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Making the connection to how you feel afterwards

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I just wrote a comment over at Rainthief's blog, and thought "Hey, I should make an actual post about this!"

I like to listen to The People's Pharmacy, a radio show on NPR about health and medicine. On New Year's weekend, they did a show about willpower: how to handle it when you want to make good long-term choices, but in the moment, you want to go with the easier, less good choice. It was a great show -- they brought in an expert psychologist who talked about a number of techniques you can use to improve your willpower. I highly recommend downloading the podcast (instructions here:
), or you can just listen to the recording directly from the website, here:
. (It's show number 840, "Willpower Science.")

One of the things they talked about was making the mental connection between the choice you're making now, and how you'll feel AFTER you make that choice -- and then treating yourself with true compassion, by making the choice that will truly make you feel better.

One of the hosts gave an example. When he has to fly, he gets really stressed out. He usually ends up buying and eating a whole box of Good'n'Plenty candy while waiting for his flight. Then, of course, he feels ill and miserable for the whole flight because he just ate a whole box of candy! He said the last time he flew, he was super-stressed out, having a terrible day, and the candy was calling to him. He was about to buy it -- and then he said to himself "Joe, if you eat this candy, you'll feel sick and miserable in about an hour. Do you want to feel like that?" Once he made that connection, suddenly the candy didn't seem nearly so alluring anymore.

I'm trying to make those kinds of connections about my habits.

I have succeeded at making that connection when it comes to fast food burgers and fries. In the past, I'd crave the immediate taste of those things, eat them, and then feel really sick and miserable about an hour later, all that grease and salt and sugar just sitting in my stomach like a rock. Now, the taste is linked so strongly in my head to feeling sick and miserable that I don't crave fast food burgers anymore. In fact, I actively dislike them. Even thinking about eating one makes me feel kind of sick.

I need to work on making the mental connection that I feel physically better after I exercise. In the past I've over-exercised and felt exhausted and unhappy afterwards, which has caused me to burn out. But when I exercise at a nice moderate pace, I actually do feel happier, calmer, and more energized afterwards. I need to start doing that kind of good, moderate exercise regularly and reinforce that mental connection.

There was a lot of other interesting stuff in that People's Pharmacy episode, which I might write about later. But today, I wanted to muse about making that connection.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

CHUMLEY54 1/13/2012 11:52AM

    Nice blog.

It's true...I didn't realize it until you stated it here, but that is the technique I use myself. I also detest fast food now, and have connected to good feelings and wellness feeling after exercise. I am hoping to apply it to other areas, but hadn't realized exactly what it was I was doing.

Not usually an NPR fan, but that podcast sounds worthy of a listen

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RAINTHIEF 1/11/2012 8:37PM

    I haven't heard it but I'll definitely check it out, thanks!

Those Ah Ha moments are hard to make habitual, but it's just something we all have to fight for. It comes down to the fact that you can be your biggest hero or worst enemy. This year, it seems like I am finally making myself more into the hero than the chunky enemy. Consistency and discipline (and flat out 'I'm sick and tired of being this way' feelings) are coming through.

You have to keep reminding yourself of the goal and how you can get there, and question if the action you're considering is going to get you there or not.

emoticon emoticon

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Other ways of taking care of myself

Monday, January 09, 2012

Today I thought I'd write about a couple of other ways I am taking care of myself.

This afternoon I'm going to see a new doctor to talk about medication management. I'm on a few different meds whose effectiveness and side effects change over time, and I've found it really helpful to see a doctor regularly (every month or two) to discuss how things are going. It lets me catch any problems while they are still small. My old doctor moved his practice elsewhere, and I had been procrastinating on finding a new one. But a month ago, I finally looked up other nearby doctors, and made an appointment. Of course, the earliest appointment was a month away -- but now it's here. So I can get back on track with managing my meds properly.

