Meal Repetition

This week I’m using an idea from Mr. Pareto to help understand why doing a meal plan can make losing weight easier. In 1896 he demonstrated there was a LAW OF THE VITAL FEW and The Pareto Principal was born. Today we know it as the 80/20 rule.

We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time.

We use 20% of our kitchen gadgets 80% of the time.

We watch 20% of the same channels 80% of the time.

And we eat 20% of the same food 80% of the time.

Take a look at what you eat and where you follow the 80/20 rule. You can create a meal plan around the 20% of the food you are already eating. You can put routine into your diet based on what you already like to eat! Here are a few reasons this can work with you in losing weight:

First it clears all these anxious thoughts out of your brain:

“I don’t know what to eat.”

“There is nothing I want in the pantry OR fridge OR freezer.”

“I want something different today.”

“I had that yesterday.”

“I like to be spontaneous in my food choices.”

“I had that for lunch.”

“I am supposed to have something different at every meal.”

“I’m too tired to think of what to eat.”

“My family doesn’t like the same things.”

Second, a set meal plan greatly eliminates wasting food and therefore saves money.

Third, a set meal plan takes all the drama out of what you have for meals and what your family anticipates eating on set days of the week.

Fourth, routine meals make food shopping so much simpler since you buy the same ingredients over and over.

Fifth, a set meal plan makes it easier to see where you can level up to healthier options like homemade pizza instead of the cheesy crust take-out kind.

Planning meals that are routine and repeated does not have to be boring!

Remember, “Meal planning is boring” is just a thought. . . . . . .

Trial and error builds a meal plan that works for a week or month or season. I have favorite foods I put in my cool weather diet (chili, soup, casseroles, etc.) that I don’t have as often in the warm months.

Written meal plans can be saved and repeated.

I know some people who are so organized they have the same shopping list!

Meal planning makes use of the Pareto Principal. If you are keeping track of your food this will become very clear to you!

 I challenge you to harness your ALREADY EXISTING routines and favorite habits around what foods are in your diet to create a meal plan. Then follow it. Boring can be a very underrated tool in losing weight, saving money and eliminating anxiety over what to eat every day.

Eating My Frustration

At the end of my first blog post in December 2018 I made this comment: “By the end of the year none of us will be afraid to try, fail, try, fail, try again and fail again. Because not doing anything is failing and nothing gets accomplished. By trying we learn.”

I have practiced failing a lot in the 6 months since I wrote this.

But I don’t feel like a failure because now I think differently about myself.

Mostly I keep thinking, “I haven’t got everything figured out yet but I will.”

I keep finding errors in my thinking and keep working to correct them.

When I overeat it is because I have failed to experience whatever feeling I’m having at the time and then make a choice to comfort eat away my negative feeling.

Tuesday I was frustrated by the actions of some co-workers. I came home and overate lettuce salad to comfort myself. It could have been worse if I had a bag of potato chips at home!

I had a life coaching call scheduled that evening so my coach helped me understand my thought process about work. I love my life coaches, they help me get out of my head and help me “see” what my thinking is doing to my feelings, actions and results.

My thinking about what was happening at work that day resulted in a general, unhelpful, frustrating thought spin and the results were I kept blaming my actions on other people. I had forgotten I can’t control other people therefore I can’t blame them for what I am thinking and doing!

I was generating my own frustration!

My coach reminded me I just needed to take care of my own business and stay out of other people’s business. Everyone wins!

At work I have explicit and implicit values by which I operate. For example, an explicit value (something clearly stated) would be: I am my patient’s advocate at all times – this is a value I uphold as part of my nursing profession. An implicit value (something implied but not directly stated) would be: I work with my team until all the work is done; there is not my work or your work because it is all our work.

As I thought about my thinking at work and how to lessen my frustration and blaming things on others I realized my explicit and implicit values about work are not carried around by anyone but me.

My values are important to me to the point I looked for confirmation they should be the only values and should be shared by everyone! That sounds silly once I expose my thinking to myself!

I unrealistically expected others to share my values. This was at the root of my thinking that produced my feeling of frustration. This was the feeling I tried to eat away with lettuce salad.

Being honest about why I am overeating turns a fail into a win! I’m on to myself!

And lettuce not overeat! (You have to say that line out loud for it to make sense!)

Cheese and Fear

 

I just finished reading Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson.

The book is about the different ways we approach change.

The four characters in the book are Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw. In the beginning of the story they are all happily living and eating in Cheese Station C.

Then the cheese disappears!

