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Archive for September, 2009

day 46Day 46 of the 20 lb struggle.

I don’t know what it takes, or what it feels like, to lose 60 lbs, or 80 lbs, or 100 lbs or more. We all know that obesity is a major health issue in the USA. We all know that obesity is not good for you. YET.  Our society encourages bad habits and poor lifestyle choices on a constant basis. Snack food, fast food and processed foods high in fats and sugars make a lot of money for their producers. But they will not help you to develop a healthy lifestyle that you can enjoy into your golden years. 

You cannot pick up a newspaper or magazine, or go to see a movie or watch TV without being tempted by foods that we all know you would be better off without.  I’ve been searching the blogosphere reading the stories of other dieters. Most of them want to make a “lifestyle change.” I really admire these folks. They are obviously making an enormous effort to become slimmer, healthier and happier. People who have created unhealthy lifestyles for themselves are taking a good first step when they recognize that their behavior needs to change. Given the societal pressures and the advertising dollars that urge instant and easy gratification, it can’t be an easy task.

I think I am really fortunate because as a mature woman I am in an ideal position to be able to resist the temptations all around me. Let me tell you why:

(1)   My digestion isn’t what it was when I was young. Once I could eat fried foods, donuts, Mexican food, spicy food, food slathered with thick and creamy sauces, and sausages. Not any more. Feeling sick after I eat has taken a lot of fun out of consuming “forbidden foods.”

(2)   My stamina isn’t what it used to be. When I was young I would get up early, work all day, do errands in the evening, go out to eat with friends many evenings (often with drinks). Lots of snacking temptations all day as I ran around and just “grabbed” what was available. Lots of fun with friends as we ate nachos or fried onions or calamari.  You get the picture.  Now I have my oatmeal for breakfast and I bring my sensible sandwich for lunch.  By the time I get home at 5pm my day is over.  I barely have enough energy to cook dinner.  So a grilled defrosted chicken breast and some frozen veggies work just fine for me.  Another hour or two, and I am ready for bed. See? Not much opportunity to be tempted here.

(3)   My self-awareness has improved. When I was young I seemed to always be looking for “the answer” to my weight problems in the next book, magazine article, diet, or technique. Now I know that the only answers that will work for me are the ones that can comfortably fit into the lifestyle that I have spent a lifetime creating for myself. I know that my lifestyle won’t change at my age.  It doesn’t have to. I have become very good at making and accepting adjustments in my behavior to help me have a better and healthier life.

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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Rick has learned what works for him

Rick has learned what works for him

Day 45 of the 20 lb struggle.

Rick may be a yo-yo dieter, but he has learned a few things along the way. He’s learned what works for him and what doesn’t. He began as a teenager with a very structured weight loss program at the Diet Center where his main task was simply doing what he was told. Although he didn’t learn a lot about how to control his behavior he did learn a lot about nutrition. “I realized that my family’s meals were not always that healthy.  We ate in restaurants a lot.”

Later, with NutriSystem, Rick went back to what had worked for him before – a diet where food choices were made by someone else. This worked. Twice. But it was clear that Rick wasn’t moving forward. “There just wasn’t any carry-over into real life.”  He lost weight. He gained weight. He lost weight. He gained weight. He seemed no closer to a solution to his long-term weight issue.

He liked WeightWatchers because, now as a more mature man, he was able to make his own choices about what to eat. He learned that “I MUST have carbs, especially starches.” He liked that he could eat what he liked by manipulating other factors such as fiber and exercise.

Now Rick is putting himself on a diet to lose weight before a Christmas cruise. This is the first time that he is starting a diet ONLY 15 lbs. over his ideal weight. How does he plan to do it?

He is making his own choices. “I love Campbell’s Soup at Hand. It makes an easy, calorie-controlled lunch with just a few crackers or some fruit.” He also loves the convenience of Breakstone’s Cottage Doubles which combines cottage cheese and fruit spread. It is his breakfast just about every day. He often stops at the deli counter to pick up some low-fat turkey breast for snacks and he considers what food will be available on the menu before he chooses a restaurant.

“I learned that it is best for me to avoid chocolate. Sometimes I slip up but I found that it is important not to throw in the towel when you fall off the wagon.” What about exercise? “When I want to lose weight I step up the exercise.  That means going more frequently, not working at higher intensity. I just make it a priority.  I don’t let other things interfere.”

I believe that Rick is on his way to breaking the yo-yo cycle.  This is why:

(1)   He is taking responsibility for his food choices. He understands nutrition and what he has to eat in order to lose weight.

