A Difficult (But Necessary) Step for Losing Weight 40+

difficult-and-necessary-step-for-weight-loss-40+

This post is inspired from some recent experiences with clients and workshop participants. At first glance, these people looked very different. But they had one thing in common. While they had hired me/ came out to listen to me speak, they both completely refused to take in what I had to share. They hired me for my expertise, then subsequently refused to take it.

Did I take it personally? No. Human behaviour is fascinating. We’re always a little bit of two minds about change – there’s a part of us who wants to change. And, a part of us who doesn’t. In both of these cases, the part of them that didn’t want to change won.

Why am I sharing this with you? I mean, it doesn’t make much business sense to share my failures with you. I’m sharing it with you because there’s a lesson to be learned. A lesson that you can apply to any aspect of your health, but especially for those of us 40+ folks who are looking to have a healthy weight.

The first step to making any change in life is letting go of our past habits and beliefs.

Elsa from Frozen has it right – let it go! Even Oprah is talking about letting it go in her O Magazine this month.

Letting go of past habits, no matter how much evidence we have that they aren’t working for us, is difficult. This is especially true when you want to lose weight and you’ve been on diets in the past that haven’t worked. It’s amazing how often clients hire me because they’re at their heaviest ever, yet they’re still doing habits from past diets. Diets that obviously haven’t worked (at least long-term). Or, the diets worked when young, but they don’t work for us 40+ folks.

The most difficult step in losing weight in middle-age is letting go of past habits. Giving up things like:

  • Weighing yourself daily.
  • Counting calories.
  • Writing down every morsel that you eat.
  • Eating zero carbs.
  • Aiming for a magical number on the scale from your 20’s – pre-busy life, pre-kids, etc.
  • Denying yourself the pleasure of favourite foods.
  • Nutrition mis-information that you’ve accepted as fact.

You see, when people come to me they are hardly blank slates. What I’ve found is that once people let go of these past habits, weight loss follows. I’d call it magic if I wasn’t so science-based.

So I leave you with an important question: what do you need to let go of in order to achieve your happy weight?

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Remove this Sentence to Keep Away Your Diet Self-Saboteur

keep away your diet self-saboteur

Okay, fair warning. It’s rant time. I’ve got something stuck in my craw again and I’m throwing off my sunshine & rainbows positivity hat and going deep.

There’s a sentence that I hear people say when they’re talking about food. People say it all the time. But just because people say it frequently, it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

So, what’s this phrase that has me all hot and bothered?

“I can’t have that.”

Unless you have a serious food allergy and will go in to analphyactic shock, you can eat a food. But you may choose not to eat it.

If you’re vegan, you choose not to eat animal products because of your ethics. If you are Jewish, you may choose to eat kosher because of your faith. If you have food sensitivities, you choose to avoid eating those foods because you are choosing to avoid the symptoms that they cause. If you are on a diet/cleanse/meal plan that doesn’t allow certain foods, you are choosing to follow that diet/cleanse/meal plan.

Why am I going on and on about something that just seems like minor semantics? Because the way we think about food, also called our relationship with food, can either help us be healthy or it can work against us. Changing “can’t” into “choose” is one path to creating a healthy relationship with food.

There are two reasons why saying “I can’t have that” works against you:

  1. We’re all rebels. Making something taboo, off limits, a ‘can’t-have’ naturally drives us towards it. There’s nothing to make you want to eat ice cream more than to say that you’ll never eat it again. Saying, “no thank you, I don’t choose to have ice cream today” doesn’t trigger your inner self-saboteur in the same way.
  2. Be active in your life. “I choose” is active language. It’s empowering – you’ve made a choice. It re-confirms a commitment that you’ve made. In contrast, “I can’t” is victim language. Something is being done to you. As an adult, you have the power to choose what you eat and when you eat it. Don’t give away your power. You can turn to experts to give you advice on what to eat, but the ultimate choice, responsibility, power, remains with you. Foster this power. Each time you say “I choose _______” you are reinforcing your power.

With your newly opened eyes (and ears), read the two responses in the following scenario. Even better, read them aloud. Can you hear the difference? Can you feel the difference?

Scenario: Someone offers you a tray of cookies.

You respond: “No thank you. I’m choosing to eat less sugar.”

versus

“I’d love a cookie but I can’t have one.”

Keep away your diet self-saboteur – remove “I can’t” from your lexicon.

