Just One More Mile: When Exercise is Anything But Healthy

1620926_998862783473172_7494305765083366545_nHave you ever been at a crossroad in life when you just did not know what was going to happen next? I clearly remember the summer of 1979, a time of change for me. As I look back at how I coped back then, I have realized I may have been on the brink of something very dangerous.

I had just returned home from finishing my dietetic internship in Nashville, Tennessee. I had been away at college for 4 years, and then a year away for my internship, and for once in my life, it did not feel right to be home with my parents and younger siblings. I couldn’t quite explain it, but pretty much everyone got on my nerves. I had applied for a few jobs, but in the mean time, I needed to find a way to cope with everything. As you may know from a post a few weeks ago, in college I had taken up jogging when I quit smoking, and it literally changed my life. I continued my running down in Nashville (it was hot!) but only did a 2-3 mile loop around the hospital grounds and Vanderbilt campus. This has always been just enough for me to relax and meditate, and easily fit into my life.

But when I came home that summer, something happened. For some reason, I felt like “challenging” myself. My younger sister Fran also was into jogging, and we had lots of fun running and talking. Our loop was only a few miles and was perfect. Being my little sister, who was very sweet and agreeable (she still is), well, it was easy to convince her to add on a mile. When we first ran 5 miles, I remember, we both felt pretty awesome. Wow, look how strong we were! I wonder how much longer we could run? Before you knew it, we were up to 7 miles. Then 8. Finally, only once in my life, I did 10. It was a drizzly day, I vaguely remember, and it took me a very long time. But at least now I could say “I ran 10 miles!”

Yes, it felt very cool, and we both felt proud of ourselves until something weird started to happen. It wasn’t enough. If for some reason we only had time to do 5 miles, I remember feeling a sense of guilt and inadequacy. I couldn’t understand what was happening, but somehow this running that started out as fun and good was turning into something that was, well, getting a nasty grip on me. And I did not feel like I could control it, yet I did not recognize what was going on. Thank goodness, that phone call finally came. I got a job! It was out of state, so I would have to move into my own place in Massachusetts. I was so relieved!

Then, the funniest thing happened. I found a place, found the local High School track, and after work went to jog. For some reason, I no longer had to compete with myself. Now, 3 miles was enough again. What happened? I felt content, proud of myself for getting a job, and excited about this new life I was entering.

Looking back, I now know what happened. I was using running as a distraction from my feelings of fear. It may have been fear of change, fear of failure, fear of rejection. Maybe I was not smart enough to get a job? Maybe nobody would want me! It was terrifying. But I did not feel that at all at the time. That is because I found a way to numb myself. I took something that was once a blessing in my life, something that made me feel good and helped me cope by relaxing me, something that was not harmful to me at all, and turned it into something that had the potential to destroy me.

To be clear, there are many people who are very stable, happy, and healthy, and who are marathon runners, but the difference is, it adds to their lives. This is not what I am talking about. Real athletes don’t feel guilty about taking a day off, and they aren’t trying to escape from their real feelings. It is only when something like running serves to distract someone from dealing with life that it can become unhealthy. When we don’t deal with our feelings and pretend all is good in our lives when it really isn’t, well, something eventually is gonna give. Day to day life is not very fun when all you think about is something that is getting you nowhere.

If you can relate to this story, or if you find yourself compelled to exercise for the wrong reasons, remember, the first step is realizing you have a problem. I was fortunate in that the dynamics in my life just happened to let me slip back into normal life. Once I left, my sister also went back to a normal lifestyle. This is not always the case. If you have been struggling with this issue, or find it hard to stop, seek help. Don’t let the years slip by. You are not alone, as our culture admires unhealthy behaviors such as exercise addiction, so getting out of something that is culturally acceptable takes some doing. I always recommend even just one visit to a therapist or psychologist to at least get a professional opinion if you think you might be using exercise to distract yourself from life. That way, at least you are taking a step. That one little step can be life changing……and get you farther in life than any marathon ever.



Remembering a Day That Changed My Life

Your future is in your hands

It was a cold and drizzly fall day,the year was 1976. I had agreed to meet my friend Joe outside in the parking lot of the condominium where we lived off-campus at The University of Connecticut. At the very last minute, I found myself changing my mind. I did not want to do this. What if I couldn’t do this? I was feeling insecure and afraid, but yet, when I agree to something I hate backing down. My motto is “you never know until you try”. For instance, I tried golfing once, I tried to get on a horse, and I tried skiing. People seem to love these things, and I wanted to understand why. After getting kicked by the horse and breaking my leg in two places as well as my ankle on the bunny slope, well, I can say I tried. Golf didn’t work out either. It was kind of like baseball for me, I just could not hit the darn ball.

So there I stood in the drizzle, waiting in my new Nike sneakers and windbreaker. He finally shows up and starts talking, giving me such encouraging words, describing what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. Joe was a physical fitness major and he knew what he was talking about. I had recently quit smoking cigarettes, and I needed something else to help me deal with life in general. After chatting with him the days before, I agreed to give running a shot. He was here to help me, and to guide me on my very first “run”. He had mapped out our route, which simply was a half mile to the end of the street and back, totally an entire mile. He guided me through some simple stretches, and then we started. Can I do this?

