Taming the Lion

There was a great analogy that was posted on the MyFoodDiary forums: Addiction is like a roaring lion. Addicts who use tobacco, alcohol or drugs have to slam the door to the lion’s cage and walk away to recover. Food addicts have to open the cage and pet the lion three times a day for the rest of their lives.

I’m certainly not saying that food addictions are harder to handle than drug or alcohol addictions. But there is something uniquely difficult about an addiction where you can’t just avoid the trigger completely. You have to eat. You can’t just walk away from food. You can’t draw that clear line. There’s no monitoring needed – the solution is very clear: DO NOT DO THAT.

This is not the case with food. With food, you gotta go in there and make nice with the lion. To me, that’s why diets like MediFast (I also tried this one very briefly) and Jenny Craig are so appealing. Follow these instructions on how to pet the lion, and it won’t eat you. But the problem, of course, comes when you have to fly solo – the lion looks awfully hungry.

While I did gain some weight – maybe in comparison to others, I never let it get too bad. But I feel I was lucky in that I quickly realized how easily it could be to just keep packing on the pounds. These are all reasons why I now monitor what I eat as carefully as possible. If I have to go into that lion’s cage, I’ve got to know exactly what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, how I’m doing it because otherwise, it’s all over. If I could quit food cold turkey, I would. But (a) I love food!!! and (b) well, you can’t. Sorry. I may be thinner now, but it’s something that I’m going to always need to keep on top of. I’ll never be able to turn my back on that lion.

Beyond monitoring/calorie counting, a few other things I do to keep the lion under control:

If there’s snacks in the house, do not leave them where they are easily reached or seen.
When I go shopping, I try to buy a few healthy snacks to help with random cravings. I’ll look for the healthiest, lowest calorie things I can find. But even then, if you’re just going to town on the bag, it’s not going to be good. Also, if I see it, I’ll start craving it, even if I wasn’t craving it to begin with. So I’ll put them out of sight. (On top of the fridge or waaay in the back of the pantry) That way I have them when I really need them, but I won’t just want them because “they’re there.”

Do not bring bad things into the house!
Maybe this goes without saying, but I’ve heard people who are on diets say they suddenly lose it and eat a whole bag of Doritos. Uhm. WHY is there even a bag of Doritos in the house?? Do not buy things that will tempt you or have portions so ridiculously small that there is no way you could stay within their range. Sometimes the kids want some of these things, and I tell them point-blank – Sorry, we’re picking out healthier snacks – not just for you but for me too. Clear out the pantry and the fridge of unhealthy food. Throw it away! And do not bring more into the house.

Pay attention to what you’re doing
This does kind of fall in the monitoring category – but I think it’s worth mentioning. It’s way too easy to grab the bag of “healthy snacks” and bring them next to the computer – and eat the whole bag without realizing it. (Or maybe that’s just me) If I want to snack while I’m on the computer (which is probably not a good thing to begin with, but whatever), I’ll go measure out a portion, leave the bag in the kitchen, and then bring just the measured portion with me. That way, hopefully when the portion is gone, I’ll be done, and if I still want more, at least I’ll be aware of what I’m doing: get up, measure out a second portion, leave the bag, go back to the computer. Sure, if your computer is close to the kitchen, this is probably not going to work for you. I’d say the best bet is just not munch by the computer at all in that case.

Choose wisely
There are some days that lion is just loud. And really damn hungry. Some days you just want a massive huge plate of food. On those days, I’ll try to deal with it by getting a whole head of lettuce, which thankfully isn’t very calorie dense, and having a massive salad. (Of course watch how much dressing you put on, that stuff adds up). I’ll add in some cooked chicken to add some protein, and that usually does the job.

Life getting in the way of health

It seems contrary to say that life could get in the way of health. If you are truly living a healthy lifestyle – wouldn’t health just be a part of life? That would be nice, but I think sometimes I continually battle to live that healthy lifestyle, and obstacles are always in the way of that. It is always a constant challenge. I have to accept that sometimes, living a health lifestyle doesn’t mean living it every second of every day. I am human, sometimes I lose focus, get distracted, have other priorities I need to deal with. And yes, that sometimes means forgetting about the “diet” (Sorry – not diet – HEALTHY LIFESTYLE!) 😉

The past week has been a perfect example of life getting in the way of health. I had two social events last week that impacted my dinner – My tickets for Harry Potter were on the early-ish side and that meant either completely skipping dinner or grabbing something from the movie theatre. (Neither option a particularly healthy one). The next night was a Margarita BBQ party. I planned on not overdoing it, and I didn’t totally pig out, but probably could have done better. Then the next day my daughter got sick at camp in the middle of the day, so I had to run and get her, get her to the doctors, run and get her medicine. She seemed better the next day, sent her back to camp, only to have to repeat the whole process again. Both nights, dinner became whatever was fast and convenient (which also usually means not the healthiest). Then on Monday night, Sam and I had our first date night in several months and we wanted to sample a number of foods from a nearby restaurant. This time, I KNOW I’ve done better.

(As another example – if you look at my weight chart on the right – you’ll see a huge drop and then a huge spike in the middle. That would definitely be life getting in the way of health. At that time in my life there were some significant events – one that made me stop eating completely for a few days, and then shortly after that a lot of traveling which made me eat food on the go. I think it took a while for my body and metabolism to recover from all that!)

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the interesting thing was that last week I hit a new milestone. A week ago my weight had been the lowest I’ve ever been able to get it down to. (135.2) I was worried that the past week would have really messed me up – but except for the few pockets of “could have done better” – the rest of the time I was doing okay. If my dinner sucked calorie wise, I had at least watched the calories for breakfast, and lunch and snacks.

