Motivation Flagging

I was doing SO WELL!

I was steadily losing weight. My energy levels were up, my fitness levels were great, and my digestion! Well, I won’t go into the details, but it was great.

Then Came Christmas.

The Christmas cookies. The Panettone. The mulled wine. The port wine! The red wine! The white wine! THE CHAMPAGNE!

My normal rule of only having an alcoholic drink on the weekends went out the window.

That’s not to say I drank to excess, but I had more frequent glasses of wine than usual.

And it wasn’t just the tasty booze. Chico spoiled me rotten with littleneck clams and hake on Christmas eve. New Year’s Eve was yet another culinary treat.

Everything was too tasty to have just one helping!

So Naturally…

The numbers stopped moving downward on the scale. They halted and hovered. Then they crept back up slightly.

While I kept up my regular exercise, it wasn’t enough to counteract the excesses of the table.

And so I fell back into bad habits. My blood sugar started spiking and dipping as it had always done before.

All the hard work I had put into levelling out my blood sugar and fighting hanger, lost!

CURSES AND DAMNATION!

Struggling to Get Back to It

And so here we are in January, and I’m struggling to get back into the habits I had fought so hard to build before the holidays.

The funny part is, I felt so much better before indulging over the holidays.

I notice it especially in my mood, my energy levels and my digestive health. Overindulging in carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol has thrown my system out of whack.

But the addictive nature of these foods makes it hard to break the cycle.

A Little Willpower & A Lot of Help

It’s time for a little force of will and a lot of moral support.

Part of the willpower is removing temptations. Like the Bug’s leftover birthday cake, the panettone lingering in the bread bin, the opened bottle of wine in the fridge, the Christmas treats…

I may face pushback from other members of the family, but they’ll get over it. They’ve had plenty!

The other side of the willpower coin is taking the time to plan. Now that we’re back to our normal routine, I have to remember to plan appropriately for meals.

That means making sure the fridge and pantry are stocked with healthy options.

The help and moral support mostly comes from my Chico who is pretty much the only other adult I see on a regular basis these days.

But encouragement from family and friends, and from those of you who read this blog is a big help.

Not About the Number

In the end, though, this effort I’m making isn’t so much about the number on the scale.

(Though that number is definitely a factor, I can’t lie. Numbers mean a lot.)

The biggest motivation behind my desire to lose weight is to avoid the persistent back problems I’ve had.

Since dropping 5kg and increasing my overall fitness and strength, I haven’t had a single crisis with my lower back.

That’s huge. I used to have them nearly every month, and I had a particularly bad one in the fall that left me nearly immobile for a whole day.

(Joining the kids on the trampoline might have had something to do with that…)

So while it is nice to see numbers trending downwards on the scale, and measurements shrinking, the biggest reward is being pain-free and being able to hop up the stairs two at a time from the basement to the top floor without being winded.

So I’m ready to hold onto that thought, and get back into the business of taking care of myself.

Because if I don’t take care of myself, how will I take care of my boys?

Rethinking Food

Yesterday I finished reading The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz.

This book isn’t new. It was published in 2014, and boy! Did it make a splash when it came out.

Basically the conclusion is this: nearly everything we think we know about healthy eating is wrong.

Saturated fat is not bad for you.

Cholesterol is not a reliable indicator of risk of heart disease.

Dietary fat found in butter, red meat, eggs and cheese is good for us. In fact, it’s necessary for healthy body functioning.

A Complete Upheaval

For decades, we have been told that the best possible diet involves cutting back on fat, especially saturated fat, and that if we are not getting healthier or thinner it must be because we are not trying hard enough.

But what if the low-fat diet is itself the problem? What if the very foods we’ve been denying ourselves—the creamy cheeses, the sizzling steaks—are themselves the key to reversing the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease?

In this thoroughly researched analysis, Teicholz meticulously combs through all the data that is the basis of the low-fat diet recommendation.

It turns out that the low-fat diet is based on a hypothesis. It was a hypothesis that there is a connection between dietary fat and heart disease.

That hypothesis has never been proved. And in fact, Teicholz finds in her analysis that study after study showed either no connection, or a very tenuous one.

But because of forceful personalities in the early nutrition science world who were pushing this hypothesis as truth, every time a study came up with unsatisfactory results, they were either manipulated or ignored.

To learn this is truly shocking.

The Result

This startling history demonstrates how nutrition science has gotten it so wrong.

