Monthly Archives: November 2015

White Powder

I am an addict.  It has taken me many years to realize it, to recognize the addictive behavior, to see in myself a weakness for something that I feel I have nearly no control over.

i tri man

My addiction, like many addictions, is for white powder. It is one of the most wildly abused substances in our country.  It has nearly no negative stigma.  We willingly give it to children and delight in watching them consume it.   Entire holidays revolve around handing it out to people who come to our house.

Sugar

Sugar.

Now wait just  a minute, you say.  Sugar is food.

Let’s look at the definition of drug.  A drug is “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.”  When we eat sugar, our body detects it in our blood (pancreas) and then releases insulin to help the body remove the sugar from the blood and pull it into the cells of the body.  That is a physiological response.

Let’s also look at the definition of addiction.  From the Free Dictionary “addiction is a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance.  It is a progressive syndrome, which means that it increases in severity over time unless it is treated. Substance abuse is characterized by frequent relapse, or return to the abused substance. Substance abusers often make repeated attempts to quit before they are successful.”  Ever tried to not eat dessert?  Ever tried to give up drinking soda or sweat tea?  Did you start strong and then start to notice that you would think about it?  Did your thoughts become so focused on your desire that you get uncomfortable?  Did you feel your body “craving”?  Did you feel yourself trying to resistant and struggling?  Did you know that you didn’t want to eat that cookie or donut or cake but found yourself with it in your mouth anyway?  Well I have.  I’ve found myself surrounded by 20 candy wrappers and stilling chewing the chocolate and feeling wildly out of control and embarrassed. 

I’ve watched myself prowl through the house at night looking for a hit, trying to find anything that would give me my sugar fix.  I’ve thrown things away (half eaten candy bar because I was disgusted with how much candy I had already eaten) and found myself later digging it out of the trash can because “I had to have it”.

Sugar is a very powerful substance.  We are hard wired to like sweets, it was part of our survival strategy thousands and thousands of years ago.  The wild swings in blood sugar that occur when we eat sugar perpetuate the cycle.  When our blood sugar drops, our body reacts thinking we are in trouble and triggers us to “crave”.  Sugar is added to so many foods that we eat today.  I was a food scientist and product formulator in the food industry for nearly 20 years.  We used sugar to make foods more desirable to consumers.  Sugar tastes good.  Remember we are hardwired to seek it out.

There are numerous articles out there with far more details about the impact of sugar on the body.  Some are very scientific and include tons of research.  My intent for writing was not to wade into the details of the effect of sugar on the body, but to point out that if you are attempting to start a journey or have been struggling with your journey for a fitter, healthier lifestyle, your own sugar “addiction” may be getting in your way.  If you don’t recognize it, you can’t change it.  If you won’t admit it, you can’t change it.  Remember, “what gets measured gets fixed.”

I challenge you to take one week and record the amount of sugar that you are consuming.   For this exercise, don’t count the sugar that is coming from any whole pieces of fresh fruit.  If you are eating canned fruit, fruit cocktails, drinking fruit juice – count that as added sugar.  Look for sugar in your beverages, anything that is prepackaged including bread, pasta, cereal, sandwich meat, hotdogs, chips, granola mix, breakfast bars and drinks, coffee, crackers, snacks, chewing gum, hard candy, chocolate.

If you come back with a number that is greater than 25 grams of added sugar per day then you may need to consider that sugar is derailing your hard efforts to live a healthier and fitter lifestyle.

i tri man

** None of the information on this site is intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor.  Always seek the input of your medical provider regarding changes in diet and physical activity levels.

Our Long Lost Friend…Hunger

A few days ago, I recall a commute to work from about 5 years ago.  It was a normal drive to work, 45 minutes of think time.  Sometimes I listened to the radio, sometimes I rode in silence.  Sometimes I called people.  On this morning, it was me and my thoughts cruising into work.  I remember this drive specifically because it ultimately changed the way I eat.  As I drove, this thought bounced into my head:

“When was the last time my stomach growled?”

i tri man

I kept driving in silence, thinking about this.  It occurred to me that it had been a long time since I had experienced the sensation of a growling stomach.  As I kept driving, I realized that it had in fact been many YEARS since I had truly felt hungry…you know that deep uncomfortable physical sensation of really needing food.  It had been so long that I was unable to remember what it physically felt like to be hungry.  As I rode in my car, carrying extra weight, feeling out of shape and very bad about myself, my new revelation about my lack of connection with my body and it’s needs bounced around in my mind.

