my responses to both food and exercise are so skewed towards the emotional when so often I respond to other situations and challenges in life intellectually.  I’ve also realised the resulting behaviour or weapon of choice (food) usually goes straight back to my childhood. 

How often was I given a chocolate, lollies or a biscuit for being good, to feel better if I was upset, or to keep me occupied while other things were happening?  Too often it seems.  In a childhood where we regularly moved house, interstate and overseas, food also kept me company when I was the new kid in town.  Any wonder my excuses are so layered.  It explains them but it doesn’t justify or make my behaviour appropriate.
Having become so practiced and adept at making excuses, I’ve discovered that my subconscious can run through excuses so quickly that I don’t even realise I’ve made them.  It’s a form of intellectual shorthand we do every day.  Think about when you meet someone for the first time and decide within seven seconds if you like them or not.  You don’t think about the reasons because you are so practiced at forming impressions, making judgements and doing a quick tally of the reasons why you like somebody.  It’s the same when I want to order a blueberry muffin with my morning coffee.  Half the time I don’t even think it through.

To break down my excuses, I’ve had to bring them from the subconscious into the conscious and peel back the layers.  Some are obvious, some are not.  Some I use more often than others. Most aren’t used in isolation.  And I know I’m really, really scraping the bottom of the barrel when I blame the dogs for my behaviour.  The two I use the most are tiredness and allowing events and other people to control my day rather than planning it more carefully (actually its probably more like laziness on my part).  Last round I had enough flexibility to be successful at 12WBT with minimal planning.  So far this year, I know that’s not going to work.
My key strategies for overcoming my excuses for this round will be;
  1. Get to bed early, get up early, and get adequate sleep.  Do my exercise early in the day so the monkey is off my back and I can focus on other things without losing sight of what is important to me.  Eat at regular meal times.
  2. Take a leaf out of wonderful Mary’s (Splasharama’s) book and plan on a weekly basis right down to snacks, exercise, meal times and calorie counts.

I’ve listed the excuses and solutions I use here if it helps you discover the ones you use and find ways to conquer them.  The main thing is that you think about your situation and what you do.  Putting them out there means you can no longer hide behind them but the more you hold a mirror up to yourself, the more you will see clearly where the problems lie and how to address them.

1.       I ate it because it’s in the cupboard.
Don’t buy it.  If it’s not in the cupboard, you won’t be tempted.

2.       I just feel like something nice or something to go with a cup of coffee/tea.
Plan for 2 snacks a day and if you still want it, put the treat on lay-by for later. Chances are the cup of tea will be enough and you won’t need the treat later.

3.       I deserve a treat because I’ve been on a diet and working so hard to lose weight and need a break.
And what? Undo all the hard work.  Think how hard it is to burn 500 calories and that muffin you want is 750 calories. Buy a magazine or treat yourself to a movie or manicure.

4.       It doesn’t count if no one sees me eat it.
What you eat in private, people see on you in public. There’s no such thing as secret eating.

5.       There’s nothing to eat in the house and I don’t feel like cooking so I’ll order take-away.
Get organised, cook and freeze some meals so that there’s food on standby for the times you don’t feel like cooking or, ask for help cooking to take the pressure off.

6.       Everyone else is having it; I don’t want to miss out.
Once I’ve lost weight and learnt to keep it off, I can learn how to build in the occasional treat.  Until then stayed focussed on the goal at hand.

7.       I’ve slipped up today, I’ll start again tomorrow.
One meal or snack does not equal a day’s eating.  Recover immediately rather than defer to the next day.

8.       I’m tired and I need a pick-me-up.
Get to bed early and have a good night’s sleep.  Make sure you eat meals at regular times.  Take a multi-vitamin, rest if you have to, and drink some water or get some oxygen into yourself with a walk.

9.       I can’t be bothered.
Um.... JFDI!!!  Motivation is a crock.  Remember, if you really want it, you’ll find a way and if you really don’t you’ll find excuses.

10.   I’ll feel better if I have this.
Actually you’ll feel crap.  Your body doesn’t like that food anymore.  Particularly sugar / fat / stodgy combos.

11.   I’m running late and I’m going to grab what I can.
Get organised and plan your day better.  Keep a healthy snack in your bag on standby.  Don’t let others dictate your day, stay in control of your time

12.   It doesn’t count because I shared it with the dogs.
Blaming the dogs is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.  Besides, the dogs are supposed to be on a diet too.  Fat dog = fat owner.

13.   I love that type of food.
Do you really love it or do you like the look and thought of it.  How does your body feel when you eat that type of food?

14.   I like something sweet after dinner.
After dinner snacking is a habit that can be unlearned.  Put Michelle’s 3 questions on the fridge with her picture beside it to stop you in your tracks.  Would you eat it if Michelle was here watching you?  Not likely.

