3 Things Losing Weight While on Vacation Taught Me

Before I went on vacation I weighed myself, even though I really didn’t want to. Since getting down and dirty serious about my weight I grit my teeth and step on the scale at least once a week. It is the only way to keep a hawk eye on the insidious creep of weight gain.

I knew I wasn’t going to like whatever the scale told me, and I didn’t. My weight was 144.5. Just so you know, I am 5 feet, 2 and 1/2 inches.  144.5 pounds for my height and age has a BMI of, oh, I don’t know, 26.5, which is overweight! Some of you are going to say, oh don’t be so hard on yourself, it’s just a chart, and I get that. I just don’t feel fabulous at 144.5 and don’t I deserve to feel fabulous? Stubbornly I didn’t record the weight gain. Damn those extra pounds! If I don’t record them maybe they don’t exist! That was my thinking.

For our little vacation my family drove to the Adirondacks to stay for four days, then to NYC for five. We love the mountains and the city.

#1.  My body has learned new habits even if my head has yet to catch up. It’s been an entire year of working with dedicated food journaling. In that time I’ve lost about 18 pounds but something maybe more important has happened too. I just don’t crave junk food like I used to!

Road trips used to mean lots of junk food. I looked forward to  my once a year salty, fatty, sugary indulgence. Apparently not any more! I didn’t miss the salt or sweet at all so it wasn’t about feeling deprived or counting calories. It was almost weird because I found myself asking my body, ‘What is with you! Don’t you want those tortilla chips?’ and my body would shrug, ‘No, not really.’

Could it be that the past is no longer my eating habit destiny?

#2. Exercise does make a difference. The thing that I believe made the difference between gaining or losing weight on this vacation was how much we walked. We hiked like crazy in the Adirondacks where the elevation change is the same as in Colorado but the altitude is much lower. It was a revelation to all of us, me, my kids and husband. We go to the Rocky Mountains often and it usually takes two or more days to acclimate to the higher altitude. In the Adirondack mountains we could hike for as long as we wanted to right off the bat, and we did! Then in NYC we walked our asses off there, because that’s what you do in NYC. You walk everywhere! The one day we didn’t walk for miles we went to Jones Beach and swam like crazy!

#3 You don’t have to eat in front of the TV to enjoy your meals. I didn’t even realize this until I got home. There was very little TV viewing while on vacay. It’s not like we did this on purpose. It just happened that way. Whether at a restaurant, our bed and breakfast in the High Peaks country or my cousin’s house where we stayed in NYC, we sat at a table and actually talked while we ate. As a result I think I ate fewer seconds, snacked less and made better choices.

Believe me, it’s not like I deprived myself! I so enjoyed the local brew in Lake Placid, soul food in Harlem, empanadas in Queens and gelato on the Highline in Chelsea. Yum! This was a vacation after all!

So, the day after being back at home, it was time to face the music. I had to weigh myself. Sure I had gained at least a few pounds on top of the 144.5, I pinched my nose and closed my eyes. The scale said 142! It’s a vacation miracle! Or is it?

Catching up on the newspaper reading I missed while I was away I found this great article by Jane E. Brody, “Still Counting Calories? Your Weight Loss Plan May be Outdated.” In it a lot of my ‘discoveries’ turn out to be scientifically sound. Who knew?

Now I’m three pounds away from my goal weight of 139! Can I do it? Yes, I can! I’m feeling very empowered right now.

Love to you all! Thanks so much for your support!

Are you struggling with your weight? Tell me about! No, really tell me all about how you struggle, what works, what doesn’t. I’d love to hear from you.

How Advertising Messes with Women’s Body Image

12 Habits to Encourage a Good Night’s Sleep

Courtesy of ParanoidMonk via Flickr

Experts agree that sleep is right up there with eating and physical activity when it comes to taking care of our mental and physical functioning.  Lack of sleep is suspected of causing everything from increases in accidental death to obesity. So why are we so clueless when it comes to proper sleep hygiene?

Maybe it’s because the pressure is on to get away with as little sleep as possible. You don’t have to be the parent of a newborn to be sleep deprived. With 24/7 Internet access through our smartphones, round the clock entertainment through cable television, Netflix and Hulu, a global business environment that means staying up long enough to talk with Tokyo, lack of sleep is an equal opportunity malady.