I ate.  I ate frequently.  I ate because I FELT like I needed to eat…. mentally.  I ate because eating felt good, food tasted good, because I was craving a flavor, feeling stressed or bored and eating distracted me.  I did not eat because I truly needed fuel.  Food was something more than just nourishment for my body.  Food was very much a part of my emotional life, and I used it to help me manage my feelings.

This was a huge wake up call for me.  But despite the fact that this new information had come to me, old habits die hard.  I continued on my emotional eating train for many more weeks, but the truth that I didn’t need to be eating kept tapping on my shoulder, reminding me that this wasn’t part of any solution that was going to get me feeling better about myself.  Like a giant gorilla hanging on me, every time I stuffed things into my mouth, I could hear that ape jumping around

“But you’re not really hungry.  This is why you are gaining weight.  You don’t need that.” 

Man, I hated that monkey.

Hungry Monkey

Eventually, I grew weary of the mental battle between myself and the ape and decided to get back in touch with my hunger.  I would wake up tomorrow and purposefully not eat breakfast and possibly lunch until I heard my stomach growl, until I felt the physical sensation of hunger.  I would pay attention to what I was thinking and feeling, but until I heard the sound, no food.  Now, you may be thinking that this sounds extreme.  Perhaps it is.  But it was what I needed to do to get back in touch with my body.

The experiment was a great lesson for me, helping me to understand how far out of touch with my hunger that I was.  When I finally heard my stomach growl, I was already experiencing the long forgotten sensation of hunger.  It is a physical sensation, deep in  your core, a hollow and uncomfortable feeling.  It is unmistakable.  My stomach finally roared like a hungry bear.

Hungry Bear

When I was experiencing hunger, my thoughts were not my normal cravings thoughts, my thoughts were very much focused on my discomfort.  On that day, prior to experiencing that sensation, mentally I had many feelings about eating, many thoughts about eating, and many cravings for food.  I repeated this experiment for several days, at different times, making sure that I was in fact hungry before I ate.  The volume of thoughts and cravings I had about food when I wasn’t truly hungry was astounding.

If I was listening only to my thoughts and cravings as the criteria for eating, it was no surprise that I was eating more than I needed and thus gaining weight.  I also recognized the pattern that after eating something high in sugar or highly processed (snack foods, sweets, fast foods) that within an hour to two hours, I was thinking about food and eating again.    The quality of my food (or lack of quality) was leading to blood sugar swings that were contributing to my cravings.

Being out of touch with true hunger and subjecting ourselves to extremes in blood sugar as a result of less than healthy food choices is a common component to undesired weight gain.  It is a vicious cycle.  It feeds on itself.  You feel bad for being unfit.  Your emotions get overwhelming.  You think of food, something that would taste good, make you feel better.  You eat the food (donuts, chips, ice cream, French fries, etc..) and then you feel full and your emotions are at bay for a moment.  But then fairly quickly you feel bad about what you ate, and start mentally beating yourself up and telling yourself what a horrible person you are for having eaten like that.  Meanwhile, your blood sugar has skyrocketed and your body dumps a ton of insulin out into your blood do deal with the sugar.  And in about 2 hours your blood sugar plummets and you start craving food again.  And this time, it’s worse because not only are you craving food because your blood sugar has bottomed out, but you are mentally stressed because you have been beating yourself up over the last meal or snack.  Your emotions are even higher or more uncomfortable and you need to soothe yourself even more than you did before.  And so the cycle keeps playing, over and over.

This cycle isn’t relate to hunger.

This cycle can be broken.  You can shake the monkey… and find your inner bear.  Get in touch with your real hunger again and start the process of learning to eat only when you are hungry today.

i tri man

** None of the information on this site is intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor.  Always seek the input of your medical provider regarding changes in diet and physical activity levels.

What Gets Measured Gets Fixed

I had a boss tell me once that “what get measured gets fixed.”

i tri man

What he meant was that when things weren’t going as expected you had to take stock of the situation. He believed, and I wholeheartedly agree, that in order to affect change, in order to right the ship, to fix things, you first have to measure what is happening now. It is only when you measure the current state that you can determine what the real issues are. Once you know what the issues are, you can then and only then begin to build a plan to fix the issues.

I’ve had many folks ask me “what should I do to start eating healthier?”

