In past lives, Dean Anderson has been a social worker, small business owner, college psychology and philosophy instructor, and world-class couch potato who weighed close to 400 pounds, smoked three packs and drank two six-packs of beer per day, and considered chocolate-peanut butter fudge a well-balanced meal. In this life, Dean earned a personal training certification from ACE, received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant, and began working for SparkPeople. He writes about attitude adjustment, motivation, men's health, and senior fitness. When not sitting in front of his computer, he can usually be found hiking or biking (he's the bald guy that everyone else is passing).
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Do you have any exercises you really don't like to do when other people might see you?
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In fact, at one time or another in my weight loss project, I've had a lot of them. When I was at my highest weight, it was swimming, or anything else that involved not wearing a shirt. Don't ask me why--it's not as though you couldn't tell how big I was when I was wearing a shirt.
When I took up stationary biking, I was always very careful, at first, to avoid the recumbent models and stick to the uprights. After catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror on a recumbent bike, I thought my body had the same basic shape as a Hershey's Kiss.
Even after I got down to my lowest weight, I hated to use an elliptical machine without wearing sweat pants. Whenever I built up to a good speed while wearing shorts, the loose skin on my legs started flapping so loud you could hear it on the other side of the gym.
I guess you could say that I had a pretty big problem with negative body-image, to put it mildly.
But things have gotten quite a bit better for me in this department, thankfully. These days, I rarely worry about how other people might see me enough to let that restrict my activity (otherwise, you'd never catch me riding my bike in compression shorts).
It’s pretty clear that progress towards any important goal goes a lot better when you can maintain a positive state of mind. Positive goals, positive (but realistic) expectations, and positive self-talk all help us stay motivated and survive the inevitable setbacks and disappointments we experience.
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But there are also plenty of times when “happy talk” just doesn’t get the job done. We all do things that are just plain...well, let’s just say they aren’t very well thought out. When that happens, it doesn’t always make a lot of sense to just pat yourself on the back and say, “Don’t worry, you’ll do better next time.”
In order to learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them, we also need to take an honest look at what went wrong, and point out to ourselves exactly how and why we are contributing to our own problems. And we need to do it in a way that will help us remember this lesson before we act the next time the problem comes up.
In my line of work, we call this Toughlove, and there’s definitely an art to it, whether you’re delivering the toughlove to yourself (OK for amateurs) or to someone else (recommended only for seasoned experts with martial arts skills and/or a good lawyer). Done poorly, toughlove can and usually does cause more problems than it solves. But done well, it can be very effective, so it’s definitely worth learning how to do it to yourself the right way.
Probably the best way to illustrate the art of toughlove is by looking at a very common problem that often responds better to a little self-administered toughlove than to happy talk…
One of the goals of making a “lifestyle change” (as opposed to going on a diet) is to develop a healthy relationship with food and eating that feels normal, comfortable, usually enjoyable, and relatively easy to maintain over time.
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No elaborate eating rules, no worries about “good” foods and “bad” foods, no guilt feelings or verbal self-abuse for breaking the rules, no getting obsessed with weigh-ins or calorie counting, no restricting your social life so you can avoid people/situations that might make you blow your diet. Just a little common sense, some basic nutritional knowledge, and a willingness to trust your body to make up for your occasional dietary “mistakes” and balance out your calorie and nutrient intake over time to match your needs.
According to this article, this desirable state is called “normal eating,” and it’s something all of us can achieve by simply eating when we’re hungry, eating the things we like, and stopping when we’re satisfied.
But just how realistic is this notion, especially for those of us who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight? Can things really be this simple?
Changing long-standing habits can be a pretty slow and difficult process. For most of us, at least, it’s not like we just decide one day to ditch all the junk food and super-sized portions, fall in love with steamed vegetables, and suddenly become an exercise maven after years of being a couch potato. Even the most sincere New Year’s resolutions don’t magically turn into lasting weight loss and a healthy lifestyle without some real effort to let go of old habits and practice new ones to take their place.
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The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to make these changes easier on yourself. One of the most important is to learn how to use rewards to keep yourself moving in the right direction. But there’s an art and a science to this business of using rewards effectively—you need to reward yourself for the right thing at the right time. The more you know about this, the easier it will be to pick good rewards and avoid some common mistakes.