15.   I’d rather read or watch TV or sleep-in.
You always feel better after exercising and your reward can be reading or watching TV. If you need more sleep, go to bed earlier.

16.   I’ll do it later.
Later never comes or later becomes later. 50% of the time when you don’t plan time for it, it doesn’t happen.  Make it a goal to get your workout done early in the day.  Get the monkey off your back then the day is yours.

17.   I hate sit-ups. I have no upper body strength. I can’t do planks, push-ups or tri-cep dips.
The more you practice, the easier they’ll become.  Get help with your technique.

18.   I don’t think I can exercise that hard.
You didn’t think you could climb a mountain in Canada but you did.  Just do your best and see what happens.

19.   I don’t want to go to a gym on my own.
Talk to the trainers.  Get to know people.  Join in some 12WBT activities.

20.   I’ve just washed my hair and don’t want it full of sweat.
Blow dry your hair when you get home from the gym for heaven’s sake.

21.   I’ve run out of time.
Don’t allow your day to happen.  Plan it. Get it done early.

22.   I’ll walk the dogs before I get my workout done.
The dogs can wait.

23.   The dogs make me feel guilty if I put my running shoes on and don’t take them for a walk.
Dogs are experts at pulling sad faces.  If you do your workout early you can still get their walk done before 9am or give them an evening walk.

24.   I’ve missed the gym class now so I won’t bother.
Go and do a cardio workout, weights or Michelle’s Crunchtime DVD instead.

25.   I have a real fear of running.
Keep practicing, do fun runs, and follow the interval program. Have your ventolin and water with you, go to the toilet before you start, forget what teachers said to you years ago.  The only way to conquer your fears is to face them head on.

26.   I don’t want to do weights because it means going into the ‘secret men’s business’ floor of the gym and I feel overwhelmed by not knowing my way around the weights room and intimidated by all the posers / men.
Do pump classes.  Find a friend to do a weights session with you.  Use a PT session to do weights.

1.       I’ve got a busy day and work is my income and a greater priority.
You can exercise, eat right AND work but you have to plan.  Millions of people do it every day. Without your health or if you’re sick, you can’t work anyway.

2.       By the time I get the dogs walked, I haven’t got time to exercise.
Get organised.  Schedule in the dog walk.

3.       It’s not fair I gain weight so easily and lose it so slowly.  Why bother?
Life’s not fair.  Get over it.  You can waste a lot of time and energy trying to make it fair rather than focussing on what you have to do.  Small losses each week add up to a big loss.  Follow your journey, not someone else’s.  The point is to get to your destination.

4.       The weather is awful or it’s too late in the day to exercise now.
Go to the gym or wear your raincoat.  If the gym is closed, do a DVD at home.

1.       I had to drop everything to help a family member / friend and lost control of my day.
Keep a healthy snack in your bag or pre-pack a meal before you race out the door or chalk it up to experience and get straight back into your routine.

Monday, 16 January 2012

7 reasons why it's different this time

I went on my first diet at the age of 10 and have pretty much tried everything over the ensuing three decades with varying degrees of success, some several times over.  From the commercial (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Gloria Marshall, Sureslim) to the faddish (grapefruit, Israeli army), to the celebrity-endorsed (Dukan, Atkins, Pritikin, Miami Beach), to the downright stupid and dangerous (rapid loss, celebrity slim, fatblaster).

A couple of years ago I decided to go back to a diet that had proven to be common-sense and sustainable and rejoined Weight Watchers.  I reached the point where this was the last time I would ever lose weight so it had to be something sustainable.  Unfortunately I hit way too many plateaus (I'll write about that in another post) and kept searching until I found Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation (12WBT).  And it worked.  It really, really worked and continues to.

When I joined 12WBT, I did all the pre-season tasks Michelle asked of us very diligently.  But there was something Michelle didn't ask us to do that I had to; and that was to ask myself, "if this is the last diet I ever do, what's going to be different from any other diet I've ever done?"

It's that old chestnut, 'if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got'.  And I had no more weight loss failures left in me.  So here's what I said would change;

1.  I cannot pull weight loss rabbits out of hats.  Be consistent.

Weight loss is something you have to work at every day, every meal, every exercise.  In the past, there were times when I'd have 5 days of 'sort of' following a diet and then be good for the 48 hours prior to a weekly weigh in, hoping I could pull off a 1kg loss.  Pulling an all-nighter to swot for an English exam is one thing, but guess what?  Your body doesn't swot.  It responds to consistency in effort, time, attention, and being treated with respect.  So this time I would be consistent.

2. Intelligence and creativity aren't pre-requisites for losing weight, in fact sometimes its a hindrance.  Get on with it.

