Monday, August 27, 2012

Giving Credit When Credit Is Due

Since it's back to school time, I have a little test for you:

1. Have you fulfilled your challenges?
    A. 100% perfectly the entire Challenge thus far.
    B. Mostly. I've had a few slip-ups or had to make some
        changes, but I'm doing pretty well.
    C. It's been a major struggle and I've barely made any changes.
    D. I gave up the first day and just eat Nutter Butters while I read the Blog

Hopefully you answered "B". If you answered "A" you are probably either delusional or a robot. If you answered "C", re-read some of the previous posts and see if there are some tweaks you can make either in how you articulate your challenges or how you structure your life in relation to them. If you answered "D", you should probably call me to set up a one-on-one session. Soon ;)

Interestingly, whether you answered "B" or "C" may have less to do with the percentage of change you actually made and more to do with your attitude toward yourself and your behaviors. Many times when we attempt behavior change, we pay a disproportionate amount of time beating ourselves up for "messing up" and very little time congratulating ourselves when we do well. If you've kept a log of your challenges this whole time, review it objectively and ask yourself how you would react if a friend or loved one showed you the same log. Would you berate them for the times they didn't follow through perfectly? Or would you congratulate them on their efforts and achievements thus far and encourage them to do better? Maybe you'd even have a conversation with them about the struggles they've had and try to help them problem solve. If you wouldn't have a log to show someone because you haven't been keeping track of your behaviors, START NOW!

I spent a lot of time last week thinking about this and paying attention to how I talk to myself about my behaviors. It was hard to force myself to give little mental pats on the back every time I made a good choice but even in just a few days, I got more comfortable with it. One day last week I was tired and busy and hungry. I had a Costco sized jar of peanut butter that was calling my name. I really wanted to sit on the couch just me, that jar of peanut butter and the Property Brothers. But I didn't! I cut up some melon, grabbed some turkey breast, and sat down at the dining room table with the kids while they ate their lunch. I was very proud of myself. Later that evening, I was hungry again and REALLY wanted peanut butter. So I spooned some out into a bowl and poured in a bunch of blueberries. I ate the mixture while I watched So You Think You Can Dance. It was more than a single serving of peanut butter and I know I shouldn't watch t.v. while I eat, but it was a reasonable amount and still better than sitting down with the whole jar (and possibly a carton of chocolate soy ice cream). So, baby steps. I finished the day feeling fairly positive about the choices I'd made and I felt like I'd strengthened my willpower muscle.

If you have a hard time giving yourself credit when you make a good choice, here are some ideas to make it a more conscious process.
  1. A chart with squares. Each time you make a good choice, put a sticker in a square or make a check mark.
  2. A clicker like the kind they use at the entrance to events. Click each time you make a good choice.
  3. A string you keep in your purse or pocket. Make a knot each time you make a good choice.
  4. A marble jar. Each time you make a good choice, drop a marble in the jar.
  5. Pennies in your pocket. Start the day with all of the pennies in one pocket and then transfer one to the other pocket each time you make a good choice.
  6. Use something on your smart phone. There has to be an app for that! (If not, please create one and give me royalties!)
Don't be afraid to give yourself credit for the little things or even for partial improvement. Something is better than nothing! After doing this for a few days, you should feel proud, encouraged, hopeful and more in control. I know I do.

Do you have any suggestions for how you can give yourself credit in a conscious way? Share them here please!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Losing Focus?

This is about the time in many people's drive for change when they start to really lose focus. The novelty is wearing off and they may not be seeing big results yet. This is when it is MOST important to get excited again!

I've said before that part of creating a challenge is to articulate how changing your behavior will improve your life. In The Beck Diet Solution, Psychologist Judith Beck calls it stating "the advantages". She suggests writing the advantages of your behavior change on index cards or even using the list as your computer screensaver. You should then review the list multiple times a day to maintain your focus and enthusiasm. Reminding yourself why you are changing the behaviors should make you more likely to actually change them.

Another way to keep it fresh is to add new challenges. Now that you've tweaked your plan and gained some momentum, you should be able to pick something that's a little harder. And remember not to beat yourself up if you haven't been perfectly consistent. I've had ups and downs the last few weeks and while I try not to make excuses, I also realize that real-life sometimes gets in the way of the best laid plans. If I'm doing better than I was before I started the challenge, I choose to see it as success. Try to pick something fun for your new challenge. I'm replacing one day of weight lifting with a workout using my new suspension straps (okay, I hear some of you saying, "really, that's fun?"). I get really amped about new exercise gadgets so now that I finally have the straps mounted in my workout room, I'm eager to try them.