I literally felt like a fish out of water. Just a few months ago, I could barely walk to class without running out of breath (and would light up a cigarette once I finally got to sit down and catch my breath). It had been awhile since I smoked, and I actually was feeling so much better (I did not realize how bad I felt until after the fact…..when I had much more energy and realized this is how I am supposed to feel! this is how people who don’t smoke feel very single day).  I also need to share that my roommate Marion at the time was my inspiration to even consider this. She was a runner, and loved it, and although I did not understand why, I wanted to be like her! So Joe and I started out on this country road, and I started to run as fast as I could (isn’t that what you are supposed to do?) but he stopped me. He showed me how to pace myself, and trust me, it was VERY SLOW! So slow, in fact, that it actually felt GOOD. I could breathe. My legs felt strong. I could do this.

We made it to the end of the country street and turned around. I will NEVER FORGET how I felt when we got close to the end of our “run” and I could see our condo complex. I am going to make it, I thought. We reached the parking lot and I felt something shift inside of me that changed me forever. I loved that feeling so much, that feeling of success and accomplishment, it changed my “definition” of who I was, and who I wanted to be. I think we all have our own self-dialogues going on in our heads, thoughts nobody else can see about ourselves that eventually create who we actually are. Sometimes the thoughts are self-deprecating. “You are so lazy! You can’t do that!”

Yes, I can. And I did.

After that, I looked at myself in a very different light. I loved the idea of feeling good, and being healthy and fit. THAT is who I wanted to be. NOT someone using cigarettes to deal with stress. But, I definitely needed something, and the reality is, when we give up a “habit” it is almost always necessary to substitute something else. In my case, it was running. It became my new “habit”. It stuck. For years. Over time, I increased my distance and my usual runs became 2 or 3 miles. I did not run fast, but I loved running longer. It gave me time to think and meditate, solve problems, plan and dream. As I got more fit, running was just as relaxing as sleeping. I started to do road races and loved the camaraderie of other friends who had discovered the same joy I had.

Over the years, my running habit has shifted along with my life. It is funny, but I think because I always ran after classes (4-5 pm), that is the time my body seemed to crave movement throughout my life. To this day, after work, I just can’t wait to move. My body just craves it. I went through phases of running longer distances, but now prefer walking and slow jogging. I can day dream on a track, on the side walk or even on a treadmill. It doesn’t matter to me, just let me move. It can be kayaking on a local reservoir or mowing the lawn. I just need to move. If you have ever taken a few minutes to watch young children outside, they usually can’t stop moving. I think it is innate in us to move our bodies in ways that are fun and enjoyable. When we put unrealistic goals and numbers and expectations on it all, well, to me the fun is gone. Maybe that is why people “hate exercise”?

The benefits to my life thanks to Marion and Joe are too many to count. Because of this life-changing experience, I can enjoy vacations as much now, at my (older) age as I did in my 20’s. I can hike up Red Rock in Sedona, or down the Grand Canyon. I can walk for miles up and down the cobblestone streets of Cinque Terre in Italy. I can walk almost the entire town of Venice, never tiring. I can enjoy all of the bike trails on Cape Cod, explore the cliffs of Gay Head, garden for hours, walk all over the lively North end of Boston and still dance the night away. Yes, that day changed my life.

Since that day, I also became passionate about promoting health. I felt it, the way this simple act changed my life and my identity, and I wanted everyone to feel it, too. With every patient I have ever worked with, this has been my goal. So many people focus on how they look, and not on how they feel. They focus on the number on the scale, they judge themselves for that, and the self-talk and dialogue in their minds do nothing to help them be who they are supposed to be. People “try” but unfortunately, not everyone has a “Marion” for inspiration, or a “Joe” in their lives who can guide them in such a gentle and self-loving way to be the best they can be. To just start. One foot in front of the other. One pedal around the block. Dancing to even one favorite song.

Unfortunately, not every has the physical ability to enjoy all kinds of fun movement. I know many with joint issues, back pain, muscle issues, and other ailments that will always impact them. I am so grateful to be blessed with a body free of pain, and know that many do suffer. If you can move without pain, you definitely are blessed.

As I was writing this blog, my husband walked in and asked me to read what I had written so far. So I did, but as I started to read the 4th paragraph (“We made it…..”) I could not continue. I got choked up. That is how powerful that experience was, that is how important to my life. It took me by surprise, how strongly I felt, but then again, life-changing shifts in self-identity can do that.

I hope you take a minute to stop and reflect on your own self-thoughts and the dialogue in your head. Do you have unrealistic expectations when it comes to “exercise”? Do you call yourself names? Use the “L” word? When it comes to moving, to be clear, I definitely do not think everyone should be running! I have absolutely no advice on what anyone should do as far as physical activity. YOU are the expert on that. YOU know what you love. Some people absolutely love competition, enjoy running fast, getting stronger and stronger, keeping track of times, and amounts of weights they can lift, how many reps they can do, etc. The bottom line is, they enjoy it. It makes them happy. If what you are doing is not enjoyable, or does not make you happy, that is a different story. I just hope you look at moving in a different light. If you look at it as a means to an end, it may be hard to enjoy. If you instead can find something that has the capacity to be one more thing to enjoy in your day, a fun way to move your body (think kids, think hula-hoop, think fun, think freedom), well, that may be something you keep in your life for as long as you live.