How do you know you are getting enough sleep? If most days of the week you wake up before your alarm does, you are doing pretty well.

For the rest of us a reminder of good sleep hygiene (another way of saying healthy sleep habits) may help. I can always do with a good review:

1. Establish a regular sleep schedule and try to stick to it, even on the weekends, yup, even on the weekends, give or take a half hour but not more. If you usually need to get up at 7:00 in the morning, count back eight hours to establish your target ‘go to bed’ time. If you “sleep in” for hours on your days off you are voluntarily giving yourself what amounts to jet lag.

2. If you nap during the day, limit it to 20 minutes or 30 minutes, preferably early in the afternoon. Sleeping too much during the day (unless you work the third shift) may be a sign of sleep apnea.

3. Avoid alcohol in the evening, as it can disrupt sleep. You know the drill. Three ounces of wine or 8 of beer with dinner tops! Don’t kid yourself and push for more.

4. Don’t eat a big meal just before bed-time, but don’t go to bed starving, either. If your stomach is growling eat a light snack before bed. Stick with complex carbohydrates, like cereal, or white fruit, like an apple.

5. If you use medications that are stimulants, take them in the morning, or ask your doctor if you can switch to a non-stimulating alternative. If you use drugs that cause drowsiness, take them in the evening. I know this sounds like a big “Duh!” but you’d be amazed how many of the meds we take over the counter have stimulants in them. Excedrin, for instance, and some allergy relief medication can cause wakefulness. If nightmares are keeping you up, ask your doctor if they may be a side effect of your medication.

6. Get regular exercise during the day, but avoid vigorous exercise within three hours of bedtime. Just walking for 15 minutes every day could do the trick.

7. If pressing thoughts interfere with falling asleep, write them down (keep a pad and pen next to the bed) and try to forget about them until morning. Imagine literally pulling the thoughts out of your head and placing them on the paper. There is nothing you can do about that job application at 3:00 in the morning.

8. If you are frequently awakened by a need to use the bath room cut down on fluids four hours or so before going to bed.

9. If you smoke, quit. Nicotine is a stimulant and can cause nightmares. Yeah, I know, how easily said. I’m sorry if you are a smoker and have tried to quit a million times. Please, try one more time.

10. Avoid beverages and foods with caffeine for at least six hours before your bedtime. That means decaf too, and foods and beverages with other stimulating active ingredients like chocolate.

11. Take a good look at your sleep environment. Is it soothing? Are the sheets on your bed soft, clean? Are the lights low (imitating camp fire) or overhead (like the sun, hello!). Do you have a TV in your bedroom? Experts advise you take the TV out and read a light book instead. If you must watch TV before sleeping avoid the news and go for re-runs of a familiar comedy. Leave your smartphone as far away from your bed as possible.

12. About half an hour before you hope to be asleep start your go to bed ritual. Keep to the same ritual as closely as you can every night. Our bodies are creatures of habit. If every night you check the house, then the kids, then brush your teeth, then pajamas, then bed and a little light reading, your body gets the signal, “Hey, it’s time to sleep! Release the melatonin!”

I’m getting a little drowsy just writing this!

5 Ways to Deal With Vacation Weight Gain

Courtesy of brunobucci via Flickr

My weight loss journey took a wonderful turn ten months ago. That’s when I decided I was going to lose weight just one more time, permanently, once and for all. Slowly, very slowly, I have gone from the 160′s to the 150′s and now the 140′s. Being 5′ 2″ my goal is to be comfortably in the 130′s for the rest of my life.

I used to dread going to parties. Parties were outside my comfort zone. My comfort zone was the realm of my home and kitchen that I could control. Now after attending a few parties and discovering that I could handle being social while respecting myself food-wise, they are not the danger zone they used to be.

But vacations still are.

I’ve lost weight using the tried and true formula of counting calories, keeping a food journal and exercise. That is actually the easy part. As Biggest Loser winner, Ali Vincenti says, “So many people out there want to know what’s the secret so I’m here to tell them, there is no secret. Counting your calories, exercising most days and surrounding yourself with positive energy will get the job done. Not secrets!”