If you feel like you're not getting anywhere, take a hard look at what's going on in your life and what behaviors you are trying to change. Maybe the benefits don't outweigh the difficulty right now. It's okay to not be ready to change. But if it's important to you, you CAN find a way to make it work. It might take more planning, or finding an incentive that really excites you, or changing your methods. If you believe that your behavior changes will improve your life, isn't it worth making them a priority? So bust out those index cards or find some other way to remind yourself why you are engaging in this challenge. And remember, I'm always here as a sounding board and problem solver!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Diet or Exercise?

I have heard a lot of discussion lately about a recent study regarding physical activity, metabolism, and weight. Researchers studied a group of 30 hunter-gatherers in an effort to determine how their physical activity affected their metabolisms. The basic finding was that their metabolisms adjusted to their high level of activity and low calorie consumption. They did not burn significantly more calories daily than most people living in developed societies who sit at a desk all day.

What some people are taking away from this is that exercise is not an effective tool for weight loss; that only what we eat makes a difference. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! Even the authors of the study stated that, "Physical activity has important, positive effects on health, and increased physical activity has been shown to play an important role in weight loss and weight-maintenance programs."

If you are trying to lose weight, you should not be asking the question, "should I exercise or change my eating habits?" BOTH are important for weight management. One of my favorite quotes is, "You can't compete with what you eat." You can work your butt off in Zumba with me but if you leave and drink 2 margaritas you've probably just consumed more calories than you burned in class. Does that mean that class was a waste of time? Does it mean that you can't ever have a margarita again without feeling guilty? Of course not.

When we think about the food/exercise balance, we shouldn't think about exercise as a way to compensate for what we eat. In Zumba class one day, I really pushed myself hard. About halfway through class, one of the students asked, "What did you eat this weekend that you feel so guilty about?" This question made me laugh because my intensity wasn't about "burning off" anything I'd eaten, it was about working harder as part of a challenge I had set for myself. But there have been many times in my life where that is exactly what would have been going on. The sad thing is that it was never effective. I would severely restrict my diet, feel deprived, engage in gargantuan binges, then exercise excessively to try to "make up" for what I had eaten. But that was impossible. While I was engaging in that behavior I was overweight. And my weight fluctuated all the time. And I hated my body. And I felt like a total failure. Even long, hard exercise sessions couldn't burn the number of calories I was eating in those binges. And because the focus of those workouts was guilty feelings, I stopped enjoying exercise.

I saw a demonstration of this kind of thinking on a weight loss reality show once. A participant was struggling to change his eating habits and was still engaging in behaviors like bingeing on Oreos. The trainer had him hold two Oreo cookies in his hands as he walked up and down a flight of stairs. He wore a device that measured the calories he was expending and she had him keep going until he had burned the same number of calories as the two Oreos contained. He was at it for a LONG time! He said he had learned a valuable lesson and was going to ditch the Oreos. But I don't think that's the lesson we need. We have to be aware of the calories in, calories out equation, but we can't think of activity solely as a way to burn off those Oreos. We can eat the Oreos in moderation as long as we fit them into our overall target calorie consumption. And exercise should not be punishment or compensation for what we eat. If you're eating a generally healthy diet with a calorie intake that is less than your expenditure, you should be able to eat a couple of cookies here and there and still lose weight. 

A related note we can take from the Hunter-Gatherer study is that exercise can't be a green light to eat whatever we want. Part of the metabolism equation for the study participants was their very low calorie consumption. I have a new Zumba student who mentioned that since she started exercising more, and harder, she felt hungry, "ALL the time!". That is a pretty common experience. I cautioned her to eat when she felt hungry but to try to be sure that the foods she chose were healthy and nutritious and to keep an eye on the overall amount she was eating. It is awful to work hard at exercise and feel like we are not getting the results we're looking for. So really, anyone looking to achieve or maintain a healthy weight should engage in a consistent exercise routine AND have good eating habits.

The hunter-gatherer study reinforced that our bodies seek homeostasis. If you exercise, your body will adapt. If you cut your food consumption, your body will adapt. Our bodies are amazing, complicated machines. I will explore adaptation more in future posts. For now, eat healthy foods because they are yummy and they fuel your body. Exercise because it is good for you in many, many ways (and can be a lot of fun!).

So this week's challenge is to look critically at the way you think about the food/exercise equation. Do you need to change your thinking about why you eat the food you eat? About the feelings you have after you eat? About why you exercise? If so, now's a great time to practice! Permanent behavior change requires changing our thinking. Write down those negative thoughts and feelings and try to rewrite them with a healthier view. You can even post them here and I can help!

To read the entire article on the hunter-gatherer study, click here