So the a few takeaways I wanted to leave you with that I have learned:

1) Just because you blow it on one meal, doesn’t mean you’ve blown it for good. It’s not all or nothing.
If you know you’re going out later that evening, and know you want to be able to eat more “normally” – don’t figure the whole day is a loss and pig out all day. It doesn’t have to be that way. Save it for the party. That way the damage for the day is at least minimized. That’s not to say you should starve yourself during the day – but just keep the calories in a tight check. In the end, you’ll probably do better at the party than you thought, and you won’t have strayed off target too bad.

2) If you forgot to brush your teeth one day, would you throw your toothbrush away and figure the whole point of brushing teeth has been lost?
Of course the answer is no. You’d just brush your teeth the next day and get on with your life. This advice comes from one of the posters on the MyFoodDiary forums. I think it’s a great way of thinking about it. If one week is just a total disaster (like my week has been) keep trying to get back on track. Keep moving on. Don’t give up.

I did the above. Some meals had to slide and I ate more than I should, or the meal wasn’t as healthy as it could have been – but in between I did the best I could to stay on track. Things should start to settle down now. Work is still insanely busy right now, but I’m going to try and keep to the plan. The reminder to me that this is working is that despite the mistakes I made during the week – I still hit a new low today: 135.0lbs. So I only lost .2 lbs for this week – but given all the areas where I know I could have done better – I’m pretty happy with myself.

My love hate relationship with exercise

I have never been a gym-rat – nor have I even remotely liked exercise. Whenever I “feel the burn,” my instinct is to cry and quit and run home. However, I did want to live healthier – and you really can’t do that without fitting some level of exercise into the equation.

Last year, when I got serious, I joined Curves. That was fine for about 2 months. But it quickly got old. Yes, at least I was changing machines every 30 seconds or whatever it is – but it still got old. I tried bringing my own music or books on tape to listen to from my iPod. Didn’t help. At the time, I was doing Jenny Craig. I started Curves in April 2008, I started Jenny Craig in May. By September, I’d lost 15lbs. I was sick of Jenny Craig and couldn’t wait to get off the diet. Curves was boring me to tears. My work had gotten insanely busy – so it seemed like a good excuse at the time to just stop everything.

Of course I had intended to go back to Curves (and I thought I was “eating less”). By January, I hadn’t exercised again, and I’d gained 10 of the 15lbs I’d lost. (Well that was money (not) well spent on Jenny Craig!)

Don’t get me wrong – I think Jenny Craig is great and it does work. The problem isn’t the program. The problem is what do you do AFTER the program. Jenny Craig really didn’t teach me how to eat better. It taught me that if my meals came in a box, and I ate what they told me, I’d lose weight and keep it off.

Anyway – the diet is for another post.

So since January we’ve been members of 24 Hour Fitness. What I have learned since starting there:

1) While I liked how I looked when I was using the weights 2x a week – I really don’t enjoy it.
I think resistance training is important though. I haven’t done it in almost two months now and I’m feeling guilty about that fact. So we’re going to try, one day a week, that Sam and I use the weights together. Hopefully this will at least make it a little more interesting.

2) Exercise machines at the gym make me feel like a gerbil on a wheel.
So I try to use them as little as possible. I outright can not run on a treadmill. The bike machines makes my butt hurt. I’ve used the stair master a few times, but it’s not my favorite. The one machine I can somewhat tolerate (so long as it’s not more than 1x, MAX 2x, a week) is the elliptical machine. So what do I do at the gym? I’m trying to do classes. At the moment, my favorite so far has been the Zumba class. I love that class so much, I think I could do it everyday without getting bored. Unfortunately, it’s only offered a few times a week, and only one of those times works for me. I’m also going to try the Aqua class at some point.

3) Above all – in order for exercise to work – you have to find something you like or can tolerate.
This is the biggest thing, and it’s the reason I keep changing things up. Curves didn’t work, time for a change. I tried a bunch of machines at the gym until I found one I didn’t mind as much. Classes are fun and help on the “something different” front. There were a few I tried and didn’t care for – but the key is to keep trying different things.

Along that same line – I had never really tried running. But on a diet-related forum, a lot of people had been talking about their runs – so I thought I’d give it a try. That has turned out to be one of the things I’ve liked the most. I’m just beginning, so I can’t run for very long, so I’ve been switching off running and walking. And trying to work up to longer stretches. My goal right now with this is to work up to being able to run a 5k. I will say, though, that I’m kind of picky about running. Like I said before, I can’t run on a treadmill. (I feel like I’m going to go flying off the back of it) – so it has to be outside. But it can’t be too hot, or too cold. So this really limits how long I’ll be able to run. Right now, in the summer, I’ve been running a few times a week, in the evening, just before sundown – it’s cooled off by then and the temperature is perfect. We’ll have to see how long I can keep this up. By September/October, I may need to try the treadmill again if I want to keep the running going.

So my routine has been running 3x a week, Zumba class 1x a week, and if I need to fit in another day of exercise, I’ll add in an extra running day or I’ll use the elliptical machine. This extra day I’m going to try and swap out for an aqua class. My average calorie burn is about 300 calories. Zumba class usually has me burning between 400-500 calories.

I think one problem a lot of people have when trying to lose weight – is overestimating how many calories they’re burning when working out. If you’re using a machine and you go by the machine’s readout – you’re more than likely overestimating. This is the reason why I use a heart rate monitor. The one I use is this one: Polar F7

So these are a few things I’ve been doing and have learned. It’s all a journey.