Normal is a Myth

Every person is unique. There are no two identical fingerprints, palm prints, retinas, heights, weights, shapes, gut biomes, neurological pathways, etc. As organic beings there are so many differences between each of us.

It is a myth that there is a normal out there, in anything.

Normal is an idea built and perpetuated by our fears.

We think of normal as comforting, something to attain.

What happens to us if we feel we are not measuring up to normal? We live in a space of self-doubt. We identify with something else, established by other people. We don’t know how to be comfortable in our own skin.

I choose to think we are all our own version of normal.

Imagine we are built like an abacus with lots of rows and beads on each row. The beads shift from right to left or from more to less. Each row and each side represents a different attribute or trait unique to us.

Say the circumstance is we arrive late to work because of an accident. The red row of beads represents our feeling of anxiety about this circumstance. Some people have low anxiety (the two beads to the left) and some people respond with high anxiety (the eight beads to the right).  The two different anxiety levels are normal for each person!

Now say the blue row toward the bottom represents what is normal for the people in the above circumstance to do when they see doughnuts in the lounge when arriving late.

  • A person with low anxiety doesn’t eat a doughnut (no beads to the left).
  • A person with high anxiety eats a doughnut because the sugar, fat content, and taste “comforts” them by giving them a dopamine hit to counteract the anxiety (10 beads to the right).

We are very interactive beings. Our brains have evolved to unconsciously filter information and quickly make sense of things to get things done. Our primitive brain is also constantly on the hunt for low effort sources of pleasure to counteract our pain in life. This is why we respond to circumstances the same consistent way each time. I have a “tough” drive to work so I deserve a doughnut!

However, if we want the beads to move in the direction we WANT we have to take a stand with our neo-cortex against our unconscious brain!

If I want my anxiety less I need to think a different thoughts about getting late to work. If I want my eating food to comfort my anxiety less I need to plan ahead and give my unconscious mind a counter direction to go, opposite from the usual direction of just being anxious and mindlessly eating food.

I want to organize my beads on purpose! I don’t want doughnuts, people, things, or places pushing my weight loss beads around!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stress and Negative Emotions

Here we are into July already.

It is summer and everyone is taking a turn at enjoying a little time off for vacation. We are also “enjoying” shorter staffing at work as a result. This can mean more stress at work. Or rather, using the MODEL, there may be more circumstances at work that produce negative thoughts that we may want to buffer away with some comfort food.

It is OK to feel angry, frustrated, tired, slighted, ignored, anxious, or any other negative emotion. After all, they are 50% of the human experience. By experiencing them we are experiencing our humanness.

But negative emotions don’t feel good you say!

Nope, they don’t.

That is normal.

Does eating a doughnut make it feel better?

Yep, but only in the VERY short term.

By eating doughnuts to buffer negative emotion we create MORE negative emotion because our actions are at odds with what our neocortex brain REALLY wants – to lose weight. So eating doughnuts ultimately produces more negative emotions like shame and guilt, disappointment and strong feelings of failure.

We can experience the negative emotions now or later.

It is our CHOICE to buffer over them in the short term with food and experience an avalanche of negative emotions later

OR

Let the current negative emotion just pass through us and be gone.

I tend to avoid negative emotions around the end of my meal when I need to find my “satisfied” or +2 and stop eating.

I get upset over wasting the food on my plate. I feel “entitled” to clean my plate past my “satisfied” feeling in the stomach because the food is healthy, tastes good, is a reward for a busy day at work, or cost me money.

Here is the unintentional MODEL for this repeating behavior of mine:

CIRCUMSTANCE: FOOD ON A PLATE

THOUGHT: I can eat everything on my plate.

EMOTION: Entitled

ACTION: Eat all the food no matter what or how much is on my plate. Eat beyond my satisfied.

RESULT: A clean plate. Overeat beyond satisfied. Gain weight.

My feeling of being ENTITLED is a subtly negative emotion. It doesn’t seem like it would be bad to feel but it is. Feeling entitled means I am telling myself I have “earned” something, that I am “owed” something and I can eat all I want as a reward.

My actions have me actively ignoring what my body is clearly telling me: “I’m satisfied and you don’t need to give me more food!”

Clearly this unintentional model is not going to help me leave food behind on my plate so I am going to follow this INTENTIONAL model to redirect my thoughts.

CIRCUMSTANCE: FOOD ON A PLATE

THOUGHT: I stop eating when my body says it is satisfied.

EMOTION: Mindful

ACTION: Eat to my satisfied. Think about why my mind is not satisfied but my body is. Allow the urge to clean my plate to run through my body and dissipate while I look at the leftover food on my plate. Throw away leftover food or save it in the refrigerator.

RESULT: Listen to my body. Feel confident I can leave food behind.

The emotion of being MINDFUL is not a strong one but is subtly powerful. It forces my brain to pause and redirect my thinking. It redirects my mind from the primitive brain emotion of ENTITLED toward an emotion I choose. It gives me back control to think about the food in front of me and if my body really needs it.