How overzealous researchers, though perhaps beginning with the best intentions, through a combination of ego, bias, and premature institutional consensus, have allowed dangerous misrepresentations to become dietary dogma.

Americans today are heavier and unhealthier than we have ever been. More than 42% of Americans are obese, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

And despite adhering to the USDA and NIH’s recommendations to reduce meat, egg and dairy consumption and to increase grain, vegetable and fruit consumption, as a nation we have never suffered more from chronic weight and diet-related diseases.

Incredible

In seems unbelievable that nutrition experts for the last 60 years could have been so incredibly wrong. That what we know to be fundamentally true (namely: vegetables & fruit are the healthiest foods, animal fats are the unhealthiest) can be so completely wrong.

Yet it’s true.

In fact, in the six years since her book was published, the scientific evidence backing Teicholz’s research has grown, and the studies have become even more robust.

More and more evidence is now pointing to sugar and carbohydrates as the main culprits in these diet-related diseases. And while more research is needed, it is not clear that whole grains in large quantities are that much better for us than refined white flour.

My Takeaway

This book was a dense read, and I didn’t get through it quickly. In my Goodreads review I gave it 4 out of 5 stars for that reason.

But the takeaway from this book, for me, was huge.

Though I had heard about the Atkins diet, and at one point it seemed that everyone I knew was cutting carbs, I had dismissed it as a fad (I even remember repeating the misinformation that Dr. Atkins died of a heart attack!).

But this year, when I started to increase my exercise and get really serious about tracking my food to trying to lose weight, I was feeling so incredibly frustrated that I felt hungry all the time.

That’s when my aunt recommended Atkins and The Big Fat Surprise. She said, “Just read the books and then decide what you want to do.”

I have read them. I’ve read them and I have given myself permission to eat more butter, more cheese, more eggs and more meat.

And by God do I feel good! And OH MAN DOES IT TASTE AMAZING. After an initial feeling of withdrawal, I eventually realized that I wasn’t obsessing over food anymore. That I was feeling satisfied after every meal and that feeling was lasting longer.

I’ve lost nine pounds. I feel more energetic. I feel less guilty about enjoying bacon at breakfast, or cheese for a snack.

HOWEVER

It is, I think, very important to note that eating a high-protein, high-fat diet is EXPENSIVE.

Meat, eggs and cheese are not cheap, especially if you’re trying to buy organic or free-range. A low-income mother could not afford to feed this kind of diet to her kids. A person struggling to make ends meet doesn’t have the money to eat a high-protein diet.

I am fortunate that I can afford to eat either meat, fish or eggs daily. Not everyone in this country has that chance.

And it’s heartbreaking that those who need health food the most are the ones who are suffering the most from diet-related diseases.

They’re also the ones who are dying of covid-19.

Noom: More of a Bust than a Boom

Yesterday I told you about my experiences with Weight Watchers (aka WW). Today, let me tell you all about Noom.

Noooooooom!

Okay, enough of that silliness.

First Off

The name is dumb. It means nothing. And part of the company’s “playful” and “cool” schtick is to try to push it as being sooooooo mysterious and aren’t you dyyyyyying to know what it means?

No. No, I am not.

Credit Where it’s Due

To give the company its due, I did learn about it through one of its sponsorships.

Noom sponsors NPR, and I am a big NPR listener (or at least I was until the pandemic made listening to the news an anxiety-provoking activity). So, well done Noom on hitting your target audience. Bravo.

Noom bills itself as a lifestyle-changing program, rather than a diet. Though, like any other diet, you are assigned a daily calorie budget with some extra weekly points you can use to “cheat” with–like in WW.

You then begin on a daily regimen of trite inanities.

What Now?

Yes, that’s what I said. You’re put through some pretty painfully dumb readings, quizzes and assignments.

Alright, I understand that this is a program designed for all Noom users, and that perhaps I am not what you would call average in terms of rapidity of thought and concept comprehension. Nor, however, am I an Einstein.

But PLEASE! I think what drove me most insane about Noom was the stupidly vapid, annoying and sometimes rather condescending tone of voice it uses in all its communications.

What You Actually Have To Do

  • On Noom, you weigh in daily. Weight Watchers and other programs I’ve heard of have you weigh in only once a week.

Noom argues, however, that weighing in daily helps you to conquer “scanxiety,” aka “scale anxiety” (See?! It’s these stupid terms that annoy me!).

Fine. I didn’t really mind that.

  • Then, you have to spend a good ten to 20 minutes on your phone, reading all the day’s articles, taking the quizzes and preparing for the day’s “assignments.”