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Choose Food for What IS in It

choose food for what is in it

Choosing food for what isn’t in it has been the gateway to a whole lot of ridiculous food trends. I’m old enough to remember when everyone was talking about avoiding eating cholesterol. Like weeds, up sprung “cholesterol-free” labels on all sorts of foods in the grocery store. Highly processed foods like cookies, crackers, sugary breakfast cereals all had “cholesterol-free” emblazoned across them. People heard that cholesterol meant heart attacks so choosing low-cholesterol foods must be healthy choices. Right? Boy were people wrong. These foods were just as unhealthy as they were before they were marked with “cholesterol-free”. What’s worse, is that many people were happily scarfing down huge portions of these foods because they were cholesterol-free.

An example of this type of thinking/ behaviour: before, I might have had a couple of handfuls of potato chips but now I can eat an entire large bag because they’re cholesterol-free.

It sounds ridiculous when I break it down this way but it was happening. A lot. A particularly amusing label that I remember was bananas sporting “cholesterol-free” stickers. Why is this amusing? Because cholesterol is a fat made by some animals. That’s why it’s found in red meat…and us. Bananas, are a fruit (not an animal). They never did contain cholesterol. Bananas hadn’t changed. But here they were now labeled “cholesterol-free” and people were flocking to them.

I’m seeing this now with the gluten-free trend. “Gluten-free” is announced across all sorts of foods. Many of which never contained any gluten in the first place (thus, like bananas and cholesterol). These foods range from healthy choices to unhealthy choices. People are choosing them because “gluten-free” now equals “healthy” in many people’s minds. But the presence or absence of gluten has nothing to do with it. A chocolate cupcake isn’t a healthy choice suddenly because it’s gluten-free. It’s still a treat to be enjoyed once in a while – not by the dozen.

I’m not commenting on whether eating cholesterol was healthy or unhealthy. Nor whether people should eat or avoid gluten. That’s completely beside that point. What I want to draw your attention to is that when you choose foods for what isn’t in them, you leave yourself at risk for falling for these marketing traps.

Instead I want you to turn it completely upside down. Choose food for what IS in it. Your body needs to be nourished. You need to fuel it with good food and all the vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants, energy and other nutrients that it needs. Make most of what you eat be foods close to the way that Mother Nature made them (i.e. minimally processed) where all the good stuff hasn’t been removed through processing. Sometimes enjoy foods that you eat solely for pleasure.

Respect food for what it can offer. Respect your body and feed it well. Yes, in a world where we’re almost constantly told to hate our bodies, this act of choosing to nourish yourself can feel like a small act of rebellion. And so, I say it again:

Choose food for what IS in it. You’re worth it.

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Your Health is like a Bank Account

piggy bank

Today’s post is inspired by a conversation that I had with a client over the weekend. It’s a conversation that I have with most clients. We women tend to hold ourselves to a very high standard. There can be a good side of this; it helps us strive towards excellence. And, there can be a downside of this; being very hard on ourselves when we don’t live up to our expectations.

When applied to our relationship with food, I call it the dieting mentality. Going on a diet means that starting XX day, I’ll eat “perfectly” according to [insert name of plan]. I’ll never again eat sugar, highly processed foods, caffeine, [insert “bad” food]. Which sounds good. Except that life gets in the way. We get busy. We get stressed out. We get invited to a party. The holiday season arrives. Inevitably we eat the “bad” food. And, we slip back into our old habits. What follows? Our negative self-talk. We scold ourselves for misbehaving. We blame ourselves for not having the strength to stick to our new diet.

If this sounds familiar, I have some very, very good news for you. Being healthy doesn’t require us to eat “perfectly”. This dieting mentality has got it all wrong. Our bodies are amazing. They’re designed to be forgiving; to operate well even without the perfect fuel every day.

Here’s the analogy that I like to use to explain this phenomenon:

Our health is like a bank account. Every healthy meal and snack that we eat is like depositing money in a bank account. The more healthy choices you make, the more your bank balance increases.

There will also be days and weeks where you don’t make healthy choices – where you make withdrawals. If your typical eating habits are healthy, you have a big balance and it’s okay to take some withdrawals because your bank balance can take it. When life returns back to normal, you can start depositing money back into your account and build your bank balance back up again.

But, if your daily eating habits aren’t healthy, then your bank balance is near zero. When the crazy stressful times come, you don’t have much to draw from and soon you’ll be in overdraft. You’ll experience negative health consequences. You’ll be running on empty.

