Friday, May 11, 2012
How many times have you “googled” a symptom or a number of symptoms just to find out what’s causing it? Come on, admit it! You must have done it at least once! I know I have! Well, if you haven’t, you must belong to a very small percentage of people. Of really careful and cautious people. Because, even though the internet is a huge, enormous, gigantic bank of information, not all the sources can be trusted and some of them could prove quite misleading and even dangerous!
Unfortunately one of the areas that this commonly happens is the field of health and nutrition. If you belong to the majority of the people mentioned above who have – at least once – used the internet in order to find information about symptoms or illnesses, you have definitely come across a huge number of different cases and, in most cases, got worried or even scared! A very bad headache could be a life-threatening brain tumor! And the fact that you haven’t slept for two days in a row, you’ve drunk a lake of coffee and your stress levels have reached the stratosphere of earth??? Well, all it takes is a few terrifying cases found on the internet and we just forget about… the obvious!
Now, let’s narrow the field of health down to our interests here on Sparkpeople: nutrition. Anyone can find thousands of blogs in and out of the SP community on what other people did to lose the weight they had been fighting against for years. Tons of different “diets”, cutting out food categories, focusing on a specific nutrient, and – the worst kind of all – diets or nutritional habits meant for people with health conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol! Given by people who are no doctors or have no expertise on the subject!
We all exchange knowledge and information about the subjects that we are interested in and that’s perfectly normal. But when it comes to health issues, there’s a huge difference between discussing and actually doing! If you have health problems that are directly related to the way you eat, the only one who can give you the guidelines is your doctor! You can talk about it with your friends, your Sparkfriends, your Facebook buddies but only to know what other people have to say and share your stories. In order to apply any change to your nutritional habits, you have to be perfectly sure that they are right for you. Every case is different. Are all people with diabetes treated in the same way? Some are only advised to be careful with what they eat, whereas others need daily insulin shots! How about people with high cholesterol levels? 220 for a 25-year-old who doesn’t smoke, is not obese and is active is not a big worry but 360 for a 50-year-old obese smoker is extremely alarming! How can those two people follow the same nutrition plans? And I’m sure there are hundreds of other food-related health issues. Those are just some examples.
But while we’re at the high cholesterol example, I would also like to stress something else for all of us who use the information on the Sparkpeople food tracker. We can see the amount of cholesterol intake and other nutrients we choose to. But we should only consider this accurate, if we are perfectly sure that all food we track contain information for the nutrient we’re interested in. There are many kinds of food that we enter manually or that other users have, which don’t have information on all nutrients. For example, I’ve had high cholesterol for years now and even though it’s dropped considerably after my weight loss, it still remains high. I also have a slight problem of anemia. So, cholesterol and iron are those that interest me the most. Almost none of the foods I’ve manually entered contain this information! So how can I rely on them? I definitely can’t! I only rely on the advice my doctor has given me.
To sum up with all this, the internet is full of people who have stories and advice to offer on health and nutrition even if they are no experts. That’s really irresponsible of them, in my opinion, but you can judge them according to your own beliefs. Just think before you decide to adopt a person’s advice. Check their expertise, compare their case with yours, ask questions, do your own research and above all talk with your doctor. When we have health issues that are related to food and we know it, we can’t experiment with weird diets and other people’s “I’m-the-living-proof-that-it-works” ways of eating! When it comes to our health, our body is the expert. And we have to be sure that it’s in safe hands!
Friday, May 04, 2012
Guilt. Well-known feeling to anyone who has tried to lose weight. We start, filled with enthusiasm, we follow meal plans and exercise schedules with discipline and we’re proud of ourselves. Then one day, life gets in the way. Our day is filled with tasks and we can’t find ten minutes to exercise. We’re stressed and we eat everything in sight. And quite coincidentally we’re invited to dinner and we just can’t resist the temptations! And those feelings of guilt begin to arise in our heads. And they’re usually fought by another cycle of more eating - less exercise. And then more guilt. And the vicious circle that is bound to ruin our efforts has just begun!