Sniff and Scurry noticed early on the cheese block was getting smaller so started looking for other cheese. When the cheese disappeared they were ready to leave Cheese Station C and go find more cheese. While looking they got lost, went down dead ends, got hungry, but they keep looking. Eventually they found new and better cheese!

Hem and Haw didn’t notice the cheese was disappearing until it was gone. They hung around and waited for more cheese to show up, got hungry, waited around, got hungrier, and spent a lot of time worrying. Eventually Haw ventured out to find more cheese, got lost, got hungry, was afraid to go on, wondered if he should go back to where Hem was waiting but eventually found new and better cheese!

Unfortunately, the story ends before we find out about Hem. I imagine he is still waiting for someone to come help him.

Think about your weight loss so far; are you a Sniff and Scurry or a Hem and Haw?

Losing weight entails changing lots of things like our thinking, food, routines, cooking style, etc. If we sit around like Hem hoping some kind of magic is going to happen we won’t lose weight. If we are a slow starter like Haw we are afraid to try something new but eventually find a way to lose weight and keep it off that will work for the rest of our life.

I challenge that we can be like Sniff and Scurry who look for change and take action.

If your “cheese” is to lose weight then you know what to do! Take action and do it.

 

Believing and Biases

Our brains have very robust mechanisms to defend our belief systems. All our beliefs are strongly shaped by preferential ways of thinking in the brain called BIASES. We have hundreds of types of thinking biases to filter information, make sense of things, and just get things done.

Two common biases we use on a daily basis are confirmation bias and in-group bias.

With the help of cognitive biases, family, teachers, friends, and environmental culture my brain built its first beliefs about how the world works. My first 12 years of education pointed my cognitive biases toward conforming. I learned things by rote, explored subjects others thought important, and followed the accepted rules of behavior.

My nursing education also did not encourage me to think out of the box or approach problems from a different perspective. My nursing profession continued this habitual conformity of thinking by valuing a focus on completing tasks, checklists, and economies of motion.

Over time my brain effortlessly applied beliefs built in childhood, school and work to other areas of my life like health and nutrition. I particularly liked to glom onto beliefs that were advertised by “smarter” people, supported by “science”, or promised “instant” results. I thought following their rules and beliefs would get me where I wanted to go.

Here are other people’s beliefs I used to believe:

  • I have to keep track of every calorie.
  • As I get older my metabolism slows down.
  • It is hard to lose weight.
  • No matter what I eat I always gain weight.
  • Other people eat whatever they want and don’t gain weight.

All these old beliefs were holding me back from losing and maintaining my goal weight and these beliefs are so negative!

So I thought up these new beliefs and am working on making them real for me:

  • The hunger scale is the only tracking tool I need.
  • My body knows how to balance its metabolism.
  • Losing weight is easy with the 4 basics.
  • I can eat anything to satisfaction.
  • I am not other people!

Beliefs are built on thoughts. Find out what yours are and if you still like them because what we think is what we do!

Fasting

Many of my nursing co-workers have asked about fasting.

What is it?

Is it hard to do?

Why do it?

For those of us in the medical field we routinely have to deal with irregular meal times, skipping meals, speed eating during short breaks, and feeling a bit of food insecurity because of our jobs. I propose thinking and dealing with these situations in a different, more purposeful and even healthy way. I want you to consider fasting while at work!

If you think this is a crazy idea then consider this. Think about how many of our surgeons operate non-stop the entire day with out eating. They are excellent examples of fasting during the day and obviously have loads of energy to get through their busy schedule!

Here are some core fasting topics and concepts for you to explore. I am using one of the best resources on fasting I have found to date by Dr. Jason Fung on his Intensive Dietary Management website.

This may shock you but you are already doing intermittent fasting if you sleep at night!

When I realized this I extended the time between supper and the following breakfast from 8 to 16 hours every day and lost 5 pounds in a month all without changing what I was eating.

Remember, “breakfast” means when we BREAK our fast and is not set in stone to be early in the morning. If your body is not hungry in the morning why eat and put on more stored fat?

Fasting can be another FREE tool in your weight loss/weight maintenance toolbox. Along with drinking water, sleeping 7+ hours a night, planning meals, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are satisfied you are set for life!

Diet Myths

Diet myths and even some nutrition science keep us confused and looking for the next thing that may work for us.

Here are some diet and food myths perpetuated by the sales and marketing arms of our current food, diet, and exercise industries:

  • Never skip breakfast.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
  • I have to get a lot of protein in my diet.
  • Calories in = Calories out.
  • You must be on a diet to lose weight.
  • Fats are bad.
  • We need to look like models.
  • All carbohydrates are bad.
  • Eating 3 meals a day and 2 snacks is normal.
  • Skipping a meal means you can eat more at the next meal.
  • Skipping meals is bad for your metabolism.
  • You can eat more if you exercise more.