I hope that you can see how different this concept of healthy eating is versus the dieting mentality. The bank account mentality assumes that you’ll have times when you’ll eat unhealthy. Eating unhealthy isn’t “failure”; it’s a normal part of life. As such, there’s no need to be hard on yourself, to feel shame, to feel guilt. Instead, it’s an opportunity to be grateful – to recognize and congratulate yourself for building up your bank account to carry you through the stressful time. And, to be amazed at how resilient our bodies are.

Free yourself from the perfectionistic fear of food. Enjoy the journey of making deposits and withdrawals from your health bank account.

NGC: One Treat a Day

This is a powerful technique that I’ve used for a long time with clients who want to gain control of their cravings. I use it in my own life too. I learned about it so long ago that I can’t remember where I heard/ read it. I may have even changed the story in my memory over time, so apologies in advance if you’re a health professional who knows of the exact case and recognizes that I’ve inadvertently taken liberties with the story. Regardless of whether or not I’ve remembered the exact details, it’s such a powerful technique that I feel compelled to share it with you. So what’s this story? A woman couldn’t control herself around ice cream. Over her lifetime she would go for periods where she was “good” and didn’t eat any. She also had periods where she would devour whole tubs of ice cream, barely taking a breath between bites. She hated feeling so out of control with ice cream. She also wanted to lose the extra weight that she was carrying (that the ice cream was contributing to). You may be guessing that she was told never to eat ice cream again. Quite the contrary! The astonishing recommendation that she received was to enjoy a small amount of ice cream every day. You know what? It worked! She no longer felt out of control with ice cream. If she started to feel panicky and out-of-control with ice cream, she could reassure herself that she will be able to enjoy some more ice cream tomorrow. Knowing that she could eat it every day removed her drive to eat as much as possible at a sitting. There was no more panic about scarcity. And, she successfully lots weight.

Now some could argue that she could potentially weigh less if she didn’t eat ice cream every day. Perhaps. But from her past history she knew that any weight loss that she experienced from not eating ice cream would just come back (and more) when she reverted back to eating mass quantities of ice cream. Along with that weight would come the feelings of guilt, shame and defeat. Allowing the daily enjoyment of ice cream freed her from that unhealthy cycle.

I was inspired from this story and I make sure that I enjoy a treat every day.

I use this technique with clients who express a similar feeling of being controlled by their cravings. And for clients who truly want to get off the yo-yo dieting roller coaster.

There are two key aspects of this technique that I believe are vitally important:

  1. Reasonable Size: Choose a reasonable size for your treat. One measly bite likely won’t be enough to reassure yourself that you can enjoy your treat every day. You’ll still feel deprived. At the other extreme, enjoying a jumbo-sized treat each day won’t likely allow any weight loss. So what’s the “just-right” size you ask? I don’t have a firm answer for you. Because everyone is different with how much they need to eat to no longer feel the power of that scarcity. If my memory is correct, the woman in the story had a ½ cup of ice cream every day. I can tell you that I personally need more. You’ll have to do some experimenting with yourself to find your “just right” size.
  1. Enjoy your treat. Pleasure is the whole purpose that we eat these foods (it certainly isn’t for the nutrients). If you mindlessly shove it in your face then that food truly was a waste of calories. Pay attention to how your treat looks, smells, tastes, and feels in your mouth. Enjoy the experience.

The Perfect Afternoon Snack (for Adults)

The Perfect Afternoon Snack (for Adults)

It’s not just kids who need snacks. We adults need them too. Today I'm sharing the perfect afternoon snack for us adults. Why? It takes approximately four hours to digest food and start getting hungry again. Planning a healthy snack between lunch and dinner can prevent that late afternoon hungry-angry feeling (commonly called ‘hangry’). ‘Hangry’ is created by low blood sugar. Your low blood sugar will also cause you to search out (i.e. crave) sugary, fatty, salty foods. It’s a natural reaction, not a lack of will power.

The secret to healthy eating is prevention. Prevent becoming ‘hangry’ (and heading straight to the convenience store for processed foods) by planning a healthy snack before you get to that point.

So what’s the perfect snack? In truth, there isn’t just one perfect snack – one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to nutrition. Here are the elements of three styles of snacks. One of which will likely be the perfect fit for you.

The Perfect Snack Option 1: Just Produce

This is best if you have a relatively short time between lunch and dinner. Or, if you are very sedentary and don’t need any more calories from a larger snack. A piece of fruit or some raw veggies may be just enough to tie you over for about an hour until dinner.