The hardest thing for me is the work of keeping the extra weight off. That is trickier because it has meant delving deeply into my attitudes about my self, what keeps me from truly embracing who I am and not what others want me to be.

You’d think at 57 I would have that figured out by now. Nope. I have discovered dark corners of my mind that have weighed me down as surely as any Boston Creme Pie.

How many times have I decided that when on vacation my discipline was on vacation too? The diet cop has left the building! If your method for trying to lose weight has to do with restriction as punishment (which mine was for most of my life) then yes, that makes sense. Even dogs must be taken off leash once in a while.

But going with the dog analogy, if he is trained with love and consistency, even off leash, he is happy to stay close and not get into too much trouble.

So in the spirit of loving self-kindness, I am endorsing the following attitude toward my vacation weight gain:

1. Do not get mad at your self! It amazes me how easily we get all up in our own faces and say abusive things like, “OMG! You gained three pounds in just eight days! What is wrong with you! Did you have to have the chocolate milk shake AND french fries at that diner? Ugh!” Being mean to ourselves when we are already feeling low is just cruel. Stop it!

2. Admit that there were some indulgences that were wholesome, healthy and enjoyable. Own it without guilt or remorse! Yup, I haven’t had a milk shake in that particular diner since my graduate school days. It was as good as I remembered. Heaven!

3. Be proud that you managed to eat some vegetables and fruit while on vacay. It wasn’t ALL carbs!

4. You walked your ass off to the point of blisters! It could be we actually move more during vacation than we do at home. Swimming, skiing, hiking, zip lining, bungee jumping, you name it. Exercise alone may not help us lose weight, but it does help us regulate weight gain.

5. Think of those pounds gained during vacation as unwelcome house guests. Real enough but, (thank God!) not permanent. After a few days it is time to shoo those interlopers away and  reclaim your space!

As Ali said, there is no big secret to weight loss: just calories in, calories out and a great, big smile!

Daylight Savings Time: It’s Only An Hour!

322109811_82a9dcb647Says who? For us morning people, and those on early fixed schedules, one hour less sleep is a drag. Plus, I was just beginning to enjoy the dawn’s early light when I woke up. Now it will be dark again. That makes me cranky.

Then there are those who happily anticipate the sun shining brightly at seven in the evening. More sunlight after work! What could be wrong with that?

Whatever our preference, we have no choice but to change the clocks one hour ahead tonight so we may as well accept it and adjust. We can be thankful the government was wise (for once) and chose to make the change on a Sunday and not on Monday.

Jane Kwiatkowski, News Staff Reporter at the Buffalo News, interviewed me and other experts to get our advice on how to make the transition to DST as smooth as possible. You’ll find her piece on daylight savings time here:  Beat The Clock.

Bottom line: I’m going to try to keep the pace slow for the next few days. I won’t expect much from my teenagers either. If yours are like mine, they have a tendency to stay up late on weekends causing jet lag on Monday. This Monday it’s going to be like they flew in on the red eye.

photo courtesy Orfield

My Weight Loss Journey: Throwing Out the Fat Pants

Photo courtesy Phoney Nickle via Flickr

Half way through losing 20 pounds (Which to be honest is more like 17 pounds right now. Hey! It’s a process!) I was getting depressed. My weight loss coach, Our Lady of weight Loss, Janice Taylor, wanted to know what was getting me down. This is how our phone call went:

Me:  This is going to sound weird but when I put on my old jeans and they’re really loose, it kind of weighs me down. I don’t get it. Shouldn’t that make me feel good?

J.T.:  What do you really think of when you put on those fat jeans?

Me:  I think of when I bought them. The sales lady, called the jeans “Mommy” jeans. I had to tell her calling them “Mommy” jeans was not a good thing.

J.T.  What else?

Me:  I was at my most over-weight. The jeans fit well at the time and looked good, but now when I put them on even though they’re loose, I still feel big. I don’t know if I’m making any sense.

J.T.:  You make perfect sense. You’ve heard of phantom limb syndrome? You have phantom fat syndrome. As our mind adjusts to the new body it still clings to the old image and all the feelings connected to it.