Think about each of these myths. If you believe in any of them search out how true they really are.

I am currently reading The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. She is an excellent investigative journalist who spent a decade tracking down why our culture vilifies fat in our diet. The book brings into question six decades of science that support the low-fat diet pushed by our own government.

We don’t need a diet fix based on myths built by marketing or incomplete science.

However, a diet that nourishes your body is a good idea. If you are keeping your body hydrated, rested, moving around, and nourished with food as Mother Nature made it you get rewarded by a body that works well. You are rewarded with good poops, strong joints, a clear mind, energy, and a feeling of wellbeing.

By contrast, a lifestyle absent these nourishing activities, full of sugar, processed foods, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or too much of anyone thing rewards us with fatigue, a foggy brain, sore joints, bad poops, gastric upset, and an overall feeling of imbalance.

“The iron rule of nature is: you get what you reward for. If you want ants to come, you put sugar on the floor.” (Charles Munger, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway)

If you want a healthy body, put healthy beliefs and habits in your brain!

Self-Care

If you have ever had a belief that food offers comfort then you may relate to my struggle to NOT eat and comfort myself with food.

In my 44 years of helping people as either a nurse’s aide or a nurse I have collected many stressful working days. People have died, suffered, yelled, cried, hit, and spit in front of me. I frequently hurt my back and routinely went without meals and pee breaks. I have seen co-workers get physically assaulted, cry, be humiliated, endure censure, not get credit for their excellent work, and do what ever needed doing to get the job done for their patients. Nurses routinely work with headaches, backaches, a sick child at home, low-wages, and a complete lack of gratification from co-workers, physicians, administration, and patients.

How do we shrug all this negativity off? How do we complete the transition from the often-brutal physical and mentally exhausting work environment to our completely different home environment? I have habitually done it by comforting myself with food.

But can I call food a comfort or a friend if it puts fat on my body? Nope. I need to care for myself better than that!

I do not have much mind power left after work. I love my job and the people I work with on a daily basis. I rarely encountered any of the situations I listed in the above paragraph at my current job. But work is still very physical, extremely challenging, and requires frequent intense concentration and mindfulness to keep our patients safe, physicians happy, and the work flowing forward. We do this for eight or more hours and then go to our second home jobs with very little willpower, ability to concentrate, or energy left over!

With this in mind I am going to make my transition from work to home easier. Instead of beating myself up for wanting to eat right after work I will allow myself to eat WHEN my primitive brain wants. I am going to consciously allow my emotional “hunger” from my primitive brain to eat as soon as I get home. However, my primitive brain needs to follow these steps I planned ahead of time:

  • Prep food on my meal plan
  • No tasting during meal preparation
  • Eat sitting at the table
  • No distractions while eating
  • Ask myself with each bite if a food is still giving me pleasure
  • If a food is no longer pleasurable then stop eating it
  • Wrap up leftover food or throw away

I am planning ahead of time to give my primitive brain the instant gratification of prepping and eating food. But then I do the more important work of focusing on not overeating the meal!

Am I just giving my inner toddler the candy it wants? Or am I being kind to myself?

I am choosing to think I am being kind! And being kind to ourselves is the best form of self-care.

What is Enough?

Last week I talked about controlling the direction our decision marbles can take down a damp hill of sand. How our conscious brains could direct which way the marble rolled. How consciously sending the marble down the groove we WANT it to go is a great visual to building better habits.

Habit change is best done one marble at a time. We need to practice and keep track of that ONE marble until it is consistently going in the direction we desire. Trying multiple habit changes simultaneously will have us just losing our marbles!  We don’t get efficient at doing our job in one go; with repetition we get really good at opening those sterile supplies, drawing up medication, positioning patients, confirming allergies, setting up equipment, etc. Each task we do at work felt clunky doing at first, we had to think our way through doing it each time until it “clicked” and we began doing it automatically.

Let’s take one of the four basic habits we are practicing on a daily basis: eating each meal to a +2 satisfied on the hunger scale. A +2 means our body has had “enough” to eat. But how do we find our +2 on the hunger scale if our satiety cues are all out of whack?

If we have habitually been overeating emotionally for decades then our insulin-resistant, leptin-resistant metabolism is going to make it VERY difficult to judge when “enough is enough”!

How can we tell when our body has had “enough” like a normal eater can?