I've also been tracking my sleep. I use a system called Zeo ( ), which consists of a small headband and a bedside device about the size of an alarm clock. The headband has 3 electrical sensors made out of metallic thread (so they're soft), and can read your brain waves well enough to tell what stage of sleep you're in -- deep sleep, dreaming, or light sleep. It also has a small Bluetooth transmitter that beams the sensor data to a memory card in the alarm-clock device. It saves data about your sleep through the whole night. In the morning, you plug the memory card into your computer. The Zeo website can automatically read and graph your sleep data. The graph looks like this:

Red means awake, light green means dreaming, gray means light sleep, and dark green means deep sleep. You can see I woke up briefly when my husband got up for work, then went back to sleep. (Benefits of being a grad studentů)

Their website lets you record things like how much caffeine or alcohol you drank the previous day, whether you watched TV before bed, etc. So you can keep track of how different things affect your sleep.

I remember a SparkPeople article (
) discussing how your sleep can affect your weight: bad sleep makes your body pump out stress hormones that lower your metabolism, lower your energy, and make you hungrier. If I can track how I'm sleeping, then I can figure out how to sleep better. That will help me get healthier!

So I like the idea of combining the sleep data with the data I'm tracking on SparkPeople. It will give me a "big picture" of what's working and what's not working. And I can bring all this data to my doctor, so that he* can help me better.

I have so much fun being a data nerd!

(*I'm referring to my specific doctor in this case, who happens to be a man. As a woman studying biomedical science, I obviously don't want to imply that all doctors are men!)

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

DUKEFAN86 1/12/2012 7:43AM

    Zeo sounds neat! I like the different ways you're taking care of yourself. Big picture.

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DRB13_1 1/12/2012 12:19AM

    It's great that a sleep sensor is available for home use. It would be interesting to see the differences if you listen to ambient (spa) music before or during sleep. May you have sweet dreams! emoticon

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SNOWMENTALITY 1/11/2012 1:12PM

    Rainthief, I've been using it since Christmas night -- my parents got it for me for Christmas, which was super incredibly awesome of them.

It costs $150 for the bedside system. (It's $99 for the iPhone-based system, where the headband is supposed to just talk straight to an iPhone, but the reviews I've read of that indicate that it's not ready for prime time -- there are still a lot of bugs. So I'd go with the bedside system.) It isn't exactly cheap. But I'd consider it worthwhile if you have sleep issues. I was starting to save up to buy it myself when I got it as a gift.

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RAINTHIEF 1/9/2012 8:43PM

    That is really neat; I might look into that. Sleep definitely affects things like weight. How long have you been using it?

And, coming from a data nerd - there is no shame in it. Only more nerdiness.

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CATLADY52 1/9/2012 5:22PM

    Nothing wrong with being a data nerd. emoticon

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A walk in the park

Sunday, January 08, 2012

On Saturday, I went with my husband to a recently opened nature trail nearby. It's a great trail -- fairly wide and paved, so it would be great for riding a bike. (In fact, there were TONS of families out riding bikes!) The whole trail is a 12-mile round trip -- fine for bike riding, but a long walk. We stuck to a 4-mile round trip instead.

The weather was warm and gorgeous that day; it felt like spring even though the woods still looked like winter. My husband has started getting us in the habit of taking a walk together on Saturdays, weather permitting, and I love it. It's such a good way to spend an hour or two together just relaxing and chatting. Taking a walk outside also always puts me in a great mood.

I've decided to stick to walking for now and not try to run yet. I tried to start working towards a 5K again, but managed to really hurt my knees by trying to run too far at the beginning. So I'm backing off running for now. I realize I'm really out of shape, so I'm re-strengthening my bones and joints by walking a lot, and do strength training to strengthen up the muscles that support those bones and joints. That way, when I try running again, I won't hurt myself.

