Archive for the ‘Diet Psychology’ Category

Twenty-five weeks of the 20-lb struggle and I have been sitting here on the plateau for eight of those weeks. First it was Halloween, then it was parties, then it was family dinners, then it was Christmas cookies, then it was New Year’s Eve, then it was too cold, then I was too busy, then it was too much work. As you can see from my chart I am     s-l-o-w-l-y inching my way back to the pinnacle I reached in week 17. Still haven’t gotten there though.

So what’s going on? I have some ideas.

Idea #1: The nearer your destination the more you keep slip-sliding away. Let me explain. When I started the 20 lb struggle I could get all the motivation I needed in order to make changes in my eating patterns and behavior by looking in the mirror. Looking at myself standing there naked with my fat rolls staring back at me was so horrifying that losing my appetite was usually not a problem. Lose the appetite and you can lose the weight.

But after I lost about 10-lbs. I looked a lot better.  I bought new, smaller clothes.  Looking in the mirror was not as horrifying as it had been previously. The closer you get to your weight loss goal the more difficult it may be to find the motivation you need to go all the way.

Idea #2: Putting the brakes on diet momentum makes the journey more difficult.  Coming to a full stop adds the burden of inertia to forward movement. In other words, it is easier to maintain diet momentum once you are already rolling, than to kick start it again after a full stop. There are lots of reasons for diet inertia, but let’s just say that once you fall off a wagon it can take a while to get your ass off the ground and hop back on again.

Idea #3: If I don’t make it happen it won’t happen. I’ve been waiting for a miracle.  I’ve been waiting for the scale to show imporvment even though I am not putting in 100%. It is difficult to get going again.  It is difficult to find the motivation to make the sacrifices that Ineed to make.  It isn’t easy to find the motivation to help me push forward. But if I don’t do it, nothing will change.

Idea #4: Although losing weight is an important goal, it may not be the only one that deserves my attention. I also need to nurture other important areas of my life, like work, family, friends, celebrations, etc.

My dog, Snickers, whines and cries when I talk on the phone around 7:00 pm.  Why? That is the time we usually snuggle on the couch and watch TV. When my attention is diverted elsewhere he lets me know about it!  And when my attention is diverted elsewhere, my scale let me know about it, too!

Am I feeling blue because this is proving to be more of a struggle than I anticipated? Not really.  Even though I am having trouble losing weight I still feel good about three important things.

First: I have lost a significant amount of weight and I think I look pretty good.

Second: I am maintaining my weight which means that I am not reverting to my previous unhealthy habits.

Third: I am feeling healthier and more energetic than I did before I embarked on the 20-lb struggle.

So, how’s the view from the plateau? Pretty good, but certainly not perfect. What I see from the plateau is “room for improvement.”


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Thanksgiving Day. Just when my motivation was idling in neutral and my weight loss was stalled, Shape magazine came to the the rescue with a plan! After a morning filled with cooking and cleaning and preparing for Thanksgiving dinner we were sitting around the kitchen table when my daughter, Amy said, “Eat what you want and still lose weight!” She was reading from Shape’s December issue. I was intrigued.  “Tell me more,” I replied.

In the article, Sharon Liao comes up with 9 strategies that can help you to celebrate the holidays without feeling deprived OR gaining weight! There are also suggestions for smart food choices and information about the calories in favorite holiday foods. I will personally test these strategies and report my findings to you in this blog.

Strategy #1: Spoil your supper – don’t skip lunch. Eat a light protein-filled lunch.  About an hour before you plan to eat have a bit of cheese, a few crackers, or my personal favorite, an apple.

Strategy #2: Chew while you chop – instead of sampling everything as you prepare it, chew gum to keep your mouth busy. A little this and a little that can add up to a whole lot of calories.

Strategy #3: Be a picky eater – allow your eyes to feast on every holiday dish and delight, but choose only your favorite special items to sample., It is also a good idea to chat for about 20 minutes before getting up to get seconds. (See “Channeling my inner thin.”)

Strategy #4: Take dainty bites – people who take smaller bites end up eating less. Who knew? Liao advises taking teaspoon-size bites intead of tablespoon-sized ones. She also suggests using small utensils and the smallest plate available.

Strategy#5: Think before you eat – with so much good food around it is easy for the hand to just reach out and pop some into your mouth before you even think about it. RESIST!  Mindless eating is a good way to add calories and not even get any enjoyment from it. Watch your hand and be aware of what it is doing.

Strategy #6: Stay on the move – exercise whenever you can and if you can’t exercise as often as usual tack on an extra few minutes each time.

Strategy #7: Start skinny sipping – a five-ounce glass of wine has only 123 calories and is a calorie bargain compared with other alcoholic beverages.

Strategy#8: Keep your focus – this is similar to tip #5, think before you eat. When you are preoccupied, you don’t fully tast or appreciate the food you are eating. Spend more time concentrating on your converstation OR focus on your food.  This is NOT a good time for multi-tasking. An interesting side note: women tend to consume less calories when they are in the presence of a man.  So sit next to an interesting male at the table and let nature take it course.