I have discussed using visual cues (small plates, just noticeable difference, smaller portions) as a hack to help combat habits that have us overeating. These work by keeping us aware of what, why, when, and how often we are eating in the moment so our conscious brain has a chance to overrule our unconscious primitive brain. These visual cues make us consciously think about what is “enough” food.

But what does “enough” mean?

If we are consistently overeating at meals then “enough” is probably when the plate is clean, the bag is empty, the food is all gone, there is no more in the house, etc. With this type of thinking an external measurement tells us when we have eaten “enough”. Well what if we are on a cruise and there is food everywhere 24/7? Our definition of “enough” will just expand!

Here is another way to think about what “enough” can mean. Enough for a “normal” eater is when they are no longer getting pleasure, satisfaction, or enjoyment out of what they are eating.

Here is an example to understand this concept. A restaurant serves a 10oz. juicy steak with a big baked potato, melted butter and a side salad. You start eating your favorite item and the first 5 or 6 bites are delicious. But if you continue eating, your interest in the food will peak. The taste is still good but not as good so you go on to the next food. This happens with each of the foods on your plate, your taste pleasure peaks and then wanes after a certain amount of bites. This is your body’s way of telling you that it is satisfied with that food and it has had enough!

The next time you are chewing your meal pay attention to each bite. Are you enjoying it fully and loving the taste, texture, and smell enough to eat more? Or, are you going through the motions of eating because food is still there?

We want to enjoy our eating experience! We don’t want to make it mindless!  We enjoy it best if we listen to what our body is telling us.

I have tried this with potato chips. I would eat a whole bag (we are talking PARTY size here!) no problemo! So I did a little experiment this week with a party size bag of organic avocado oil sea salt potato chips from Wegmans.

After eating about 10 chips they started tasting pasty, dull, and my tongue actually hurt from the crispy salty chips. It became disgusting to continue eating them! I had had enough because the pleasure of the salty crispy oily chips had peaked and I was becoming aware of the complete lack of satisfaction I was experiencing as I continued to eat.

I realized I had continued to eat chips (insert in place of chips any food that is overeaten) when my body was yelling at me, “enough! STOP!” I had literally ignored FOR YEARS what my body had figured out 10 chips in!

Now my guide is to pay attention when I am eating and when my pleasure in a food peaks and starts to slide away, that is my enough. This is not an exact science as “enough” is not an exact measure. But “enough” can be found when my mind and body pay attention to each other.

“Enough” will be that physical satisfaction and just noticeable difference your thoughts can “see” and emotions can “feel”. Finding your “enough” is a strong habit to practice that will leave food on your plate and less fat on your body!

Visualizing Habit Change

Last week I explored how I was thinking about a particular circumstance: eating after work. I was thinking UNconsciously one way (food will sooth me) but chose to think Consciously another way (I can wait 15 minutes before eating my planned food). I also decided to think consciously more often by sparking awareness of my thinking at a specific time and place (after work at home).

My conscious thinking will eventually build a new UNconscious habit. Practicing it at each meal is guaranteed to turn it into my new unconscious habit!

Karen Koenig, a behavioral cognitive therapist, developed a wonderful visual to depict this process. In her representation the marble represents a DECISION that needs to be made.

Imagine a tall pile of damp sand with a colorful marble sitting at the peak. A shallow groove is formed when the marble rolls down the pile of sand to land at the bottom. When the marble is again at the top of the pile it will go down the established groove, making the groove deeper, creating a well-established pathway for the marble to follow. Let’s say this groove represents our UNconscious decision of overeating to buffer negative emotions.

Say the marble represents the decision “Do I eat this food now?”

To change the decision from “Let’s eat” → “Let’s NOT eat” you must engage your conscious brain before the unconscious brain makes the decision for you and sends the marble rushing down the established habit pathway.

You can accomplish this with the LEAST AMOUNT OF EFFORT when the marble is at the top of the pile. Catch yourself BEFORE your unconscious brain decides for you.

REMEMBER, OUR BRAINS LIKE EASY SO GIVE IT EASY! We need to do a little effort RIGHT HERE to create a new neurological transmitter cascade pathway for the marble to travel.

Otherwise the marble will just roll down the established groove again. The more often we do this little effort to get the marble to roll down the new groove the deeper the new groove will get. Eventually the groove will be deeper than the one you wanted to avoid and the marble will automatically roll down your new “habit” groove, leaving the other groove to be less “enticing” to the marble!

We want our NEW decision to get to those fast-spiking interneurons FIRST! That means doing some pushing and shoving against the neurotransmitters wanting to start our unconscious habit. This work will feel clunky, wrong, and uncomfortable to our brain. Keep doing it anyway!