So, that is the story. A day that changed my life, who I am and is part of why I have a passion to help people be healthy. Not perfect. Just healthy. I don’t want to be the only one on the dance floor when I’m 80.



My Tips for Holiday Happiness

New Tradition: The Funky Tree

I remember way back in the day when I was a child visiting my old Italian Grandmother at Christmas time. She had this tiny fake table top tree on a coffee table. Yes, it was lovely, but I thought to myself “how can anyone settle for such a small fake tree? I will never do that!”

But now I understand. I love traditions, but as time passes by, children grow up, time is short and priorities change, so do traditions. Sometimes these are hard to give up. The tradition when I was growing up was for my mom and her sister and two brothers and all of their kids to go to Great Grandma’s (small) home and have Christmas (25 people in addition to random great aunts and uncles and cousins who might stop in). There was always a gigantic fruit tray covered with dates and figs, nuts and chocolate along with all varieties of Italian food. We kids would be all over the place, climbing on couches and under tables, eating and laughing. As the years went on, Great Grandma passed away, and new traditions evolved.

After I had three children and a home of my own, I took it upon myself to have a gigantic family “Open House” the Saturday before Christmas. This way, my siblings (who also had children) and I could be home with our families Christmas Eve (easier for Santa Clause).  Because most of us were struggling financially, we totally eliminated buying gifts for each other and instead, for this party, everyone bought a 10 dollar gift for their children, wrapped it and stuck it in a Santa Clause bag that was kept hidden. After much talking, eating and holiday music Santa would arrive with fanfare! He would be loud with his HO HO HO (since he was a professional who my aunt was able to get due to the fact she hired them for the malls…one year even I was almost fooled). Santa would take out the gifts one by one as each child would go and sit on his lap. We would gather around, the adults almost as excited as the kids. Since everyone brought a dish or dessert, and no one needed to bring gifts except for their own child, it was a simple yet wonderful night filled with all of the important things: family, fun and love.   Since then, our children have all grown up . Many of them are in their 30’s with children of their own. Some have moved out of state and can’t afford to fly home every Christmas. Yes, times have changed. And so have the traditions.

I continued to have open houses however not everyone could attend. One year we decided to look for a retirement home in Naples, Florida (not that we are ready to retire, but prices were low at the time). We ended up purchasing a lovely condo with a “Lazy River”Pool that is fantastic. We are able to rent out the condo for all of the winter months, but for the last 3 years have gone down for 2 weeks over the holidays. At first it was hard because I felt guilty leaving the one daughter who still lived home in CT as well as missing seeing my parents and siblings who still get together at Christmas. Because I still had my “Open House” or at least a family holiday dinner the week before we left, I still had that feeling of connecting with family that I needed….just not on the exact day of Christmas.

Now, I count down the days to fly away! Last year two of our daughters were able to join us and that was wonderful. Thank goodness for Skype and Face-time because I was able to “see” my son in Colorado and my parents and family at home.

Even with all of the ways we have changed, and even simplified the holidays, this time of year can still be draining. Besides accepting that traditions are bound to change a bit, there are other things that interfere with enjoying this season that I think we all struggle with. These are my top issues and how I have learned to deal with them:

  1. Making everyone happy. I remember when my daughter was about 7 years old and wanted this walking barking toy dog. They were all the rage….and no where to be found.  My friend asked me if I wanted to drive to the next state because she found two there in some store. I declined. Where do you draw the line? If she does not get the walking barking fake dog, will it really ruin her Christmas? Instead, Santa left a note that he ran out but he would send some money to buy one if she still wanted one. A week went by, she got to see her friend’s walking barking fake dog…came home and said “I’m glad he ran out. I don’t want one”. What makes your family happy? YOUR happiness : )
  2. Baking the traditional cookies for everyone so they will be happy. This may only be my issues (probably because making the same traditional cookies allows me to reconnect with my family, and all of those great memories). The fact is, I do not like baking. It has to be cold and dark, and maybe with a candle or two lit. Snowing is better, and conducive to baking enjoyment. It rarely snows when I have to bake. I need to send out my cookies to Colorado and Austin and South Carolina, so I need to get them done. I have learned to compromise. I no longer bake every single cookie. I no longer make 92 dozen. One small container per person will do. I need to fight my Italian instinct that more is better when it comes to giving people food. They truly don’t care. It is the thought that counts.
  3. Getting gifts for important people in your life to show you care, when you don’t have extra money lying around. My close friends and I no longer exchange gifts. Instead, we go to Happy Hour. There are still people however that means something to you, maybe a special co-worker or even just the mail man, or your hair dresser. Yes, I may give a cash gift (especially if it is your hair dresser who you have known before your hair turned gray). Otherwise, I like to make what I call “White Chocolate Crunch”. This is a yummy mix that can be wrapped in those small cellophane holiday gift bags, tied with a ribbon, and good to go. A batch might make ten gifts. Here is the recipe that I found in a newspaper while waiting for my snow tires to be put on a few years ago: Melt 3 (12 oz) bags of white chocolate chips on low. Stir in 3 cups of cheerios, 3 cups of rice or corn chex, 3 cups of pretzel sticks (thin), 2 cups of raisins, 2 cups of peanuts, and a large bag of M and M’s. Mix well. You can add more or less of whatever you want. Spread on wax paper and cool completely. It is the best.
  4. Parties. Happy Hours. Too many social events with people that you want to see but you don’t always have the energy for. Don’t get me wrong, I love parties and happy hours, talking and sipping wine and catching up. But not when I am exhausted. Unfortunately, I have had to decline a few happy hours, and had to leave one of my favorite annual holiday parties early because I am fighting a cold. It just is not worth it. So, my advice is, as usual “listen to your body”. Just say no. Your good friends and the people that matter will be just as happy getting together in January.
  5. Taking care of your health (sleep, eating, fun moving, etc) when time is flying. Even though our schedule is busier, with more to do than usual, our bodies still need to be nourished with food, sleep and movement. Our diets don’t need to be perfect, we may not get our usual sleep, and our exercise/physical activity patterns may change for a month. It really does not matter much unless it is extreme. Are you missing meals or living off of cookies? are you drinking too much Wassail punch and not enough water? Are you staying up to the wee hours so all those packages can be wrapped perfectly? It is wise to look ahead at your week and weekends and be prepared. Plan to get to events early so you can leave on time and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Bring water or other non-alcoholic drinks to parties so you can stay in balance (or just know your limits). Don’t forget to buy your usual lunch food for work, food for dinner (even if you have to buy ready made food such as a rotisserie chicken) so that you don’t miss meals for the simple fact that you were so busy getting stuff done you forgot to buy food. Maybe you have too much to do and can’t get to your Zumba class, but you still deserve a break such as going for a leisurely walk on a weekend when you may have more time. On the other hand, if you have been shopping and cooking and cleaning all day, don’t try to get in visit to the gym just because you feel that you should. Listen to your body if it is exhausted. If is it not going to be rejuvenating, but will only serve to exhaust you more then skip it.
  6. Christmas Cards. I know there is some kind of rule that you only need to send holiday cards out to people who send them to you. I love getting the cards from old friends and others, but I just honestly don’t love doing cards. I love making calendars though from the hundreds of funny pictures I collect throughout the year. So I may make a funny calendar for someone, or a funny card….or not. I used to feel like it was a job, an obligation, but not anymore. I don’t think people care. I know I don’t care if  you send me a card. I just want everyone to have a happy and healthy holiday. But like I said, I may send a funny calendar, it just might not be on Christmas…                                                                                                                                                                                                                              So, that Funky Tree you see at the beginning of this post…..our new tradition started several years ago. Since we now go to Florida we can no longer have a real tree, so we purchased the funky tree which, you guessed it, stands on the table. Whenever we travel we keep our eyes open for the silliest funkiest ornament we can find (hippo on skies, Santa on a Hammock, etc). Each ornament carries a special memory….we love our little tree and everyone else has grown to love it too. So yes, traditions change, holidays are stressful, but, if you take the time to keep it simple, this time of year can be as special and meaningful as it was meant to be. Happy Holidays!
  7. IMG_8078
    Santa Clause……

How Many Calories Do You Burn with Exercise? And Why it is a Waste of Time to Think About it.

IMG_7743That’s my bike. My husband was away for a week, and with nothing much to do after work, I decided to take advantage of a half day, warm weather, and Fall in New England. I planned to take a spin on my bike on a great bike trail near where we live in Connecticut. I packed my camera and a water bottle, threw my bike in the back of my Subaru, drove a few towns over, parked, and started my adventure. Because it was a weekday and early afternoon, I was alone on the trail. The trail winds through several rural towns with corn fields and rolling hills with trees bursting with color everywhere I looked. I was beside myself with joy. I was out there for 2 hours, but had stopped a dozen times to snap pictures. One of a duck on a pond where the reflection of him and the trees around looked like a mirror. Another of hay rolled up alongside a field where a farmer was working. It all was absolutely magnificent.

Back in the day, I used to bike very differently. I use to wear those black padded shorts and have bike shoes (I still have them) that clipped onto the pedals so that you could be more efficient and pull your pedal up as well as push down (easier to cover more miles that way). I would do a route during the week that was 20 or 30 miles, with weekend rides that were 50 to 100 miles. It was actually pretty fun, and very meditative.

But now, things have changed. My husband loves the bike trails, and loves to be active, but the first time I biked with him, we stopped many times for tag sales, ice cream, wine tasting, you name it. With those bike shoes clipped onto the pedal, I almost killed myself! I finally put on regular pedals and wear sneakers. I transitioned into a typical biker who just has fun. I love it, too.

To me, except for that extreme road biking where destinations far away were the goal, I have always looked at exercise in a different way than the “diet mentality” would have you look at it. Actually, even with the biking, I really enjoyed myself. It was fun. There was never any connection to eating (although, when I ran out of energy, I often stopped for ice cream, which is a great and fast way to refuel when you are on the road like that).