Strategy #9: Seize some zzzz’s – studies show that sleep deprivation actually can increase your appetite! So work out, sleep plenty and eat light.

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Pantry temptations

Pantry temptations

Day 70

My weight loss challenge this week is focused on self-control and will-power.  Because I live alone I have been able to control my food environment very well. There is nothing in my pantry that I shouldn’t eat.  But this week I am at my daughter’s home which is filled with temptations at every turn.

I have already succumbed to pretzels, hummus, pizza, Keebler Fudge Shoppe Fudge Sticks, and Sun Chips. While none of these foods are sinfully unhealthy, they do stimulate my appetite and make staying on the straight and narrow more difficult. My weight loss plan involves eating lean protein, vegetables, and fruit in order to feel satisfied. These foods help me to suppress my appetite. The idea is that the less hungry I am the less likely I will be to eat impulsively, make poor choices, gain weight.

But life rarely works out according to plan. In the midst of family fun and togetherness I have let down my guard. Knowing that so much is available “just to taste” creates temptations that I do not usually have to overcome. At home I have made things easy on myself by creating good routines and avoiding the foods I know will not help my weight loss efforts. But here my will-power is being tested almost on a minute by minute basis.

So it was with trepidation that I stepped onto the scale this morning. After 10 weeks of the 20 lb struggle I am proud to report that I have lost 14 lbs!

Have I mentioned that I am very petite? Standing at less than five foot tall, a weight loss of 14 pounds represents slightly more than 10% of my original body weight. Despite the fact that I have not been able to develop a regular and organzed exercise regime yet (but I am working on this), I feel more energetic, less sleepy, mentally sharper and happier.

I am truly excited by what I have accomplished so far.  I can’t wait to lose a few more pounds.  My clothes are getting too baggy and I want to go out and get some new ones.  But being a practical and thrifty person by nature I want to wait until I am at my goal weight. I think that I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Temptation can slow down my choo-choo train, but it can’t make it stop.

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 After 67 days of the 20 lb struggle I’m packing it in!

I’ll be spending a week in Orlando staying with my grandchildren while my daughter and son-in-law visit San Francisco.  How will I manage in a different environment?

Look, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a diet of peanut butter sandwiches, pizza, pasta, French fries, cheeseburgers and hot dogs is not exactly going to lead to weight loss. That’s what the kids like to eat and with their level of activity and the metabolism of small birds they can get away with it.  But, I am in an entirely different place.

Whereas my grandchildren can eat whatever and whenever they want, I have graduated to the level of mindful eating. That means I have to think about what I eat, when I eat and how I eat. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it?

It is true that mindful eating sort of takes the spontaneity out of food consumption. It doesn’t allow for those wonderfully impulsive and decadent treats like ice cream, cheesecake, chocolate cake, brownies and donuts. My grandchildren can eat tons of candy and popcorn yet they are always ready for more. If I have just one taste, I am a goner!

So I’m packing it in and taking it along. My healthier eating habits, that is. While the kids are eating their French toast slathered in pancake syrup, I will have my morning oatmeal made with skim milk. While they are at school I will have a simple sandwich of sliced turkey breast with lettuce, tomato and mustard on Weight Watcher whole wheat bread.  And when they start eating their pizza at dinner I will ignore the aroma and focus on my grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables. That’s right. I’m taking my 20 lb struggle and my George Foreman Grill along with me.

You don’t think I can do it. Do you? I’m not so sure myself. I’ll keep you posted.

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good-habits-bad-habitsDay 59 of the 20 lb struggle

Bad habits have gotten a lot of bad press so I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that they should be totally eradicated.  But the truth is that there are a number of benefits to bad habits that you might have overlooked.

 (1) They provide a wonderful opportunity to learn helpful and healthy techniques for behavior change that can last a lifetime.

(2) Since bad habits are difficult to give up they help us to learn the importance of persistence and perseverance.

(3) If we didn’t have any bad habits we would be perfect and we all know that humans were simply not meant to be perfect.  Bad habits help us to be more human by allowing us to recognize our vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

There is also a downside to good habits. If your life is filled with good habits you run the danger of hurting yourself from patting yourself on the back so often. An overabundance of good habits can lead to arrogance and conceit.

Think about it for a minute. Where do your good habits come from? Do they come from your parents, who taught you to brush your teeth twice a day, wear clean underwear, and bathe regularly? Good habits that we learn as children and maintain into adulthood are ok. But how do we gain good habits in our adulthood?  Typically, good habits are developed as we struggle to overcome those pesky bad habits that keep interfering in our lives, preventing us from being all that we want to be.

In my younger years I was a smoker. I learned to smoke by watching cigarette ads on TV. That’s right boys and girls they actually used to have real cigarette ads on TV with close-ups of beautiful men and women inhaling deeply and letting the smoke drift out slowly. I was a smoker for about 15 years. And then I heard something that made me stop and say to myself, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” What affected me was an interview on the radio. A doctor was talking about the evidence that smoking could kill you.  And then he said, “Knowing what we do about smoking, I really have to say, that lighting up a cigarette is the first step to committing suicide.  If you took a gun to your head you would die quicker. Cigarettes will do the job slower, but the end result will be the same.” Harsh but effective.

