Happy New Year II

It was about this time seven years ago that my weight loss efforts really began moving forward. I’d been slogging along for a few months, making a few changes here and there, but it wasn’t until the arrival of spring that I really began to feel the change. Fresh fruits and vegetables, warmer weather, more daylight hours for after-work exercise–all of these combined to give me just the push I needed to get into a higher gear.

red tulipSince then, I’ve viewed spring, and Easter in particular, as my more authentic new year beginning. It’s a great time to shake off the dreary winter, take stock of how things are going, clean up any areas that have gotten “messy”, and move forward with new schemes and dreams. Basically the same considerations I might go through in January, but I know now that it’s much easier for me to build momentum and/or make a fresh start when the weather matches my optimistic mood. :)

Several years ago I considered the idea of spring cleaning on the inside (clearing clutter and making a fresh start), and while I don’t read my own blog very often, this post is one I do revisit each year about this time as sort of a mental/emotional weigh-in. I can always count on finding one or two little (or not little) areas that need some attention. This year was no different. :)

Just in case you might want to do a check-in of your own and create a brand new new year, I’ll save you the trouble of clicking back to the old post and include the article in its entirety below. (I’m just helpful that way.) I hope you find something useful in it!

Spring Cleaning on the Inside

(originally posted on 3/16/09)

Think about your life (health, fitness, relationships, career, finance, etc.). Where are you now? Where do you want to be? Why aren’t you there? Don’t beat yourself up over it; just ponder the matter and see if any of these nasties have crept into your life:

Excuses: We’re probably all guilty of making excuses for ourselves when we’re trying to justify something we should or shouldn’t have done. Surely, it’s not just me. (Antidote: When you catch yourself making an excuse for something, ask, “Is this really true, or am I just making myself feel better?”)

Rationalizations: Did you know that another way to spell “rationalize” is “rational lies”? These are the thoughts and words we use to give ourselves permission to do something we know is wrong. (Antidote: Unrelenting honesty with yourself. YOU know the truth about your efforts.)

Unfair Limitations: Many, perhaps even most, of the limitations we face are self-imposed. Why we would do this to ourselves, I don’t know, but we do. (Antidote: Ask yourself, “If I didn’t have xxx in my way, what would be by next step? Then figure out how you can do it–or some form of it–anyway.)

Regrets and Resentments: Writer Malachy McCourt once said, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Holding on to past haunts and hurts prevents us from moving forward. (Antidote: Forgive yourself and any others involved, and focus on the future. At minimum, let it go.)

Procrastination: “Someday” thinking is fun for thinking about the lottery. For managing our lives, it doesn’t work so well. (Antidote: See Makeover Monday: Getting It Done.)

RightThisMinute Thinking: We all want to see results fast. Whether it’s successful weight loss, financial security, starting a family, or any host of other desires, many of us have a tendency to want to get it done rightthisveryminute. We should be applauded for our energy, but doing things too quickly can cause us to do them in a way that’s unhealthy, inefficient, or ineffective. (Antidote: Patience. Focus on progress, not the goal line. Unless, you’re looking at the goal line, of course, and then it’s eyes on the prize time!)

These evil little habits have a way of creeping into our lives and derailing our progress. Join me this spring in spending a little time with a mental broom and dustpan, eliminating this clutter from our lives. Note that I didn’t say we’d eliminate it for good. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes, and I’m sure we’ll all face these pesky demons again at some time in the future. We’re savvy enough to know that and strong enough to defeat them.


Wishing you all a Happy New Year II! :)

On the Menu: Ghrelin Milkshakes and Placebos for All

I’ve known for a while now that my attitude is one of the biggest influences in my successes. My failures, too, but let’s keep this on the positive side. My point is that what I think affects how I feel and that affects how I act. It’s all very psychological. Or is it?

Monday’s Morning Edition reported on a study that suggests that there could be an actual physiological component in all this.

Specifically, Alia Crum‘s research focused on how nutrition labels affected the body’s processing of those foods. Her theory: “Labels are not just labels; they evoke a set of beliefs.” And she wondered how those beliefs affected the body.

Chocolate Milkshake at Bob's Big BoySo she did what any good researcher would do and made a bunch of milkshakes which she then poured them into bottles. Half were labeled as sensible (low calorie, no sugar, no fat) and the others were labeled as decadent (over 600 calories!), even though all were the same 300-calorie shake.