Me: Sounds like the pathological body image people with anorexia struggle with.

J.T.:  Kinda like that.

Me:  What do I do? The jeans are perfectly good. With a belt I can still wear them.

J.T.: Stop wearing them. Donate them to Goodwill. Go get yourself a new pair of jeans that fit you NOW! No more Mommy jeans. If you don’t, every time you wear those old jeans you are emotionally gaining those 10 pounds all over again. That’s traumatizing!

Me:  As you were saying that I took those jeans out of my closet and put them in the ‘To Donate’ pile. I already feel better.

J.T.: Good. Now look at everything else in there and get rid of the Fat Wear. Get rid of it! You will never need them again! As long as you hold on to those bigger clothes you are telling yourself you do not believe you have permanently lost that weight! Slowly your mind will catch up to the new reality.

Me: I get it. I need to act on my convictions. That will help my mind understand I mean business this time. No more ‘I need to hold to this in case I gain the weight back.’  Thanks, Janice.

J.T.: Now go shopping!

The Devil has White Hair & Wears a Christmas Sweater

5 Ways to Put the All-You-Can-Eat Genie Back in the Bottle: Part 2

The party actually went pretty well. I actually managed to follow all five of my party survival tips. Wearing my Banana Republic skinny jeans (1), I arrived with a tummy filled with carrots (2). I had a small glass of white wine and after I drank that, switched to Coke Zero (3). There was pizza of all kinds. I had one good sized slice of the vegie and made it last by eating it with a knife and fork. There was a fruit salad which I was grateful for; I had two servings of that.

It was a nice party, a mix of old friends and interesting new ones. After dinner the cookies and candy wear brought out. Thankfully they were placed on the kitchen table, out of sight and mind while I hung out in the living room.

Then the devil, in the form of the spunkiest white-haired woman you can imagine, decked out in a bright Christmas sweater, decided the cookies were not getting proper attention in the kitchen. So she brought three (count them!) THREE trays packed with all varieties of cookies and chocolates and put them down right in front of me!

I grabbed her arm, "You are the devil!" I gasped. She laughed an innocent angelic laugh, and sat down beside me. Taking advantage of the diversion, I introduced myself. Thank God she had a great sense of humor. As we chatted (4), the cookies shrunk away, no longer a threat to my peace of mind.

My family was among the first to leave (5) and as we drove home in the cold, dark night I felt pretty damn good that, for this day at least, the Genie was back in the bottle.

5 Ways to Put the All-You-Can-Eat Genie Back in the Bottle

The day after Christmas and all through the house are sweet, rich treats begging for attention! What is a person to do? I gave myself a holiday from counting calories these past two days. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I ate cookies and home-made chocolate whenever I wished. Our meals were to die for, with creamy, complex sauces and cheesy (in a good way) appetizers. Food is part of the celebration and there was no guilt involved. Even Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules, says that a person should allow themselves exceptions from the Rules (Food Rule #64: Break the Rules Once in a While).

Now that Christmas is over, my deep fear is that once I’ve broken my own rule of counting my calories daily, I will never be able to return!  I will continue to eat and eat and eat like an out of control Pac Man. This fear is egged on by a nasty voice in my head that says, “Go ahead, eat that cookie, eat five!!! You already broke your own rules for Christmas. What’s another day?”

 Can you hear that evil laugh?

One thing I know for sure: Elastic waists are very forgiving. Too forgiving. Deceptively, the-devil-invented-elastic-waists, forgiving.

Another thing I know: If I don’t want to be another statistic and gain even one pound over the holidays, I had better stop eating all the cookies. I needed to get back to counting calories. And if I was to get back to limiting my calorie intake, I needed an icy cold slushy-in-the-face reality check.

My healthy mind, the part of me that understands that treats aren’t treats anymore if we eat them every day, the part of me that wants to say no to the cookies and YES! to new found energy and a size six, that part of me wanted the discipline back. This morning I woke up knowing that today I would be counting my calories again. It was a promise I made to myself and I needed to honor that promise.

And what was the first thing that happened? My husband offered to make me breakfast! An omlette with a side of crispy, smoky bacon! I gripped the edge of the kitchen counter and squeaked out a “No, thank you.” While I made my own breakfast of grapefruit and a slice of chewy whole wheat toast with strawberry preserves, I breathed in the aroma of bacon and fantasized about eating it, a method that apparently has some scientific basis these days.