It’s no secret that being obese can make you the target of some very negative and stigmatizing attitudes. Many people have been subjected to public ridicule and cruel remarks, lost jobs or promotions, and even been blamed for large-scale social problems like climate change and rising health care costs—all because of their weight.
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As reported in this article, even doctors and health policy professionals get in on the act. Ms. Brown reports that, in one study, more than half of the 620 doctors questioned said they viewed obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.” Another study shows that higher BMI scores translate into doctors having less respect for patients and spending less time with them during appointments.
With all the evidence that, in most cases, obesity is a complex condition caused by the interaction of many different genetic, biochemical, and environmental factors, you’d think that medical professionals, especially, would be less likely to fall into the trap of viewing obesity as some sort of character flaw and stigmatizing obese patients.
Ms. Brown raises the possibility that many health professionals and policy makers believe that being stigmatized can motivate people to lose weight and improve their health. But, as she notes, the question is whether this approach actually works.
We’re heading into that time of year when many people start thinking about making some healthy changes in their lifestyle for the coming year, and the blogosphere is full of interesting and inspiring success stories that help us see what’s possible. Here’s a good example, about a man named Adam Slack who managed to lose more than 375 pounds and dramatically transform his life. His journey began after an emergency room doctor took one look at him at 585 pounds and offered to help him prepare his obituary.
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This dose of pretty extreme and unorthodox “toughlove,” coming from a medical professional, apparently was just what Slack needed to get himself started. But it could just as easily have had the opposite effect, leaving him feeling shamed, threatened, or simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of his problem. Any of those reactions would probably make it harder, not easier, for him to actually accept and utilize whatever information, advice and support the doctor and other potential helpers had to offer. And as Adam himself said, this wasn’t the first time a doctor had made it clear that his weight and lifestyle was causing major problems. But this time, somehow, the doctor’s very blunt message clicked, and Slack was on his way to incredible changes.
Which raises a very interesting question:
Do you have trouble just saying NO to your sweet tooth, or your Inner Couch Potato when s/he really wants to skip that exercise session you've got planned? Well, maybe NO isn't really the word you should be using.
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Trying saying OM instead.
That's the advice of some psychologists who have been studying the potential benefits of meditation for people who are trying to lose weight.
A couple years ago, Jean Kristeller, PhD, a psychology professor at Indiana State University, and Ruth Quillian-Wolever, PhD, clinic director and clinical health psychologist of the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine, conducted a randomized clinical trial using mindfulness meditation as an intervention for weight gain and obesity, particularly for binge-eating problems, and found that the approach was helpful. That research is described in this book chapter (link goes to a downloadable PDF).
More recently, this study found evidence of actual physical changes in the brain associated with meditation, which may help explain how it helps.
One of the bits of advice most frequently offered to dieters is to eat a good breakfast. The theory goes that a substantial breakfast will “jump start” your metabolism and also help control appetite, making it easier to avoid overeating later in the day.
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But does it really work that way?
Apparently not, according to the study reported in this article. Researchers studied the eating habits of both overweight and normal weight subjects and found that, in both groups, the size of their breakfast had no effect at all on how many calories they ate at other meals. But a large breakfast was associated with eating more total calories during the day.
Jack LaLanne, founding father of the fitness movement in the United States, died at home on Sunday at the age of 96.
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Those of us who were around during the early days of television may remember him best for his syndicated exercise show, which first appeared in 1951 and stayed on the air for 33 years. I don’t remember exactly when I started watching the show, but I do remember being impressed by the two white German shepherds who often shared the stage with Jack.
When I was somewhat older, I also remember being struck with how honest, simple, and direct his message was. He didn’t try to sell you any dubious gadgets, techniques, or diet plans, even though he certainly had the opportunity and the means to do so. He preached a simple diet of natural, whole foods, along with basic strength training and regular physical activity—as he put it on most of his shows: "Exercise is king; nutrition is queen. Put 'em together and you've got a kingdom!"
The other key ingredient in LaLanne’s approach was constantly challenging yourself to do the best you can. And when it came to setting and achieving personal challenges, he truly led by example...