This was the first time in my life (but not the last) that I found myself engaged in a battle with a “bad habit.” It wasn’t easy. I stopped. I started again. I stopped. I started again. I tried hypnosis. I tried cessation groups. I kept a log of how many cigarettes I smoked and why I felt I needed to have one. Years went by. I felt as if I was getting nowhere.  BUT. The fact of the matter is that I was learning about what didn’t work for me. In the end I stopped “cold turkey.” I was eventually able to stop smoking because I learned that there was no power on earth that could make me stop. It was my choice. I was the one in control of me. Simple words. Powerful idea.

I know that no one can make me avoid starches, sweets, bread and other goodies. Nothing can make me turn down dessert or walk past a plateful of chicken wings. No.  If that’s going to happen. I’m the one who has to do it.

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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Day 54 of the 20 lb struggle     

Sarah lost  pounds

Sarah lost 14 pounds

Some days are diamonds. This was not one of them. Until I took Snickers out for his evening walk. That’s when I met my neighbor Sarah walking her dog, Emmy. I hadn’t seen her in three weeks and the difference was remarkable.

“Sarah!” I called out to her. “You look wonderful! You are so skinny. How much weight have you lost?”

“Oh, I have more to go,” she replied.

“But you look great,” I commented as we started walking together. Snickers and Emmy are good friends.  When we get together the dogs understand that it is their job to keep us moving in the direction of their choice. So Sarah and I started to chat as the dogs led us around the neighborhood.

Sarah started her “20 lb struggle” in June and she has lost 14 pounds! She is doing it by exercising regularly, which she says is essential for her, and sticking to her Weight Watchers program.

You might not think that Sarah and I would have much in common since she is much younger than I. But, as we talked about our efforts to lose weight detailing our successes and frustrations it became clear that it was very much the same for both of us. Here are some of the things we talked about.

1)      Exercise: We both agreed that exercise makes us feel good, especially when done regularly.  But, I had a complaint. I felt that my appetite was greater on the days that I exercised. Sarah agreed that she had the same feeling at first but suggested that the problem might not be the exercise but the fact that I am doing it so sporadically. She helped me to understand that to glean the full benefits from exercise it needs to be a regular habit. She often exercises before lunch at work and says that this regular habit has actually helped her to keep her appetite under control.

Emmy and Snickers are friends

Emmy and Snickers are friends

2)      Pride: Pride is usually a good thing.  But what we were talking about was something else entirely. We were talking about those times when you realize that dieting is no longer a struggle.  Your appetite is totally under control. No cravings. No binges. You feel like you’ve “got it.” You are in the groove, swimming in the zone, and you feel a sense of confidence that leads you to believe that losing the rest of the weight will be easy. But you know what they say: “Pride cometh before the fall.” As soon as you let these thoughts into your mind – WATCH OUT! The next thing you know, those cravings that were a thing of the past, can become very much a part of your present.

3)      Diet psychology: We both agreed that what you say to yourself and how you understand the task of losing weight makes all the difference in whether or not you succeed. Many people focus on the food and what they are supposed to eat.  But we felt that having realistic ideas and a positive attitude is what really counts.

“It’s all a head game,” Sarah said. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Seven weeks and 11.5 lbs gone

Seven weeks and 11.5 lbs gone

Seven weeks of the 20 lb struggle

A picture is worth a thousand words. So I decided to look at my weight loss progress graphically. It really gives me a clear picture of how things are going. As you can see, the steep weight loss curve is tapering off.  It is becoming more and more difficult to chalk up weight losses each week.  And even when I am successful the amount of weight loss is getting smaller and smaller.

You will also notice that I gained weight one week. This really scared me. I am well aware that such a situation can easily lead to a downward spiral, also known as “the slippery slope.” BUT. I was able to turn things around and I am now happy to report that I am back on track.

One of my concerns is maintaining momentum.  As the weight loss slows down it is easy to get discouraged and bored.  I am beginning to wonder what more I can do.  It seems like I am already doing everything that I know to do to lose weight. I feel good about my food choices and have made a lot of progress on portion control. I am exercising 40 min to 1 hour at the gym three times a week.

Another of my concerns is the upcoming holiday season which starts with Halloween and continues through Thanksgiving and Christmas, ending with New Years. That’s two months jampacked with parties, gatherings and food – food – food! And not just any food. No. We are talking about candy, cake, cookies, pies, stuffing, gravy, potatoes.  The pressure is enormous and the temptation will be great.

I have already seen that eating just a little bit off the straight and narrow can lead to a weight gain and undo what has taken me so much effort to achieve. How will I cope with two full months of delightful food offerings? Will I be able to say “no” time after time after time? Or should I just let myself gain some weight and then struggle back from the abyss once more? What other choices do I have?

Copyright © 2009 Maxine Schackman

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