The Perfect Snack Option 2: Produce + Protein

This more substantial snack provides both some quicker energy from the fruit and veggies and some longer, slower burning energy to keep you going for a few hours. This is my personal mid-afternoon snack. Here are some fantastic combinations to use as inspiration:

  • Strawberries and edamame
  • Carrot sticks/ baby carrots and hummus
  • Apple slices spread with almond butter

The Perfect Snack Option 3: Produce + Protein + Whole Carbs

This option is so substantial that it’s practically a mini-meal. Most of us don’t need this much food at snack time. But if you’re very active and/or in your young 20’s, it might be a good fit for you. Some ideas for inspiration:

  • Smashed avocado on rye crackers with a handful of cashews
  • Natural peanut butter and banana sandwich made on sprouted grain bread.

Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.

An Object at Rest Stays at Rest

An Object at Rest Stays at Rest

Two recent experiences really brought home an important life lesson for me. There’s a physics law (I can’t remember which one) that recognizes that an object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion.

As applied to life, what this means is that when we stop doing an activity, the natural state is to continue to have it missing from our lives. It takes considerable effort to start up again. But once we do make that effort, it’s natural to keep doing the new activity.

Let me illustrate with these two recent lessons:

  1. A friend of mine was fairly active in his childhood and teens. Growing up, soccer, mountain biking, and skiing were regular parts of his life. Living in Kitsilano in his mid-20s, his summers involved beach volleyball and winter weekends were spent skiing at Whistler. But then he moved away to where physical activity wasn’t a part of the norm. He changed jobs to be a part of an ambitious tech start-up company (read: crazy work hours) and had his first child. Suddenly it’s been a decade since his active life. After two years of hearing him complain about his belly, he bought a mountain bike and found a group fellow out-of-shape 40 year old fathers to meet up with to go biking. I can tell that he not only is having fun being on a bike again but that he feels proud of himself for being active.
  2. I too recently got back on my bike. For me it was 2 years that it collected dust. As opposed to my friend, I’m not a mountain biker. I have a clunky old bike that I enjoy riding around the city in the summers. Each spring, for the last 15 years, I take my bike in for a tune up and then ride it as my primary mode of transport until the rains start up again in the fall. It’s one way to include non-exercise activity in my life. Except for last year. Last spring I was focused on growing my practice and travelling between Vancouver, Victoria and Portland. My bike was in my parents’ garage from my complicated move the previous fall. And having returned to Victoria after living in Vancouver for 14 years, I didn’t have a bike mechanic. As I type these reasons out I can see how flimsy they are as excuses to not make biking happen. But they did stop me. However, this year I was determined to not spend another summer without a bike. I made it happen and yesterday I enjoyed my first bike ride in 2 years. I enjoyed the Victoria Day parade and a short bike ride with a friend. I don’t want to admit how sore I am from that short ride. But I truly enjoyed myself and am proud of myself for getting biking back in my life again. I know that now that I’ve gotten in motion again, I’ll stay in motion.

What is it that you want to include in your life? Do you want to be more active (like my friend and I)? Do you want to eat healthier? Do you want to be more mindful? Starting a new behaviour is the most difficult step. Once you’ve started, it quickly becomes a habit. Some theories indicate that it takes 40 days for a new action to become a habit. What I know is that we’re no different than the rest of nature:

An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion.

Life passes by quickly. Don’t stay stuck in wishing you were living a different life. Make the effort (perhaps with help) to get in motion.

Sitting Is The New Smoking

As you know the focus of my messages to you is food and nutrition. But on occasion I will stray into other topics that relate to having a healthy body and healthy weight. Because of course nutrition doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We humans are complex beings and the context, a.k.a. our lifestyle, is important. Today is one of those days where I’m straying into a non-nutrition topic. If you’re trying to lose weight/ aiming for weight loss (or not gain any more weight) it’s going to be of interest to you. There’s a new saying in the public health world:

Sitting is the new smoking

What this phrase is getting at is that there’s growing evidence that those 30-60 minutes of exercise a day aren’t enough to counteract all the sedentary, sitting time that we now have in our lives. There’s also studies that show that slim people fidget more than overweight people, thus burning more calories every day.

The problem is that we’ve introduced so many conveniences in our lives that there’s very little we have to do physically any more. That hour in the gym isn’t making up for it.

The good news is that it doesn’t take any expensive gym memberships to turn this around. But, it does take effort. And, in our high-stress, busy lives it seems counterintuitive to make things less convenient.

Before we talk about making changes, it’s worth taking a look at our lives to see just how sedentary we are. Tomorrow, keep a log of what you do all day. Note if you’re standing, sitting, etc. Add up all the sitting hours in your day. How many of your waking hours did that make up? It’s likely pretty scary.