Sounds familiar? It does to me! That’s what I kept doing for years and years. I would feel guilty every time I allowed myself to eat in an “unhealthy” way. I would punish myself with “strict diet days” every time I happened to overeat because of a special occasion, because of cooking something that I really liked or simply because of emotional eating during stressful days. The guilt was overwhelming and I would always go to extremes to make myself feel better. But extreme measures can only lead to more extreme actions!
It took me almost three years on Sparkpeople but I finally learned one of the most important lessons of this journey: Myself deserves to be given a break once in a while. And there’s no reason to feel guilty about it. We are all human beings, not programmed machines. There will be days that we just can’t follow our healthy way of eating and exercising for many reasons. That’s what happened to me the day before yesterday. I was feeling many stressful things taking full control of me. My mind was filled with many different things and solutions I had to figure out and I could feel the emotional eater inside me taking action. And do you know what I did? I gave myself a break! I hated it but I felt it had to be done. I let myself binge on different foods I was craving and even munching mindlessly while talking on the phone! And I discovered two things. First of all, my house has been emptied of many unhealthy foods that I used to crave on days like this. Secondly, my cravings are different now and I can’t eat as much as I used to!
So, I admit it. I gave in to my emotional cravings and… nothing bad happened! That’s where another important lesson comes in: Knowing when to put a stop. It was a bad day. I gave myself permission to take a break. But breaks have to come to an end. And the sooner, the better. The next day was back to normal. And normal means healthy food, balanced meal times and exercising. That’s exactly what I did and today’s weigh-in proved that everything was back to normal again. Almost a pound’ loss and no damage done.
We all deserve – yes, deserve, you read that right – a day of mindless eating or a break from exercise. It’s the exception, not the rule. And if the rule is a balanced and healthy way of life, the exception can really do no harm. A break is something everyone needs. So, the next time you happen to find yourself at a wedding reception with a buffet full of foods you love, next Christmas when your mom greets you with your favorite pudding, at your next birthday when your best friend orders your favorite flavor in your cake, when you are going through a “wrong” day and "eating right and exercise” seems equally wrong, or in every other occasion that guilty feelings of over-eating and “under-exercising” would come to haunt you, give yourself a break! Respect your desires, your needs and don’t start criticizing and punishing yourself. Set the limits and allow yourself one day of “wrong-doing”. It’s just one day!
But don’t forget! Tomorrow is a new day. And you have to get back to normal. Let your dreams, goals and ambitions define “normal”.
Friday, April 27, 2012
It’s this time of the year again that all people who take care of a household dread: reorganizing closets and changing clothes according to season! Especially for a mom of young children, this can be a daunting task. Old clothes, clothes that don’t fit anymore, clothes that can be kept for the youngest children, outgrown clothes that can be given to other children, worn clothes that have to be thrown away, a bunch of clothes that needs sorting out! And, of course mom’s and dad’s clothes. Well, that’s what I’ve been doing the last few days.
Every year, this would be a really difficult time for me. And I don’t mean the amount of work that needs to be done, nor the time it takes, not even the tiredness it causes. I mean the feelings that would always arise after it. I would always stand in front of my open closet - which is tiny, by the way, because our apartment only has two small closets and I share one with my husband - and always come to the same conclusion: I have nothing to wear and it's my fault! The reason is that I had some clothes from previous years, from when I was thinner which I hadn’t gotten rid of because I always thought “Next summer I will have lost weight and it will fit me.” And the next summer I would say the same. And I would keep these clothes on one end of my closet so that I could see them daily and find motivation to try and lose weight! And the worst part is that every summer - or winter - they would take more space in my closet than the previous one! Simply because the number on the scale would go up and more clothes wouldn’t fit! The closet had become my number one enemy!
This year I started the task knowing that something had changed. I knew it from the first glance through my summer clothes. Lots of them were huge and I put them separately to give them away. But I first tried them all on! I even wore a dress with my daughter together! It was funny and we had a great time doing this. Then I started trying on some of my older clothes. Clothes that I hadn’t worn for years. When I finished putting them in my closet, the look of it was somewhat disappointing. Just a few clothes, most of them old as our budget has been tight and priority is always given to the children who outgrow theirs. Zero variety, few choices and combinations and mostly workout clothes. And I stood in front of it staring. With a huge smile on my face…
For the first time in years, everything that I have in my closet fits me! And I mean everything! There is no kept-for-when-I-lose-weight part of the closet. I don’t care if my clothes are old, I don’t care if I can’t go shopping for new, what I care about is that they fit! All of a sudden, the closet had become a friend!