Healthy Food

My response, “Let’s figure out what you are eating now and then figure out the small changes you can begin to make that will start your journey.” Eating better, getting fit, finding balance and leading a healthier lifestyle is a process. Most of us don’t go cold turkey from our old habits and just start eating kale, quinoa, and lean organic protein for every meal. The reality of getting healthier is that it is a process. You will make small changes that last. Eventually you will add on to those first changes with more changes until you reach a point where you are truly eating healthy. Slow, methodical changes that you can live with are the keys to lasting health and fitness. But before you can start making methodical changes, you must first know where you are so that you can determine what you are willing and need to change.

On of the greatest tools that I have found is My Fitness Pal.  There are many other options out there like Spark People , but I’ve found that My Fitness Pal is the easiest to use and has an awesome free App that has one of the most complete food databases.

My Fitness Pal

Having found myself on the journey from unhealthy to fit, as I began measuring where I was, I also realized that there were some key mistakes that I made along the way that slowed my progress.  Having a cool App on your phone to track your food and exercise activities won’t make you fit all by itself.  In fact, if you fall into some of the traps I list below, you could end up fooling yourself and actually contributing to the difficulty of your journey.

Here are some of the key pitfalls to watch out for as you begin keeping track of where you are.

  • Overestimating your activity level
    When setting up your My Fitness Pal account, you can select (and edit at anytime) your activity level.  Your activity level along with your weekly weight loss goals will determine your recommend calorie intake – basically how much food you can eat.  Sometimes we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we are not as active as we think we are.  Sometimes we don’t recognize how inactive we are compared to the “average”.  Just to give you an idea, I am a triathlete and I exercise 15 – 25 hours per week depending on where I am in my training schedule.  I compete in 4 – 6 triathlons throughout the spring and summer months.  I compete in half Ironman distance triathlons.  During my normal work week, I have a desk job.  I am able to get up and move around and often walk around briskly to see folks throughout my office building.  My activity level is set on “Lightly Active.”  For my age (43) and weight (136 lbs.) my daily calorie target is 1550 calories.  For most of you, “Sedentary” or “Lightly Active” will be the proper setting.
  • Underestimating how much you are eating
    Beginning to read labels, recognize what a portion is and what the recommend serving size is are all keys to getting the most out of your calorie tracker.  If you pour a bowl of cereal and call that a serving size, then you will woefully be underestimating your calorie intake.  A typical serving size of cereal is 1/2 cup to 1 cup depending on the brand and cereal.  I’m not sure about you, but the first time I actually measure a proper serving of the cereal I was eating, I was completely shocked and then deflated.  1/2 cup to 1 cup of cereal is not very much – especially if you have a large bowls (as is typical).  If you are underestimating how much you are eating, then you will not see the results that you are wanting to see.
  • Overestimating the amount of effort / calories you are burning during your exercise
    Another pitfall in beginning to track your food and exercise is overestimating your calories burned during exercising.  My Fitness Pal does have fairly accurate exercise caloric counts.  With some of the exercises, you can choose your effort level.  For example, aerobics is a category that has several different levels of effort (light, moderate, vigorous).  If this is your first time starting out exercising and you find the exercise difficult, you may be tempted to select vigorous.  However, I would caution you that this may overestimate how many calories you have burned.  Vigorous aerobics would be a high intensity for someone who is fit.  Most likely, if you are just getting started, your effort level (from a calorie tracking perspective) will be light or moderate.  Don’t be discouraged.  Remember, measuring where we are is key to being able to affect change.  Be honest and accurate in what you are recording.  In the long run, accurate recording will pay off.

Healthy Eating

 

Power

Every athlete’s (and yes, you are an athlete) power starts in the same place.  Whether we start or stop, run hard, run faster, run longer is all controlled in the mind.

Present Moment

All of your power is in the present moment. 

It was this truth that released me from a lifetime of inner pain and turmoil.  The moment I recognized that the past is over, what is done is done, and that the future is a reflection of what I do each and every moment I was free from my old patterns of thought and behavior.  Right now I affect my path, in this very moment in time.  The past is over.  Yet much of our conflict seems to come from being caught in the past, past habits, thoughts of the past, carrying the pain of the past.

And as much as the past can stall our growth, so can simply wasting time thinking about things that have not occurred.  As I worry about the future, daydream without action my power is sitting idle.

Ghandi said,

“The future is determined by what happens in this moment.”

Your Power is Now

So as I ponder these things, I recognize that our lives are the summary of our choices – a compilation of all the actions and decisions we have made.  Digging deeper, it is easy to see that our lives are a reflection of our thoughts and specifically the thoughts that we act upon.  I have thousands upon thousands of thoughts every single day.  I do not respond to each of those thoughts.  There is a split second in the present moment where I choose to act.  It is at that very instant that I affect my path.  So simple really, yet so difficult to master.