Okay. Now that you’ve seen just how much time you spend sitting, here’s some ideas for adding more non-sitting time in your day:

  • Park at the far corner of the lot – not the closest spot.
  • Take public transit instead of driving. Maybe even get off the bus a stop or two early.
  • Walk to do your errands instead of taking the car.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. I’ve lived for many years on the 4th I can’t tell you how many people take the elevator. It especially makes me laugh when I see that they’re taking the elevator to go to the gym. Work or live on a high-up floor? Take the elevator up and the stairs down.
  • Prepare dinner yourself (instead of take-out or pre-prepared meals)
  • Wash your dishes by hand instead of running the dishwasher.
  • Play with your kids. Go to the park. Or play hide and seek. Or have a dance party in the house.
  • Walk your dog (don’t just watch your dog run).
  • Grow a vegetable garden. Even if it’s just pots on your patio.
  • Set an alarm at work and get up from your desk at least once an hour.
  • If you have a say in your office’s layout, move the printer and copy machine away from your desk and into an adjacent room (or on the far side of the room).
  • Get a standing desk. Or, MacGyver one. I work using a laptop. It’s the perfect height when I place my shredder on my desk and my laptop on top of my shredder (it’s unplugged of course – safety first). Voila – standing desk!
  • Meet friends for a walk instead of coffee (or walk and chat while drinking your coffee).

With a little creativity, the ideas are endless. How have you found ways to not sit? I’d love to have you share them in the comments below.

An Often Overlooked Step for Weight Loss

weight-loss

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to do nutrition weight loss mini-consultations with a number of women. All of these women had several things in common. They were:

  • Intelligent
  • Successful in high-demand, fast-paced careers
  • Very, very busy.
  • Unhappy with their weight.

They also had something else in common. Something that is often overlooked when trying to lose weight – building up their self-care toolkit.

Each woman had different eating habits. We spent time discussing healthy options that would be do-able in their full lives.

As a dietitian, I’m trained in nutrition. These women likely expected to only talk about food. But I knew that we needed to broach another topic. Self-care toolkits.

Weight Loss Self-Care Toolkits

I brought up self-care toolkits for two reasons:

  • Alternatives to Emotional Eating: We eat for more reasons than just fuel for our bodies. Eating can soothe our emotional needs. Think of the terms “treats” or “comfort food”. Enjoying such foods can be a way of taking care of ourselves. The problem comes when it’s the only tool in your toolkit. Or when you over-use this tool.
  • The Stress-Weight Connection: Mainstream medicine is coming to understand what many traditional wellness systems have known for a long time. Our mental/emotional/spiritual health and physical health are connected. Specifically related to weight, we’re learning how chronic stress creates a cascade of hormones that cause weight gain – particularly belly weight.

It’s this second point that I brought up with the women last week. And, I particularly want to share with you. So many of us function so well in our high-stress lives, and that high level of stress is so constant, that we don’t even see the stress anymore. We’ve become stress-blind. But our bodies haven’t.

The way to counter frequent emotional eating and chronic stress is to have  a wide variety of tools in your self-care toolkit. And, to use them daily.

What do I mean by a weight loss "self-care toolkit”? I mean ways to take care of your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The fantastic news is that there are an unlimited number of tools out here. You just need to find out which ones work for you. And use them! Examples include:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Exercise
  • Listening to or playing music (including singing)
  • Art
  • Knitting
  • Cooking
  • Journalling
  • Gratitude practice
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Chatting with supportive friends
  • Sleep
  • Counselling/ Therapy
  • The list goes on and on.

I know this from personal experience. For the first while when I went through my divorce I basically lived on bread, cheese, fruit, and tubs of ice cream (yes, I was such a cliché). My stress level was through the roof. And my weight started to creep up.

I knew that it was time to discover new tools for my self-care toolkit. I tried a number of things. Some worked and some didn’t. Now I’m stronger for the experience (and I’m in awesome shape). I’m better than I’ve ever been. And I continue to try new things to expand my self-care toolkit. What’s in my toolkit? Surfing, yoga, meditation, and a nightly gratitude practice. Occasionally I add long walks, prayer, acupuncture and physical therapy, massages, and art therapy.

It may seem counterintuitive that taking up art therapy (or substitute another option) is a way to lose weight. But now you know why it’s important. Now you know why I recommended daily use of self-care tools / expanding the tools in the self-care toolkits to each of the women whom I met last week. And, now you know why I recommend it for you too!

Check out another weight loss Nutrition Game Changer here.