Today, what I see is treadmills and stationary bicycles in gyms that tell you how many calories you are burning (FYI-do you really think a machine can predict that? Even if it knows your sex and weight, it does not know your dieting history, or your muscle mass, which greatly affects your metabolism). I hear people talk about how they can eat something because they are going to “burn it up” at the gym. At work, when I look for nutrition education materials, I cringe. Just today, I was looking for a colorful and simple handout to teach about healthy drinks for a class I was teaching this morning, and what I found was a handout on the sugar content of certain drinks (ok to educate yourself). BUT it then spelled out how many minutes of walking it would take to burn up the calories! Seriously? I did not use it.

Did you know that exercising after eating with the specific goal to burn the calories is sometimes referred to as “purging with exercise’? It is not psychologically healthy. It is a disordered way of looking at what should be something you do because it is good for your body and also enjoyable.

Are you someone who looks at calories and then tries to figure out what you have to do to burn it up? That is so NOT FUN and also not helpful when it comes to the real reasons we exercise.

First of all, I want to ditch the word “exercise” because people have negative feelings toward that word (I know because I have asked every person who has attended any weight management class I have ever taught). When I ask what the first thing they think when they hear the word “exercise” people say: pain, tired, boring, hate it…..So instead, I like “physical activity”. Or PA for short. PA can be anything and that is why I like it. It can be walking with a friend, it can be going out dancing. It can be hoola hooping. It can be cleaning all day long or mowing the lawn or moving furniture.

We all need PA on a regular basis because that is what our bodies like and need to not only feel good but also to work better. When we move daily we sleep better, we are better able to regulate our appetites (our chemical messengers work better), we release endorphins so our mood is better, and it is easier to deal with stress. We get stronger so that if we fall down, it is easier to get up (or we can help move things, like furniture).  We are more likely to have a normal blood pressure, our “good” cholesterol (HDL-high density lipoprotein) is more likely to be high (which is what we want since HDL is protective). We get skills (such as being good at volleyball or basketball, or being the best dancer, or the best hoola-hooper like I am) and being good at something is very good for your self-esteem.

So, yes, being active is very important for our health, how we feel about ourselves, and our energy level. But, there is absolutely no benefit to knowing how many calories you burn. In fact, if that is what you are focusing on, your are likely to be miserable and eventually hate physical activity. I have found that people who do this (focus on burning calories to lose weight) tend to give up. They tend to stop “exercising” at the same time they “blow their diet”. So if you link physical activity with calories or dieting, you will miss out on all the fun things in life that keep both your mind and body healthy.

Do you think you can let go for even one day of thinking about moving as a way to burn calories? You don’t have to make an “all-or-nothing” decision. Instead, why not experiment with looking at moving in a fun way (something you enjoy) instead of a way to burn calories or lose weight, even for one day (maybe a Saturday when you might have more time?). See how you feel. Then the next time you go to a gym, or look at some device that tells you how many calories you are burning, just say “You don’t know me!” And go enjoy a fun day of moving….IMG_7748 IMG_7738 IMG_7707

Do You Need To Be Perfect?

downloadIt dawned on me this week that one of the most wonderful gifts in life is the ability to not have to be perfect. I was reminded of this on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon last week. It was one of those picture perfect, almost fall days with a gentle breeze, sunny sky, no humidity and perfect temperature. Once a year I go with one of my best friends to a reservoir near where I live to go kayaking. My husband and I go several times during the warm months but my friend Barbara does not own a kayak and so for the past two years she and I decided to start a traditional and yearly kayak outing. She is retired and I get out of work early on Friday, so last Friday we went on our trip. We packed some sandwiches, the new Lay’s Reuben flavored potato chips and some wine and a camera, and off we went. Since it was a week day we almost had the reservoir to ourselves. We both had our hair disheveled, no make up to speak of, crappy water shoes, faded shorts and tee shirts, and no jewelry (well, except one of the necklaces that I refer to as my kayak necklace, which is made of natural jute and beads that my daughter made for me, and that I love (and do wear other places), but especially love for things I do in nature, like kayaking).IMG_6753

Anyway, we paddled along and stopped at a clearing on the shore to go walk along a path that became muddy, but was beautiful along a bog with reeds and lily pads and frogs. We also had found a spot where we paddled to float near a fallen tree (dubbed Broken Bark Bar) to have our late afternoon lunch/happy hour plastic cup of wine and proceeded to chat about everything. We both agreed we were at a point in our lives where we were so thankful that we were content and thankful to enjoy all the beautiful but simple things in life. We realized how relieved we felt to actually not care about our hair, our make up, or what we were wearing. Life is hard enough as it is. Problems come up with children and family and friends and life in general. It never ends! Imagine the extra strain of having to be perfect. Sadly, I clearly remember all the people I have met who struggle with this on a daily basis.

Just imagine:

Having to do a certain amount of exercise a day. Having to follow a certain diet, and think about every morsel that passes your lips (yes, there are people with dietary restrictions who have to avoid foods for medical reasons, but that is not who I am referring to). I am thinking about those people who forbid themselves things on a daily basis, and truly get emotionally upset when they do not follow their own self-imposed rules. People who invent some body image goal they feel is the only body they could possibly be happy in. It typically is not achievable without mental and physical repercussions, yet they carry on with the delusion that this perfect body will be the answer. Even when they reach their “goal weight”, it is never good enough. One thing I will never forget is the anorexic patient who told me “I finally realize, the only time I get to wear my goal jeans is when I lose so much weight that I have to be hospitalized”.