After the agony of saying no to the bacon, I had to admit I felt pretty good. Next was lunch. I ate all the vegetables I wanted to, mostly left-over from Christmas dinner, and instead of a bunch of chocolate chip cookies, I ate a bunch of raisins. That went well too.

My next challenge is the Boxing Day party we’re going to tonight. I already have a plan to deal with that:

1)    Wear my unforgiving skinny jeans to remind me why I am saying NO! to the pizza. No elastic!

2)    Do not go to the party too hungry. Eat a filling salad and baby carrots before leaving the house.

3)    Drink a lot of water or zero calorie beverage. Usually a host has some non-alcoholic options. Alcohol will weaken the already weak resolve I have; I know this from experience. Besides, holding a glass is a good excuse not to be holding a plate full of munchies.

4)    Spend the time at the party getting to know the other guests instead of hanging around the buffet. Usually the excitement of listening and talking to new people and old friends is a good distraction from the edible goodies.

5)    Leave the party early and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Sleeping well reduces stress which helps the body keep extra weight off

I'll let you know how it goes!

My Weight Loss Journey: The Dreaded Plateau!

Today I weighed myself to find I finally broke through the 140 pound Wall of Death. The digital read-out said "139.7" Yes, I realize that is only 3/10th of a pound below 140 but, dear God Almighty, I took it, held it close to my heart and did my happy Snoopy dance anyway!

This achievement is oh soooo sweet! For week after week I vacillated between 141 and 144. Many a weight loss ship is wrecked upon the rocks of the dreaded PLATEAU. Mine has always been at that five-pounds-left-to-go-before-goal phase. It happened many times, the latest a few years ago when I did Weight Watchers. I did fine until I was five pounds away from goal. Then I stopped losing and started gaining again.

It was so frustrating. Like climbing within ten feet of the summit of Mount Everest and turning back for no good reason.

The PLATEAU is generally attributed to biological stuff. Everyone knows that in order to lose weight the number of calories 'In' has to be less than the number of calories 'Out'. If you try to lose weight quickly by going on a super restrictive low calorie diet, the body/brain perceives a famine is going on out there. Result: It does what it needs to do to keep the metabolism from burning the few calories that are coming in. Thus a plateau.

The number one way to avoid a plateau is not lose weight so fast in the first place. Forget The Biggest Loser. Double digit a week weight loss is for idiots! Healthy, permanent, weight loss is no more than two pounds a week (doctor's orders). In order to make my weight loss journey the last one I ever have to take, I decided on targeting one pound a week, and I was happy I did, until the PLATEAU!

If I was losing weight super slowly why was I stalled? If my plateau wasn't biological, could it be psychological?


My Weight Loss Journey: Celebrate Small Triumphs

The sun rose today, the day after Halloween, and I smiled. I achieved two things I never thought would be possible:

1) I got through Halloween with not one piece of candy passing my lips!

After months and months of cognitive training I am better at not allowing my unhelpful thoughts (the nasty Voice) become my destiny. "There is so much candy in the house, of course I will eat it and blow my calorie budget." Inevitable, right? And yesterday was a particular challenge. I had the following in my house: ice cream, left over cherry cobler from a dinner party, made with real butter, mind you! Twixts, Starbursts, Andre mints, and Skittles.

Earlier at Wegmans while my daughter chose the candy for Trick or Treaters, my eyes fell on a display of grapes. Hmmm. Colorful, juicy, gumdrop sized bursts of sweetness! Grapes were exactly what I needed to keep the candy monster at bay. My healthy self was open to options and Behold! A brilliant one presented itself.

All evening long I gave out sweets to monsters and scary politicians (one little kid was dressed as Carl Paladino!), my husband ate cherry pastry with ice cream and my daughter and invited guests ate pizza. I munched on grapes!

The real sweetness for me is the triumph of telling the nasty Voice in my head that wants me to stay plump (because that's how I was labled in my childhood and that's how it shall ever be in omnia selcula seaculorum), to take a long hike off a short pier!

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