Do you ever feel like you just can't stop yourself from overeating? Are there some foods that are extremely hard for you to resist even when you aren't hungry? Is it very hard to stop eating once you've started, even though your intention is to have just a small amount?
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If so, you're definitely not alone. But what's going on here? Is it possible you might be addicted to food?
Not long ago, most experts would have said "no." The prevailing wisdom was that people with the right biological susceptibility might get addicted to drugs or alcohol, but food was just not an addictive substance in the same league with, say, alcohol, crack cocaine or meth. After all, people don’t get addicted to broccoli, oatmeal, or chicken breasts. Even though eating certain foods (usually refined sugars and/or fatty, salty foods) is known to increase appetite in some people and/or turn off the satiety signals that normally would tell them when to stop eating, and even though certain psychological problems can lead some people to become compulsive eaters, these problems were not seen as the same kind of thing as a true substance addiction.
More recently, though, the evidence has been painting a different picture…
There are a lot of important pieces in the weight loss puzzle. Good tools for tracking nutrition and exercise, reliable information, social support to boost motivation and help you stay focused--all of these things are crucial. But even with all this, success still comes down to how well you can help yourself make good choices in the moments when those choices actually need to be made.
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All of us have to cope with feelings, thoughts, impulses, and situations that can make it very hard to stay mindful, motivated, and disciplined when it’s time to actually decide what we’re going to eat and whether we’re going to get up and do some exercise. Learning how to effectively coach yourself through these challenges is crucial if you want to keep moving forward. And the first step here is paying careful attention to how you talk to yourself when things go well, and when they don’t.
I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, mainly because my history of sticking to them past the first week or two of January is pretty bleak. The times when I’ve actually been successful at changing my behavior (especially behavior related to eating and exercise) didn’t begin with a special date or a resolution for the new year. They began when I realized I was in trouble, and finally had to acknowledge that I really needed to start changing my behavior NOW—no more putting things off, even for a few days.
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This year, I find myself in that kind of situation today, which also happens to be Jan. 1. So, I figure I might as well take a little time to write down exactly what it is that I think needs to change, and some ideas about how I’m going to make those changes happen.
It’s conventional to wait until the end of the year to decide which new food product deserves the award for worst of the year. But once in a while, a product comes along that's such an obvious choice there’s no need to hold off giving the award until all the entries are in.
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Next week, KFC is introducing just such a product: their new Double Down sandwich.
It’s not entirely clear how this product actually qualifies as a “sandwich,” since there’s no bread involved. It’s two pieces of bacon and two pieces of cheese served between two pieces of fried chicken. There’s nothing even remotely resembling a vegetable—not even ketchup.
Given all the public concern lately about eating balanced meals and reducing the health risks associated with a high-fat, low fiber diet, you have to wonder: What was KFC thinking? And the answer to that question might just be more disturbing than the Double Down itself.
Do you often find it hard to stop eating certain foods once you’ve started—especially foods high in sugar, salt and/or fat?
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I know I've often found myself on the losing end of one of those “bet you can’t eat just one” wagers when it involves sweets, chips, sausages or something similar. If you're in the same boat, your brain just might be addicted to junk food.
This is especially likely if you happen to be a rat, according to recent research reported in this article from HealthDay. If you’re a human, using the word “addicted” may (or may not) be a little strong, but this research definitely does add another piece to the puzzle of understanding why it can be so hard for many people to “just say no” to overeating certain foods.
According to a study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, when the price of junk food goes up, people eat less of it, their weight goes down, and blood sugar levels improve.
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The study, which is described in more detail here, followed over 5,000 people for a period of 20 years, tracking their food consumption, height, weight, and blood sugar levels. Researchers also tracked changes in food prices during this same period, and found that incremental increases in the prices of soda and delivery pizza were associated with incremental decreases in consumption of these items. For every 10% increase in cost, there was a 7% decrease in the number of soda calories consumed, and an 11.5% decrease in pizza calories consumed. Likewise, a one dollar increase in soda cost was associated with a decrease in overall calorie intake of 124 calories per day (on average), and a decrease in body weight (2.2 pounds on average). This was true even though the “real” cost of soda and delivery pizza actually decreased over the 20 year period when prices were adjusted for inflation.
Does this mean that we can (or should) use taxes and/or surcharges on junk food items to encourage people to use less them of them?
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