Can I share what I have learned from those I have seen reach these goals? These are the patients I have worked with over the years, and this is what I have seen: they change their goals once they reach them. It starts with one goal of losing a certain amount of weight, but then, that is not good enough. The weight goal lowers. They reach it and it still does not make them happy. The person who has the goal of doing a certain amount of exercise? The need to run a certain race, then another and another. Well, when they reach their goal, it is not enough. The goal increases. And they still are not happy. The end never comes.

I think we all have a bit of perfectionism in our lives, or at least unreasonable expectations. I know of moms who need to vacuum 4 times a day (and don’t let their children walk on the carpet….no footprints allowed). I know of women who pick their perfect outfits out of their perfectly organized closets the night before work (I definitely can’t relate). I personally struggle with going to bed if there are dishes in the sink. It won’t happen, I can admit. I just can’t wake up to that. Mornings are hard enough.

So, anyway, at the end of our kayak trip we got ashore, loaded our kayaks, life jackets and oars and drove back, back to reality. We put up our pictures on Facebook, and tucked another wonderful memory away in our hearts. I felt thankful for this friendship with such a wonderful and special woman, a mother who I am sure whose sons would consider the perfect mother, a friend who her many friends would consider a perfect friend, and to her significant other, well, I know he thinks she is perfect, too. With no make up, disheveled hair, faded shorts and tee shirt. I left feeling so very thankful for this beautiful day, but mostly for the realization that I now, finally, can embrace my imperfections and truly not care. Age has helped (one of the perks of getting older!) I only hope and pray that others might take a step to let go of just a little bit of perfectionism in their lives. Care about your health, but there is no need to eat 100% perfectly, or to exercise 100% every single day or to any perfect schedule, or to be any certain body that is not achievable without getting sick or obsessing about food. If you try and try and try…….and still can’t let go of it, consider getting some help. Realizing that you don’t want to have to be perfect anymore is a huge step forward.

For a long time now I have realized being imperfect is my definition of perfect. So consider a new definition of perfection for yourself!

Now if I could only get over leaving the dishes……

Why you need to stop trying to have “willpower”

hungry man and burger I have always disliked the word “willpower”. Maybe because so many people cast judgement when they think someone does not have any. Why do you keep smoking? You need to have more willpower! Why do you keep overeating? You need to have more willpower! Why are you binge eating? You need to have more willpower! Why do you drink so much? You need to have more willpower! If only you had more willpower. I hate that word.

Also, people judge themselves. When they want to change and can’t, most people beat themselves up mentally and verbally. Why can’t I have more willpower?! This makes me sad because changing, especially when it comes to eating behaviors, has nothing to do with willpower.

I like looking at things in a somewhat holistic way. It is never one simple answer and most people behave in a certain way because of a variety of influencing factors. When it comes to eating, I always have felt there are three things that affect us (probably more but to me, these are the three general areas I have encountered with the people I have worked with).

  1. Physiology
  2. Environment and habits
  3. Emotions

First, let’s talk about physiology. By this I mean all the physiological things that are going on in your body that most of us never think about. What most people do not know is that our bodies regulate themselves as far as what and how much to eat. For example, people who try to avoid carbohydrates eventually end up craving them. Why? Because a chemical messenger named serotonin in our brains will drop if we do not eat enough carbs and will send the message that we need to eat them! Have you ever craved something sweet? We all have. Even dietitians usually can’t keep track of what they eat, let’s face it, we all have busy lives and sometimes just eat what is there. But our bodies will definitely tell us, they are keeping track! A good example is a dinner I prepared for my husband the other day. We kind of ran out of food and I had gone out with a friend so had already had an early dinner. I threw together a “Chef’s Salad” because I had leftover grilled chicken, leftover pepperoni slices from a party, some prosciutto I had left from a recipe I made over the weekend, cheese and lots of salad (it was buy one, get one!). He loved it with his Chipolte Ranch Dressing, but I knew he was going to be craving something sweet later at night because there were no carbs in it. He is not a fan of beans and I had no croutons : ( So later at night it was kind of funny when he said “do we have anything sweet? I need something sweet!” So predictable. Nothing to do with willpower and everything to do with physiology.

What kind of imbalances are YOU creating with your eating? In addition to not getting enough carbs, if we don’t get enough calories our bodies regulate that also. Leptin is one messenger that will make sure you know you have not eaten enough. Are you skipping lunch to lose weight? Are you then getting mad at yourself for not having “willpower” at night when you end up binge eating? Not your fault, and not your lack of willpower. Physiology, plain and simple. You can’t fight it, so don’t blame yourself. There are so many more examples, but the bottom line is that your body is much smarter than you are, and having more willpower is not the answer. Trusting your body is. Check out more on this topic (especially for you biology buffs) with these articles:

Appetite Hormones (July 2015 Issue, Today’s Dietitian,Appetite Hormones  By Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD, LD, Vol. 17 No. 7 P. 26)

Gastrointestinal-Brain Connection

The second reason people need to forget about willpower is the power of environment and habits. We all have behaviors that are affected by our environment, and eventually we fall into habits that we don’t even have to think about. Let me ask you a simple question: what do you do when you walk in the door after a long day of work (or school)? Do you kick your shoes off and run to the couch, click on the TV and relax? Do you go straight to your room, remove your work clothes, put on your jogging shorts and sneakers and run to the track? Or do you go straight to the fridge and open the door? Or maybe grab a beer and sit in front of the news?