Losing weight requires action.  Not excuses, not bargaining, not arguing.  Action.  Having a few brain cells can get you researching answers in order to blame your weight on the latest scientific findings or using creative excuses for your behaviour.  The most successful people to lose weight get on with just doing it.  So I promised I would stop  second guessing, thinking I knew better, or trying to outsmart an expert that has successfully helped people lose weight over a long period of time.  I decided to get on with it, do what works with good grace and enthusiasm, and don't argue or make excuses.

3.  You can wish too hard for something.  Be realistic.

Every diet I've been on I was so focussed on losing a massive number of kilos by a certain date and piling on the pressure to hit a number that I barely lost weight.  I was so focussed on the number when I should have been focussed on what I had to do to reach it.  All that wishing never worked.  In fact, when I went overboard exercising or eating fewer calories or stressing about a big weight loss number I'd either stay the same weight or lose a small amount.  The weeks where I just relaxed, did what I had to do and focussed on other things were the weeks where I dropped weight.  This time I decided to set realistic goals, make a plan for reaching it, not compare myself with others and then get on with the work and the results will take care of themselves.

4.  Your body reacts to the 'bad fairy/negative' voice in your head.  Be positive.

My self-esteem and worth has taken a battering over the years.  And the voice of 'absolutes' has sometimes taken over with self-limiting beliefs like "I'll never be thin, I'll never lose weight, I'll never be loved, I'll never look good, etc."   When I say negative things to myself, I generally don't succeed or lose weight.  But when the good fairy says "you can do this, you're making progress, this is fun, yay, you are worth it" my body says "hell yeah!" and reponds positively.  Being positive makes such a difference and it was how I was going to and still do approach 12WBT.

5.  You can only tread on someone's toes if they are standing still.  Be tough, get moving.

I've experienced the best and very worst of how people behave towards people who, like me, have had a lifetime weight problem.  There have been times when my soul and physical self have been literally wounded by how other's have treated me.  Life is not fair.  It never will be.  Some battles you have to fight and others you have to walk away from.  In the past I would have let comments and behaviour  by others paralyse me in reaching my goals or give me a reason to procrastinate or quit.  Not this time.  I've learnt that losing weight requires action and if people want to ridicule me, I'll either ignore them or put them straight but they don't step on my toes and hurt me because I'm not stuck standing still.  I am moving towards my goals.

6.  If you plan on failing, don't tell anyone what you're up to.  Success requires honesty and committment.

Most diets I've been on, I've tried to keep hidden from others.  Sometimes with good reason (think of the naysayers, the diet saboteurs, and the so-called experts) but mostly because if I didn't stick with it or failed, I didn't have to cop a backlash.  In other words I had all the authority and responsibility for my actions but no accountability - to myself or anyone. 

This time I decided to tell the world I was doing 12WBT because even though I knew I would trip up sometimes, I was committed to succeeding.  I therefore had nothing to hide and I knew the person I was most accountable to was myself.  And Michelle Bridges.  In fact, the first person I gave my word to was Michelle. 

I looked her in the eye on the video where she asked me to commit and I said, with tears streaming down my face, "If you stick by me Michelle, I'll stick by you.  I promise I will give you 110% if you promise not to abandon me and help me find a way to conquer my weight.  Because I need your help.  I cannot do it alone.  This is me with nothing left inside and I have no more weight loss failures left in me. If you shake my hand, I give you my word."  And so we did.  It still amazes me that she would believe in me when I had lost belief in myself and failed so many times.  But together we have got me weighing 30.6kg less than I used to.  Yay to that. It still makes me cry.

7.  Success comes from a place of love.  Be kind to yourself.

At my heaviest weight I was never in denial.  I knew how much I weighed.  I knew I didn't look like the average person or that my size was acceptable to me or society.  I simply chose not to look at myself.  I could look in a mirror and see my eyes, or hands, or cleavage but I never looked at all of me.  It was too painful.  And I hated, really really hated myself and my body.  In the past, I tried to lose weight from a starting point of hate, despair and desperation.  It drained me of so much energy feeling that way - to the point I was constantly exhausted.  I decided enough was enough.  My body was actually pretty amazing to have got me asn far as life as it had even though I had treated it like garbage and with more contempt than my worst enemy. 

My body, I decided, is a part of me that deserves to be treated with respect.  That same way Buddhists treat a zen temple.  It deserved good, nutritious, nourishing food and the kind of exercise that makes it work at optimal level.  It was time I treated my body like my best friend; with love, care, maintenance, respect, grace, and joy.  And it was time to re-integrate myself with my body and not see it as something hated and separate from the rest of me.

And guess what?  When you come from a place of love, the universe aligns with you to help you reach your goals.