To monitor the effects of the shakes, Crum’s helpers measured the ghrelin levels of (lucky) study participants both before and after they drank the milkshakes. Ghrelin, in case you’re wondering, is the so-called “hunger hormone” that sends the brain those pesky I want cupcakes! messages from time to time. (Your ghrelin might send a different message; mine is all about the cupcakes.)

As it turned out, ghrelin levels dropped significantly more in those people who thought they were drinking a high-calorie, decadent shake than those who thought they were drinking lower calorie shakes. What each group thought affected how their bodies reacted. The high-cal group believed they were getting more and their bodies responded accordingly. The low-cal group’s bodies said, “We want more!” (Take that, diet food industry!)

Keep this in mind when you consider another of Crum’s research projects: Mindset Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect(with Ellen Langer), which I first read about in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (an amazing book on its own, to which I have craftily attached my Amazon affiliate link. )

In this study, a group of hotel maids who believed they didn’t get enough exercise (say what!) were split into two groups. One group was given examples that indicated the work they did met the Surgeon General’s recommendations for daily exercise. The other group wasn’t given this information. They got to be The Control Group. Big whoop.

Checking in after a month or so, the researchers found that even though those in the informed group hadn’t changed their behaviors, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index compared to the control group. Apparently they weren’t doing their work differently; they were perceiving it differently, and that created physical change.

I’m no scientist (obviously), but I think Alia Crum and her co-workers are on the right track. This mindset thing is all I can think of that would explain how I could transition in a matter of days from eating a Snickers bar as an afternoon snack to eating a Snickers bite and being satisfied. I had convinced myself that a tiny bit of indulgence was enough, and so it was enough.

It also explains how my posture straightened and my chin lifted a little higher after I started exercising regularly. I was just walking on the treadmill (fairly slowly) and doing a simple yoga routine, which no doubt provided some physical benefits on their own, but the more far-reaching effect at the time was how I felt about my actions for having done them.

Even today, after 5+ years in maintenance, I see as much benefit from what I’m thinking as from what I’m doing. When I keep my mind focused on the right things, I do the right things. Or more of them anyway. I’m still me, after all. :)

Does this make sense to anyone but me? Or did I lose you at the milkshake? I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences on all of this.

Alphabet Soup: D

I’m feeling the urge to explore the next letter in my alphabet series looking at the words and concepts that help me stay on the healthier path. I wonder if it might have something to do with this:

d made of candy

What can I say, it was marked down to $1.00 a box in the clearance aisle. :)

But that’s okay. I’ve got a couple of ‘D’ words to help me keep my focus.

Discipline: Such a negative word if you think of it in terms of punishment or penance (I’ve tortured myself enough over the years, thank you very much), but when I think of discipline as a code of behavior, it becomes a power word. My behavior is a debt of honor I owe myself, not a tool with which to whip myself into shape. With that in mind, discipline is important as a daily action, but far more important as a means of returning to center when I’ve strayed away from it.

Determination: For many years, I believed my stubbornness to be a negative trait, but I realized early on in this adventure that it could be one of my most powerful assets. Making a big change of any sort requires a single-mindedness and unwavering resolution to see it through.

Delicious: I could have called this one ‘diet’, but I’m long past over that word. There’s an old joke that if the food tastes good, it can’t be good for you, so spit it out. Ha-ha, right? Well, for many years, I tried to lose weight by eating foods I didn’t enjoy. No wonder I couldn’t/wouldn’t stick with it. I know I’m not the only one who got caught up in that mindset, because I’ve read and heard other people say things along similar lines. All of us are/were wrong. Eating should be a joyful experience, not just a exercise in consuming minimal calories or points. Everything we eat should be delicious. Or, if you’re a marginal cook like me, an attempt at delicious. :)

Vitamin D I don’t want to overlook this powerful ally! A daily dose of sunshine–even as little as 10 minutes per day in summer–can protect against many diseases as well as help combat depression and insomnia. (I don’t know about you, but when I have insomnia, I often end up in the kitchen with my fingers in the almond jar!)

Those are the ‘D’ words that helped me in the past and continue to keep me on track. Now it’s your turn to amaze me with your insights.