All of these behaviors are habits. None has anything to do with willpower. The person who has been coming home and going to the track has no more willpower than the person who runs to the fridge to grab a snack or a beer. The issue is that each person has developed a habit over time, triggered by their environment. Just walking in that door sets all behaviors in place. The question we need to ask ourselves is NOT why we don’t have more willpower, but what behaviors are we not happy with and want to change? Changing habits is another long story and not easy. We can start however by changing that initial trigger, not by blaming ourselves for not having enough willpower! What if you avoided that couch and put on sneakers instead? then went and sat outside on the porch just to watch the birds. Anything to break that chain. Wishing you had more willpower or berating yourself because you do not is not the answer.

Finally, the third reason to forget about willpower is to remember that emotionally we are all different. No one has the same life growing up, the same role models, the same experiences or the same biological make up. How can we expect to have the same amount of willpower? Consider the woman I once worked with many years ago. She was a binge eater and was a stay at home wife to a man that wanted her to be thinner.  She had gained weight throughout her 20 year marriage and he just wanted to help her. So what he thought was helpful (“you don’t need that! That is enough for you!”) was actually hurtful. She told me that she would eat her Special K with skim milk in the morning while he had his bacon and eggs, then watch through the window as he drove away. The minute he disappeared from sight, she would go straight to the fridge and start eating. And eating. She had a binge eating disorder that was partly due to emotional reasons. NOT lack of willpower.

The bottom line and take-home message I hope you get is that expecting yourself to have more “willpower” may be a losing battle. Instead, can you consider looking at your lifestyle and asking yourself what behaviors you feel are not contributing to health? Are you restricting too much and then binge eating and getting mad at yourself? Are you wishing you could be more active because you really do want to have more energy but feel you have no willpower to go to the gym?  Are you drinking too much and blaming yourself?  I suggest just start by thinking about which of these three areas are affecting you most. Then work on figuring it out without judgement. Stop expecting yourself to have willpower to fix things that are way more complicated.

Working on your health both physically and mentally is a wonderful thing! Just taking the time to read this post shows you care about yourself and that is a great thing too! Stop berating yourself for not having enough “willpower”. No one does.

Does Exercise Make you Hungry?

man eatingSo many people I know tell me they don’t think it is worth it to exercise because it just makes them eat more. Not only that, It’s not worth it, they say because they don’t lose much weight from it. When they start an exercise program they do the usual thing, jump on the scale often to see if they are losing weight. When the number does not go down fast enough, they stop. It’s not worth it!

Does that sound familiar? Is that you? Do you look at exercise only as a means to lose weight? What if you could fast forward a few years ahead (not that you really want to do that and miss out on life, but just for the sake of understanding my point, just think about fast forwarding to think about what you are doing to your body). From my perspective, and I totally get it, most people with weight issues are looking for the quick fix. That is how the diet industry survives because losing 10 pounds in 2 weeks is pretty appealing. So of course if you decide to join the gym or start a walking program with losing weight as your only goal, well, after a few weeks you will likely stop.

Stop for a minute and fast forward to a year from now. What if you started walking a little bit at lunch time, or after work. Or, if you are not an outdoor kind of person, what if instead of sitting and watching the news, you started to jump around and do some dancing and moving. After a year of this, even just 4 days a week, even for 30 minutes, that is over 100 hours that your body has moved that it would not have. That is your heart pumping blood and getting stronger. I guarantee, you will be a different person, more energetic and feeling better and healthier. Unfortunately, most people don’t think about that, they only care about weight.

I truly care about promoting health, but to appeal to the weight focused I can share that over time (not next week, or next month, but maybe even years) your body is much more likely to be at its best weight if you start to move NOW. You may have heard that “muscle burns more than fat”. True. Exercise burns calories. True. Exercise increases your metabolism. True. But did you know that people who exercise regularly have better appetite control? That means they tend to feel “full” quicker than couch potatoes, or people who don’t tend to exercise or move much. There is more research to do, as we know people vary in their response to exercise (yes, some people do get hungrier however they still get full faster than if they did not exercise). For those who like the details, check out this review article on the topic: article on exercise and appetite

Today I was fortunate to be able to run in the Annual Petit Foundation Road Race in Plainville, Ct. Annual Petit Road Race. It felt so good to be able to finish the 5 K road race at my age! It was great to see my fellow classmates crossing the finish line for this great cause. People of all ages participated whether they walked, jogged or ran, you could feel the joy on this hot muggy day because we all were able to help just by being there. It struck me how important it is to keep moving, and not for the reason of losing weight, or having whatever kind of body you are thinking will finally make you happy. Today made me happy.