(2)   He is aware of the role that exercise plays in his life.

(3)   He understands his food weaknesses (addictions).

(4)   When his weight starts creeping up he looks for an external event to get him motivated and to help him set his goal.

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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Rick: weight up

Rick: weight up

Day 44 of the 20 pound struggle.

My son-in-law, Rick, says that he is a yo-yo dieter.

Yo-yo dieting (also known as weight cycling) refers to excessive and extreme food restriction leading to rapid weight loss. Such a diet is impossible to sustain, so eventually the dieter, unable to continue to reject food starts to binge, opening the floodgates to a self-defeating cycle of weight gain, depression and self-criticism….until the next diet.

 Who is not familiar with the yo-yo dieting stories of Oprah Winfrey and Kirstie Alley? High profile celebrities as well as ordinary folks can suffer from yo-yo dieting. Although there is general agreement that this is not a healthy pattern, there is also a lot of confusion about what to do about it.

Rick’s weight problems began as a teenager. “I ate a lot of candy and never made exercise a part of my life,” he told me. BUT. He wanted to look good for the Senior Prom. His mom took him to a Diet Center where they put him on a strict hi-protein, lo-carb diet. “I remember actually having to weigh the protein for each meal.” He took up roller skating and lost about 30 lbs in 3 months. “I felt great! I looked good for graduation and the prom.”

Freshman year at college saw Rick’s weight climb up again. Within a year he had gained 25 of the 30 lbs back. From that point on, Rick says, his weight has fluctuated back and forth about every two years. He has used NutriSystem twice, each time losing 20 – 30 lbs. He has also been successful with WeightWatchers. “I liked being able to make my own choices. I lost 50 lbs in 7 months!”

How does Rick feel about working out at the gym? “I just do what I have to do.” Rick admits that each time he has lost weight there has been some sort of external event that motivated him, e.g., graduation, high school reunion, daughter’s bat-mitzvah, holiday cruise, etc.

Rick today- 15 lbs to lose

Rick today- 15 lbs to lose

Rick is great at losing weight! Once he is focused on his goal, he “does what he has to do” to get there.  If that includes restricting food intake and exercising, well then, so be it.

Rick isn’t so great at keeping the weight off. Why is that?  I have some ideas.

1)  Having a clear, focused goal is important for success in any undertaking.  It is especially important in losing weight. But there is an inherent problem. What will I do after I lose 20 lbs? Will the 20 lb struggle be over? What happens to Rick once the prom is over?

For dieters the question becomes: How can I keep myself motivated when there seems to be no end in sight?

2)  Restricted food intake is part of every weight loss program. After weeks or months of eating what “you have to,” what happens when you can suddenly “eat what you want to?” You don’t need a psychologist to tell you that a common response will be to indulge in all those favorite foods that you have been denied for so long.

The harsh reality is that maintaining weight loss is MUCH MORE difficult and challenging, and waaay less exciting, than taking it off in the first place.    

Copyright© 2009 Maxine Schackman

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Dinner at a friend's home

Dinner at a friend's home

Day 43 of the 20 pound struggle.

I’m back on track! And I can’t tell you how important the support of my friends and family has been. I’ve been working out at the gym more frequently thanks to Pat. I have been encouraged by the dear readers of this blog who have left comments and e-mailed their belief that I could do it. And last night I was invited to Rita’s for dinner and was delighted at the menu. No struggle this time.  Grilled salmon, grilled veggies and salad. Simple, elegant and delicious.

Thanks to all of you, I am feeling better, stronger and more confident about staying focused. Eating sensibly for the past week and exercising has gotten my appetite back under control. BUT. I know the next ten pounds will be even more difficult to lose than the first ten. This next phase of the 20 lb struggle will require more commitment, more persistence and even more patience.

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golf flagblogAfter five weeks of steady weight loss the ball has stopped rolling downhill and has come to rest yards from the hole. I can see that flag. I am lining up my shot. Will it just take one more putt? One more push to get me to my goal? Or will it be a series of smaller steps that will get me there?

At this morning’s weigh-in I discovered that my weight was UP a half a pound for the week. Let’s look at the bright side. That means 10.5 lbs GONE in 6 weeks!!!!

What have I learned from my experience?