It gives me a chance to be mindfully thinking instead of mindless eating!

 

 

 

My Experiment to Change my REE

This week I experimented with changing up my diet through meal timing, numbers of meals a day, and fasting. My experiment helped me lose 3 pounds!

My experiment included changing meal times to avoid eating later in the day AND reducing the total number of meals I ate in a week. I planned for two TYPES of days:

Days at home: I planned eating two meals before 4:00 pm.

Days at work: I planned fasting.

Days I work are the easiest for me to plan a fast. It is a hassle to pack food. I am busier at work and have a lot less time to get bored and think about food. Making workdays my intermittent fasting days was an easy choice. Our brains like easy!

I gave myself two ways to fast so I could change up my REE (Resting Energy Expenditure – we covered this last week) and avoid stagnating my basal metabolism. I could pick one or two fasting options each week.

24-hour fast – one meal before 4:00pm      OR

48-hour fast starting after 3pm on Sunday to 3pm Tuesday (or 3pm on Wednesday to 3pm Friday)

During my fast I had coffee, green tea, herbal tea, or water. I had vegetable broth when I got home at 3pm because it gave my mind something to “look forward to eating”.

On workdays I did either one meal before 4:00 pm or zero meals.

On days off I did two meals before 4:00 pm.

In addition to losing some weight this week I observed a few other things from my experiment:

  1. In choosing to do two 48-hour fasts I reduced the number of meals I ate in a week from 16 to 10.
  2. I was not hungry at work and much less “desperate” to eat a meal once I got home from work.
  3. I started thinking “I’m dining in on my own fat!” when my tummy growled at work.
  4. I really don’t need much food in a week! This observation showed me how much I overeat for my body!
  5. I didn’t plan what food I was going to eat; I just ate whatever I wanted to a satisfied level. I observed it was easier to pay attention to when I felt satisfied.
  6. I had a stronger desire to eat something healthy because I thought it was a good idea to make the meal “count” for my body’s nutritional needs.

On a very positive note for our weight loss group at work I have observed that the sweet things left in the lounge are not being eaten! We even had pizza left over three days later! This would have not been the case 6 months ago because everyone is much more aware of what they are eating and not going for the sugar and processed foods. Awesome!!

Changing It Up

We are going to review some physiology this week. It is important to understand that calorie restriction over a long duration is like fighting an uphill battle with weight loss. This is because obesity is due to hormonal imbalance and NOT calorie in calorie out imbalance.

Human bodies are elegant organisms that have survived because of their ability to maintain homeostasis. If there is a food shortage in our environment our resting energy expenditure (REE) – you may know it as the basal metabolic rate – decreases so we don’t burn energy the body “thinks” it may not be able to replace right away.

Restricting calories over weeks or months is like waving a red flag to our body’s hormonal energy homeostatic system forcing it to “think” it has to conserve energy by lowering the REE.

Science shows meal amounts and meal timing are two ways to increase our REE and continue to lose weight.

Here are a few ways to change up your diet plan within every month.

Change your intermittent fasting pattern. 

Making your eating window smaller on fast days by 2-4 hours.

OR

Shifting your eating window on fast days to the breakfast/lunch side of things and not eating in the evening. Here is more science on how this works well. Basically, this will help decrease insulin secretion and you will store less fat! Even doing this a few days a month will help you store less fat.

Does the second suggestion immediately make these thoughts appear?

“But “I have to eat dinner with my family!”

“But I’ll go to bed hungry!”

“But dinner is my favorite meal!”

“I need to relax after a crazy day in the OR with dinner!”

These thoughts are the unconscious primitive brain’s way of protecting the status quo you are currently living. The brain wants easy, pleasurable, and is SOOOO afraid of change! Fasting at dinnertime is a BIG CHANGE but a simple way to keep the REE higher and help you lose weight!

Change the number of meals eaten per day a few times a month.

It is actually quite easy to have one or two meals a day on workdays. It may be easier to have 3 meals on the weekend with extra activities you do with family and friends. As always we want to wait to eat till we are hungry (or at least have a 3-4 hour span between meals) and stop eating when we are satisfied. CAUTION: eating to full, even if you are only having one meal a day will still force your body to store that unnecessary energy as fat!

Changing the duration of planned fasting.

If you regularly 24-hour fast on workdays change it up by throwing a 36 or 48 hour fast in there once or twice a month.

This will allow you to dine in on your stored fat by burning fat for energy like our body has been designed to do.

I have fasted Sunday evening into Tuesday morning (36 hour) or Wednesday morning (48 hour) because that works with my work schedule. I ensure my fasting success by keeping hydrated, staying busy, having my husband cook his own meals and keeping out of the kitchen so I don’t tempt myself. I find a good broth with sodium helps along with lots of warm tea (green and peppermint) and coffee.

As with any fast, if you develop nausea it is time to eat!

Experiment with these meal number and timing techniques and find out how they work for you. Let’s keep our REE guessing and the weight loss going!

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!