For me it FIRST entails being aware I have a decision to make and SECOND sitting with my uncomfortable emotion for 15 minutes. Within 15 minutes I no longer feel jittery, anxious, unfocused, or empty. I’m still feeling “deprived” but I also feel “ridiculous” to be feeding myself when I am not even hungry! Plus, I am feeling “powerful” at accomplishing this win over my unconscious brain!

Physiologically, it took 15 minutes for the neurotransmitters generating the “deprived” emotion to dissipate. Eventually, the “deprived” neurotransmitter pathway will not be stimulated and I will no longer physiologically experience it in my body each day after work. A new “Powerful” neurotransmitter pathway eliciting the “Powerful” feeling will replace it!

So, next time before you want to eat ask yourself one of these simple questions:

• Is my body hungry?
• Is this the only food available to me?
• Am I seeking comfort by eating this?
• Am I really just thirsty?
• When was the last time I ate?
• Did something upsetting just happen to me?
• Am I feeling a negative emotion?
• Am I tired?
• Am I bored?

Your answer will tell you how you are thinking.
Your thinking will make you feel a certain way.
The way you are feeling will make you act a certain way.
The way you act will get you a result AND reinforce your thinking.

When the decision marble is at the top of the sand pile your thinking will put the marble in motion. So think a better way and get that marble going where you want it to go!

Why Delay Gratification?

This week I asked myself: Why it is so hard to NOT emotionally eat?

The best way to get out of my head and understand what I am thinking is to do a thought download. I did a TDL this week after work and found a lot of things to discuss with my brain! I found a series of WHY questions helped me understand what my thinking, actions, and results were.

If we do not understand “WHY” we do anything it is inevitable we will lose our sense of direction. Having an answer as to WHY we do anything is our compass. I know why I do my job at work, it is all about my patient and giving them the safest, best experience possible – everything I do at work comes back to this! Why I want to get to a healthy weight is to feel physically and mentally better than I do now. So all my choices need to support my why.

Here is a bit of my discussion with myself:

Everyone has their times of day or situations in life when food is used to sooth, calm, fill, distract, and create meaning RIGHT NOW. For me it is after work every day.

Why is it hard to not emotionally eat when I intellectually know I am not physically hungry?

I have a meal planned but I don’t want it. I have food prepared but I don’t want to eat it. I want “something” else to fill the emotional discomfort inside me because it has always worked that way in the past.

Why is it so hard to ignore the immediate gratification I will get from that bag of chips, jar of peanut butter, half a cake, or entire pizza?

Because my brain remembers how it tastes and doesn’t care how fat it makes my thighs.

Why do my taste buds rule over what my “self” really wants?

Because it can. Because I let it. Because I ignore what I planned ahead of time when I had the size of my thighs under consideration!

Why can’t I stop making the choices that will lead to gaining weight?

Because I choose to avoid feeling my emotional discomfort. I choose to ruminate over what happened at work, how I spoke to someone, how someone spoke to me, what happened with that patient, equipment, doctor, or in traffic on the drive home.

Because I have been choosing the immediate gratification of food in my mouth and not delaying my gratification until my stomach is starting to growl with real hunger signs.

It feels like an epic struggle in my head, the dialogue is adversarial, combative, negative, and overall “feels” really terrible. I want to avoid it and seek comfort in food instead.

But it is just a feeling! There is no epic battle where people are injured or killed. I keep my thinking at a dramatic level because “epic” stimulates a dopamine release in my brain. And my brain wants that “other” food for the glucose spike to generate more dopamine!

Today I made a different choice. I fought the epic nonexistent battle in my head for 15 minutes instead of eating as soon as I got home from work. After 15 minutes the fight was over and I wasn’t injured or killed. Unbelievable! Now I am feeling better!

I waited 15 minutes longer to eat and will eat my planned food. After all, it is delicious and healthy, colorful and aromatic. “But it isn’t cake!” says my primitive brain!

This battle will continue because my brain wants a dopamine hit to combat my stressed out thinking after work. My established habits of soothing or entertaining myself with food are not leaving my brain. But I am now thinking and feeling differently and am building new habits that will take me off this fat generating battlefield more often.

I want to win these battles because I know delaying my gratification will make me feel better, healthier, confident, motivated, successful, in short, only good things! This is what I realize after sitting with my emotional discomfort for only 15 minutes. Next time the battle begins inside my head I will say: “I can wait to eat for 15 minutes, easy!”

I don’t want to “think” I have to battle with my body. I want to live happily with it! I am willing to seek delaying my gratification again and again. Hope springs eternal it will get easier.