Old habits die hard. I can still remember those wonderful family dinners when I was a child. I remember my aunts and uncles and cousins all gathered around our dining room table. I would help my mother with preparations a week ahead of time. Mama made her own dough and then created the most wonderful breads, rolls and coffee cakes from it. We made chicken soup.  It was my job to add the vegetables. We had a big roast turkey, sweet potato pie (often topped with iddy-biddy marshmallows), stuffing, noodle kugel, green beans slathered in margarine, and an array of desserts that was truly overwhelming. My mother served all this with pride and was hurt if anyone rejected what was put in front of them.  Her greatest pleasure, I think, was to sit at the table after everyone else was served and survey the faces heartily eating. “What! You don’t like the stuffing?” she might say. “You’ve hardly eaten a bite of it!”

Re-training myself to hold back when food is offered with love is challenging for me. My entire life trained me to show and accept love by eating the food my mother prepared. After a lifetime of equating love and food consumption it is difficult to look at a meal as JUST nutrition for my body.

YET. Times have changed.  My parents together with all the aunts and uncles are no longer with us. The cousins are rarely seen. But the feelings persist, even when it is my daughter, not my mother preparing the feast. Learning to look at food from a different perspective requires patience and persistence.

Considering what I would have eaten if I were not on my 20 pound struggle, perhaps I can take comfort in the fact that, despite some overindulgence, I am back on track and have only 9.5 more pounds to lose to meet my goal.

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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Elliptical machine at the gym

Elliptical machine at the gym

I’m doing it.  But it isn’t easy. I started the day with 40 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise.  Hooray!  Good for me. When I got to the gym I hopped right onto the elliptical and after about 2 minutes I was already wondering if I could last 5 minutes. Lucky for me my dear friend Pat was with me and we started talking about this and that and catching up on news about people we know and family matters. Before we knew it we had done 15 minutes.

Elliptical machines are great for people like me.  First of all, you can burn as much as 350 calories in 30 minutes. Of course, there’s no way that I can work out at that level.  But even so, consistent use of the elliptical can build stamina and aid my weight loss program. It’s great aerobic exercise and that strengthens my heart. Ellipticals don’t help build or tone muscles, so, some people add weight training and toning to their regimens. But I seem to have an aversion to it.

I also like using the treadmill and exercise bikes. These also provide excellent aerobic workouts. My biggest concern is injury. I have had knee problems in the past from working out exclusively on the treadmill.  The bicycle and the elliptical are much more knee friendly and provide no-impact exercise.

I recently saw a magazine article with the title: How to stay fit and healthy through your 20s, 30s and even 40s.” I think I actually laughed out loud. Most of the information that I see in magazines about fitness and working out are much more relevant for people who are decades younger than I am. With age come additional worries about injury, decreased stamina, and concern about “overdoing” which can lead to debilitating fatigue. Young people are like rubber bands.  They can twist and bend and stretch themselves.  Older people like me are more brittle, have joints that are wearing thin, and often lack the stamina for sustained high intensity exercise.

BUT. No matter what your age or condition, once you start to exercise regularly you will feel better and have more energy and your stamina will increase steadily.

It’s just that getting there is such a drag. You know what I hate about exercise? The same thing I hate about dieting! You can do well and do well and do well.  And then the moment you stop to do something else in your life, it is as if all that effort has been wasted, because you can never pick up where you left off.  You always pick up a few steps behind.

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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slipperyDid I fall off the wagon? Or did I jump off?  Now my weight is up, my energy is down, my appetite is raging and my mood is gathering dark clouds. What I thought was a little slip-up is turning into a complete diet stand-still.

Will I be able to shed the extra pounds and get back on track? Or will I continue to be led down the slippery slope by my appetite for sweets and starches? Was it only a few days ago that I smugly reported that I didn’t feel any hunger?  Was it only a little over a week ago that I could go into a restaurant and easily eat less than half of the meal without feeling deprived? It seems that all the progress that I made was more fragile than I would have wished.

A lack of focus here. A bit of distraction there. A taste of forbidden fruit. And before I knew what was happening I am back at square one 

I knew that it would be difficult after spending the weekend being tempted by all sorts of goodies. But I guess I didn’t understand how bad it would feel.

Can I recapture the motivation that I had 5 weeks ago when I started my 20 lb struggle?

Here’s my plan: (1) get back to the restricted menu that worked for me before, (2) exercise, (3) drink plenty of water, (4) write a blog post every day.

Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Maxine’s 20 lb struggle. Will I be able to overcome gaining a few pounds in one weekend?  Will I become discouraged and give up? Will I trudge forward no matter how difficult the path? Or will I give in to temptation?

I don’t know.  We’ll find out.

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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