I hope you start moving today for reasons so much more important. Fast forward. Do the things you always wanted to do, not just in 2 weeks, but for the rest of your life.

Eating and Exercising for your Future Health Sucks

Another great post from a fellow dietitian who promotes a non-diet approach. Glenys O describes a different way of looking at diet and exercise that I hope will make you think….enjoy!

Dare to Not Diet

Feel good NOWPerhaps I am a naughty dietitian for saying so, but I think doing “healthy” stuff now to ward off vague future health threats is a terrible motivation for behavior change.

There. I said it. So sue me. But first let me explain.

I think we humans tend more toward hedonism than toward future thinking in that, most of the time, we just want to feel good in the immediate here and now.

This has been gleaned anecdotally by me in a not-at-all scientific way but I’m standing by it right now because 1. That’s how I am myself and 2. That’s how my clients are and 3. That’s how my friends are. So, with only a few exceptions, that is, like, everyone I know! Yeah, people want to be healthy but more importantly they want to feel good.

Somewhere along the way to feeling good and feeling healthy, weight became…

View original post 723 more words

When Exercise Isn’t Fun Anymore

kids on monkey bars Remember back in the day when you had recess in elementary school? It was always the highlight of the day, the time where you could run free outside, swing on the swings, play tag, or climb the monkey bars. Then after school, if you were lucky, you were allowed to play kickball outside with your friends until it got dark. Before you ever thought about being active or needing to exercise to be healthy, you were already doing it. But you were having fun!!

Things have changed. It seems to me there are few adults that I know who do fun active things because, well, they are just FUN. Most adults, especially those with body image or weight concerns appear to be “forcing” themselves to “exercise” with the intention of losing weight and/or changing their body. Not to be stronger, feel better or have more energy. This typically organized movement (aka exercise) sometimes involves a gym, a treadmill, a video or some other activity that the person does not look forward to (not like the monkey bars back in the day). Yes, there are many people who actually really love to going to the gym and actually have a blast doing their Zumba class. These are not the people I am referring to.

In her book “Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies”, Dr. Margo Maine explains that particularly if you exercise excessively it could be a symptom of an underlying psychological condition. If you are not able to solve the issue yourself you may need the support of a therapist. She describes the following behaviors that may indicate a problem:

  • you judge a day as “good” or “bad” based on how much you exercised
  • you base your self-worth on how much you exercise
  • you never take a break from exercise no matter how you feel or how inconvenient it is
  • you exercise even though you are injured
  • you arrange work or social obligations around exercise
  • you cancel family or social engagements to exercise
  • you become angry, anxious or agitated when something interferes with your exercise
  • you sometimes wish you could stop but are unable to
  • you know others are worried about how much you exercise but don’t listen to them
  • you always have to do more (laps, miles, weights) and rarely feel satisfied with what you have done
  • you count how many calories you burn while exercising
  • you exercise to compensate from overeating

So, if any of these description ring true for you, just being aware is the first step. For more information on Dr. Maine’s book which includes many great resources for those struggling with body image concerns, check out this link:Body Wars

And remember, it is never too late to start going to the playground again!!!

Regarding “Clean” Eating….

mopThis women’s face is how I feel several times per week. Have you fallen for the latest weight loss craze? This is driving me crazy!! It angers me when people are taken advantage of because they are desperate to lose weight. How do you define “clean eating”??? And why does it usually involve some type of juice that you need to purchase?? Anyway, try to find some good long term outcome studies on this diet approach, and please share them with me. I can’t find any. The bottom line is any trick to make you eat A LOT less will make the force of gravity on your body less over time (that means you will weigh less). It won’t last. Most of these diets have you do a juice fast or just fruits and vegetables or maybe a “clean” shake for a certain amount of time. You will lose weight as your body breaks down muscle (sorry but the Krebb Cycle prefers amino acids to keep producing it’s ATP’s for energy, not the fat you are hoping it would use). Not to mention the typical dehydration that occurs when your body is breaking down muscle from starvation (because when you break down muscle you need to get rid of the nitrogen through your kidneys, and your body knows to use water to dilute it otherwise your kidneys would be damaged…unfortunately, that happens to some people anyway). And if you are getting way too little calories, your body may be building up toxins in your blood called ketones….that isn’t too “clean” if you ask me.

Not to mention, don’t you have to eventually eat something? Then what? Have you learned anything about yourself? Have you identified some unhealthy habits you may have had and are you magically now able to change them? Probably not. If I could have a dollar for everyone I knew who lost weight on a plan like this, but then gained it back, I might have retired by now. This latest fad is nothing new, just like the low carbohydrate diets, the low fat diets, the high protein diets, and on and on, it just delays the inevitable work your really need to do.

I’m good with vegetables and fruits in your diet. But this is way too much thinking and that is something we know people can’t sustain over time. Why not simply work on adding in these healthy foods to your diet and continue working on listening to your hunger and fullness, recognizing when you are eating when you are not really hungry, taking time to move your body because it is fun and feels good and also contributes to your health? Stop all the “cognitive restraint” and focus on health. There  is no such thing as clean eating.