At first, I diligently read all the articles, tried to absorb the “psych tricks” (“It’s all based on real psychology!” Is there such a think as fake psychology?), and obediently tried out the assignments.

It wasn’t all BS, though. I did glean some takeaways for portion control, tips for avoiding temptation at the grocery store, and even got a couple of nice recipes.

But spending that much time on my phone soon became undoable. I do not spend that much time on my phone in one sitting. As life butted in, I found myself dropping off halfway through an article to help dress a child, prepare breakfast, or (Heaven forbid!) actually go pee myself.

Then the day began and suddenly, I was behind on my assignments and felt like I had to try and play catch-up for the rest of the day.

  • And of course, you count calories. Foods are either green, yellow or red, and you’re steered towards a certain amount of each per day.

In the end, Noom is like any other program you’ve tried, just with jauntier lingo. The long and the short of it is that you have to count calories.

The database of known foods may be growing as people add in grocery store items and ingredients, but when I tried it, it was still quite limited. I mainly shop at Giant and Wegmans, and many basic products I bought there were not recognized.

And, naturally, I had to put in all my go-to recipes again and calculate how many portions they are (I dunno, I’ve made them up!), and how many calories a portion is.

Other Elements of the Noom Program

At the beginning you are assigned a coach. Your coach is a “health consultant” but is not a registered dietician.

I don’t know what qualifies a person to be a health consultant, but the supposed lady who was my coach seemed more like a robot giving automated responses. She was worse than useless.

After a period, you are also added to a support group. I think you’re matched up with others who began at more or less the same time, have similar lifestyles, goals and habits (they ask you about these things when you sign up).

Honestly, most of the time I ignored what was going on in my “support group” and what the group leader (another Noom employee) was posting there. She was supposedly setting challenges or giving motivating advice, but most of the time it just felt like even more stuff to read and assignments to complete.

All In All

Okay, so I did lose a little weight when I started Noom. That’s probably because my calorie intake was limited to 1,400 calories a day (whaaaaaaat? Yeeeeeeeeees, I know it’s ridiculous).

I spent a lot of time hungry. The “green foods” Noom suggests you focus on were not enough to fill me up. Lean proteins and even healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds are classified as “red foods,” so I avoided them.

Funny, but it seems to me like (in moderation) these are precisely the kinds of foods that help to satiate while also stabilizing blood sugar. But hey, I’m not an expert.

(Though it seems I already know more than my Noom “health coach” did.)

I fell behind in my readings and quizzes and soon became overwhelmed and unmotivated. My tracking fizzled, and before long I had quit and deleted the app.

And the weight crept back on.

In Conclusion

In terms of personalization, good coaching and support, Weight Watchers is definitely superior to Noom. Their database of known foods is also much better.

If you want to try a diet that encourages low-fat, low calorie consumption, and you don’t want stupid people talking to you as if you are the idiot, then skip Noom and use Weight Watchers. If you’re going to be hungry, you don’t want to feel like someone’s adding insult to the injury by belittling your intelligence.

Personally, I’m ready to try something else. Something drastic.

Watch this space.

I Am Not a Garbage Disposal

It’s my new mantra.

I have to mutter it to myself 4-5 times a day, as I look at what my children have left on their plates.

This is a huge pitfall for parents trying to lose weight, I have learned.

Still Counting

It’s been about ten days, and I am still counting those calories. Thanks to some very sagacious advice from my godfather, I have also added some strength training to my fitness routine.

There have been good days and bad days. Some days I have too much, other days I don’t even eat all my allotted daily calories (rare), but I’m counting everything.

Some days, I feel perfectly satisfied.

Other days, I feel like I spend the day hungry. I’m convinced it’s psychological, because those days are the ones when I have less going on. I’m not as busy, hovering around the kitchen more.

Those are the days when my kids’ plates are especially dangerous.

Family Rule

We have one kid who simply doesn’t eat a lot, and another kid who is a picky eater. The Bug will taste pretty much anything, but he won’t eat lots of it. The Bear will flat-out refuse to eat things.

To mitigate the exhaustion and unpleasantness that can be mealtimes, we have instituted one simple rule:

One bite of everything.

Whatever foods are on their plates, they must take one bite of each. This can lead to faces, complaints and protests, but generally they comply.

The trouble is that whatever they don’t like gets left on their plates.

Often, the things they don’t like are the things that I love!

After eating, once they’ve cleared their plates to the counter, I have to steel myself before heading to the kitchen to start tidying.