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7

  • You think thoughts.
  • You choose to act.
  • You act.
  • Your action has an affect.
  • The affect of your action becomes reality.

If we wish to change our reality, we must start at the beginning… we must change the thoughts.

Our thoughts and the patterns that our thoughts take have been shaped and learned from a very early age.  For the longest time, I believed all of my thoughts, and that I had no means of changing the way that I think.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I am not my thoughts, I am greater than they are.  I am the awareness within, wading through the thoughts.

Your power is in this moment.  Control the thought, choose to act, change the path.
Believe simply that you CAN.

Sign Up – To Keep Motivated

People frequently say things like “I wish I had your motivation,” or “I don’t know how you keep motivated” as they are struggling with their efforts to get fit. While getting started is often the hardest part of leading a fitter lifestyle, staying motivated is the difference between getting the results you want and finding your way back into the old habits that led you to an unfit lifestyle to begin with. Finding focus is one thing; keeping focus is a completely different animal.

i tri man

Many times a conversation with a doctor, or a long hard look in the mirror will spur the recognition that you need to do something different and will drive you to those first difficult steps of starting. But weeks later, you find that motivation has started to fade or drifted away, the conversation with you doctor “wasn’t that bad, was it?” As humans, we have a great capacity to forget or with time, dismiss things that were once impactful and noteworthy. And if you have been leading a lifestyle that is not resulting in the physical health and fitness that you desire, slipping back into those old habits and forgetting why you wanted to start in the first place can happen to any of us, especially as the challenge of pushing yourself gets harder, long unused muscles get sore, and results aren’t instantaneous.

How do I do it? How do I stay motivated? It has been a process to say the least. Now at 43, I have found the combination of focus and desire that keep me going. It wasn’t always this way. I too had many cycles of start and stop, and start again. It is difficult to start, it is even more difficult to start again because we realize how far we had gotten the last time we started, how much work we had invested and we let it all go; we have to do it all again. For me, in time, the gaps between exercising and eating healthy and not have gotten smaller. What once use to measure months (or years) between starting again is now measured in days off.

Flowers Plantation Sprint Triathlon Fun

Dragging myself to the gym in pursuit of the almighty lower number on the scale did not offer me the pleasure, focus or motivation that would last a lifetime. As long as the scale was moving, I was happy and would continue. But we can’t lose weight forever, and as we get stronger and leaner, there is less to lose. When the number going down on the scale slowed down, so did my motivation. There were days when I would dread the smell of the gym, dread waiting for weights, or couldn’t bring myself to climb on that elliptical one more time.

“So what did you do,” you ask?

I found my focus in races. After much encouragement from friends, I ran my first 5K. It was hard, I was slow, and finished near the back of the pack. But I loved it. I felt such a sense of accomplishment, I loved being with the other runners, I loved feeling like a runner. That first race kicked off a cycle for me of setting short term goals, the goal of running my next event or race. It eventually led to longer term goals, thinking about races of long distances that would require more time to train for and thus kept me motivated. It gave me an identity. I was a runner.

10K Road Race

Signing up for a race, knowing that the date is out there and that money has been spent on it, that my friends know about it, that there is some cool gear and a medal waiting at the end has been the difference for me. It could be the thing you need to help you stick with your program.

Perhaps running isn’t your thing. There are many types of events or activities that you can get involved in. Swimming, cycling, walking, running, hiking, triathlon. Perhaps you don’t know how to swim. That’s ok, learning to swim will give you focus. It will give you some short term goals (I will learn to swim better) and some long term goals (I will be able to swim half a mile without stopping). 2 Mile Swim

Perhaps you have a bike.  There are some great for charity rides that you can commit to doing. These rides often have multiple distances, so you can find one that challenges you but that you can still manage.

Cycling

 

Maybe events aren’t your thing. That’s ok too. The key is to find something you truly enjoy doing. Getting results is great, and quick results that often happen after being sedentary for a long time can be motivational. But in time, if you don’t love what you are doing, you may find your motivation falling off when the number on the scale going down slows down. If you truly enjoy the activity you are doing, it could be the difference between sticking with your commitment to live healthier and finding yourself in the dreaded “start again” cycle. Doing something you love will help keep you focused through the plateaus that we all experience.  Remember, it’s what we do MOST of the time that matters.  Doing something because you enjoy it will keep you going back to that activity MOST of the time.  Loving your activity or activities will bring consistency to your fitness journey.

Sign up for your race today. You won’t know how much you love it, until you TRI.

i tri man