And there’s something that made me even happier. There was this long summer dress that my husband had bought me as a gift during our first years of marriage – I don’t remember when exactly but it must be about 12 or 13 years ago. When I first tried it on back then, it was a little tight. But I didn’t take it back as it was the biggest size available and I really liked it. So, I thought I’d lose a few pounds and be able to wear it – the story of my life! I had never worn it until yesterday. I tried it on and it was loose! I can officially say I’m in the best shape of my life! With proof!
Now that I think about it, maybe the motivation of the closet worked after all. Maybe this part with the clothes that didn’t fit really motivated me to do something. It just took me about 13 years to do it the right way! Better late than never!
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
This morning, while I was reading blogs during my everyday SP “ritual”, I came across two blogs written by people who had gained all or some of the weight they had lost while following a certain type of diet. I’ve recently expressed my opinion on diets, so I won’t emphasize on that. What really broke my heart was that I could feel their disappointment, the need to quit on every kind of attempt for weight loss. If you’ve ever been there, you know how it feels to see the number on the scale going all the way up again. You’ve experienced the terrifying moment of standing in front of your closet and have nothing to wear because nothing fits you anymore. You’ve felt the accumulating guilt of letting yourself do all over again all the damage that you had worked so hard to repair. Nasty feelings!
Then, I thought of Sparkpeople’s start page. You know, the one that you get before you log in. Where you can see all those wonderful before and after pictures of SP members underlined with the number of pounds each one lost. Those are our motivators. We’ve visited their pages, read their stories and we’ve been inspired by them. Sometimes the pictures are really amazing. And the number of pounds sounds unbelievable. But is this number really the most important part of their stories?
The person who lost 30 pounds and the person who lost 100 pounds had to put in the same amount of effort and commitment in order to reach their goals. Sometimes, they even needed the same amount of time because we all know that the closer you are to your goal weight, the harder it gets. The big decision to start is not based on the number on the scale but it’s a matter of character, background and support one gets. So, the number of the pounds all these people have lost is irrelevant, in my humble opinion.
What if all those inspiring pictures were accompanied by something like this:
“Shannon, lost 20 lbs and has maintained her weight for 3 years!”
“Harry, lost 100 lbs and has not gained it back for 5 years!”
That’s the great accomplishment! Have those people managed to adopt a healthy way of living based on a balanced relationship with food? Did they never have to face the bad situations mentioned above after gaining some or all of it back? Are they still here to spread the spark and share their secrets? That would be real motivation. These stories would make the best advertisement for this wonderful online community!
My suggestion is that there should be a new kind of motivators voted for. The “Sparkpeople Golden Maintainers”. And I call them golden because they would be the brightest examples. We could vote for them but they would also be assessed according to their overall participation in the community, their years and anything else the SP experts would think is relevant. Those would be the people that could inspire and motivate hundreds of others to change their lives. Because we all know it. The real battle begins when you have to make sure those pounds remain “lost”. And that’s a lifetime battle!
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Until a few months ago, when I thought about "dessert" my mind would be filled with images of cakes, cookies, ice cream, puddings and chocolate in every possible combination. Unfortunately - and I'm ashamed of that - my children have been raised to have the exact same attitude towards dessert. My frame of mind has changed and I want to change theirs, too.
So, yesterday, when my daughter asked for a slice of bread covered with chocolate praline, I had a different idea. Who needs fatty, sugary, highly-processed foods for dessert when nature gives us this:
Crispy pears and apples!
Fresh, sweet strawberries!
Juicy kiwi fruit!
And just a spoonful of a natural sweetener, such as maple syrup...
...and our fruit salad is ready!
I actually enjoyed this as my dinner but both my girls had some as dessert and they really liked it. And it was perfect for their sweet tooth, too!
I'm really trying hard to teach my family all about proper nutrition and clean eating. Even though we've never been junk food fans and have always eaten home-made dishes for most of our meals, I feel ashamed for having allowed generous amounts of sweets in the house. I'm slowly trying to change this, and even though it's hard, I'll keep trying. Wish me luck!
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