It’s so easy to finish off what they’ve left behind! And it seems like such a waste!

(The worst part is that Chico can finish their plates AND have his own helping of seconds and never bat an eyelash. If I were to do that, I’d see the difference on the scale the very next morning.)

Building Up the Willpower

Different people have different approaches to this problem. I’ve heard of people squirting dish soap on their kids’ plates as soon as they get to the kitchen in order to avoid the temptation.

What’s helped me, though, is the knowledge that I must write everything down.

Today, the school-provided lunch was “pizza crunchers.” Basically, fried balls of mozzarella stuffed with tomato sauce. Neither of the kids liked them very much, and they left most of them on their plates.

The golden lumps of fat gleamed up at me from their plates. Their siren call was in their smell. They smelled delicious.

Just one bite, I told myself.

I picked one up, but instead of feeling a crispy crust between my fingers, all I felt was a soggy, smooshy lump.

That broke the spell. I dropped it back onto the plate (splat!), quickly carried it into the kitchen and emptied it into the garbage.

Whew! That was close!

Feeling Pretty Good

I managed to resist temptation. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

And then the boys and I baked brownies.

Making A Decision

Earlier this year, towards the beginning of the pandemic, I made a decision.

I decided I would write every day. As regular readers know, it started off as a creative writing challenge. I did many, many posts based off of some creative writing prompts I found online.

Lately, it’s evolved from that. It’s just become a habit. Instead of following the creative writing prompts, though, I’ve gotten into a groove of coming up with my own topics and writing (if not daily) pretty regularly.

Another Decision

A couple of months after making my first decision, I made another.

This time, I decided I would exercise. At first I said daily, but knowing myself I knew that wasn’t sustainable. So I set myself a goal of 4 times a week.

Seeing as the first decision I’d made had worked out so well, I was optimistic about this. It helped that Chico got us an exercise bike!

Sticking to It

I’m proud to tell you that (so far) I’m sticking to both these decisions.

Some days are better than others, but on the whole I’ve written and I’ve exercised on average four days a week for a few months now.

Each time I hit “publish” or get off the exercise bike, I feel proud. I feel like I’m doing something positive for myself, and it feels great.

I decided to do both of these activities (writing and exercise) for my own mental and physical wellbeing. Writing challenges my brain, and cycling pushes my body.

And I feel their positive effects daily.

Time to Make a Third Decision?

But now I think it’s time to make another decision.

I’m a bit nervous about writing this here, to be honest. It feels risky. I could be setting myself up to potentially feel very crappy about this if I fail.

And by telling you all about it, you’ll all know if I fail!

Oh well. Here goes…

I’ve decided to change my eating habits.

Breaking it Down

That’s a huge thing. So I’m breaking it down into one key element:

I’ve started (ugh, I shudder to think of it!) to count calories. Specifically, to use a free food tracking app called MyFitnessPal.

If writing is a pleasure, and exercising is a challenge, calorie counting is (let’s face it) a bit of a chore.

I have come to the conclusion, however, that this one act, this practice of tracking what I eat, will significantly contribute to both my mental and physical wellbing.

When I Look In the Mirror

Now, when I look in the mirror, or when I see photos of myself, I shudder. I am heavier than I’ve ever been (aside from the end of my pregnancies, but that doesn’t count).

The image I have in my own mind of myself does not match what I see in the mirror or in photos. And it’s jarring every time I’m faced with the reality of how I actually look.

Also, despite increased exercise, my weight has not budged. That means that the pressure on my back is the same.

While I am stronger and my heart and lungs are definitely healthier, I can still feel the stress that my excess weight puts on my lower back.

Realistic Expectations

I’m not trying to look good in a bikini. I’m not even trying to weigh as little as I did in college. My goal is modest, and is really based on a feeling more than a number.

Writing makes me feel more creative, more observant and sharper. Exercising makes my lungs and heart feel stronger, and I don’t feel winded walking up the stairs, or chasing after my boys.

By counting calories (and watching how I eat), I hope to improve my digestive health, feel even more energetic, and feel good about the way I look.

Now I’ve Told You

So now you know. I’ve made this decision. And by telling you all, I hope to hold myself accountable.

If you want to join in, you can look up thebraininjane on MyFitnessPal. Or you can just get in touch and swap stories, share encouragement, ask questions, whatever!

(Now I know that there are programs like Weight Watchers, Noom, etc., and I’ve previously tried them to various levels of success. Maybe I’ll write an article about why these haven’t worked for me.)