In other news, my husband is wanting to develop some healthier habits himself. Yay! We ordered pizza earlier in the week. While he didn't change his pizza order to be healthier, he decided -- completely out of the blue -- to start trying some portion control. He said "I'm going to put two pieces on my plate, then put the rest in the fridge, and give it a little while after I finish those two pieces. If I'm still hungry, then there's more pizza. But I'll see how it goes with two pieces." It turned out, two pieces was all he really wanted.

It's definitely easier for me to stick with healthier habits when he's doing the same thing. I did the same thing with my pizza (though I'd taken the extra step of ordering a thin-crust, no-cheese pizza topped with a bunch of veggies and some grilled chicken breast -- I honestly prefer thin-crust veggie pizza!)

Portion control has sometimes been hard, because he used to have the mentality that after I'd served myself, the rest was all his. After a couple of times I started worrying that there wouldn't be any more if I decided I was still hungry, so I started taking larger portions to make sure I'd get enough. Like most things in marriage, this got better with communication. I say out loud "I'm going to start with a little bit now, but leave me some in case I want more later." If he goes for seconds, he'll ask "Do you want any more of this?" Usually I say no, but sometimes I say yes, and it's nice to know I have the option.

Oddly enough, when I know I can have another helping if I'm still hungry, I'm actually more likely to be satisfied with a moderate portion! I guess it's that my un-evolved lizard brain panics if it thinks there might be a food shortage and says "Eat! Eat while you still can!!", but calms down when it feels like there's plenty of food and lets my higher brain functions make good choices. Psychology is a wonderful thing....

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

SNOWMENTALITY 1/8/2012 10:53PM

    Rainthief -- I've been making a ton of soup lately myself! Pumpkin soup with Indian spices and a can of light coconut milk, roasted potato-onion-garlic soup, homemade chicken noodle soup with ginger and garlic (made with homemade chicken stock), roasted beet soup (made with mushroom stock). You're right -- so much better when you can leave out all the unnecessary salt and fat and preservatives. I've been freezing individual soup portions in regular, quart-size zip-top freezer bags -- fantastic for quick lunch or dinner.

I've been making and freezing a bunch of my own stock too. Roasted a small chicken for dinner, then used the bones to make chicken stock. Boiled two carrots, two celery sticks, a large potato, a large onion, and a couple of garlic cloves, all cut up, to make vegetable stock. And used the stems I trimmed from some shiitake mushrooms, along with another onion, to make mushroom stock. (Side note: If you slice shiitake mushroom caps thinly, then saute them in olive oil? They taste just like bacon. YUM.) Having stock on hand definitely makes it easier to make soup :)

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RAINTHIEF 1/8/2012 10:43PM

    It was a gorgeous day down here, too. I do miss those NC trails; my neighborhood is crowded and I have to smell everyone's garbage when I run by.

I'm with you guys on portion control. I was taught - like everyone - finish your plate. What do people in this country do to kids when they don't finish their plate? They get in trouble or punished - no wonder we're all fat! So I just put appropriate portions on the plate, and finishing the measured portions is just as satisfying - actually more satisfying - as stuffing myself. The bonus is I don't feel fat, guilty, and nauseous.

Side note - I've been hooked on homemade soups and stews lately - yummy, lots of veggies, and you can cut out all the salt and oils crammed in the canned ones.

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An intuitive reset

Friday, January 06, 2012

So I just reset my goals and tracking, which meant I had to go through the setup process again.

The first time, I set everything up the way it had been. I chose the "I have a weight loss goal" option, and set a goal of losing 30 pounds in one year. I figured that would be nice and slow -- a good realistic pace.

Then I entered my breakfast today on the iPhone app -- and looked at the bar graphs, and IMMEDIATELY started stressing out about eating/burning the right amount of calories today. Even though my breakfast was light and healthy. I tried to tell myself "You don't have to meet all your goals today, you are just restarting, let yourself work up to it" -- but it didn't help. Panic was setting in.

This has always been my problem in the past. Within about a month of starting or restarting SparkPeople, I build up so much anxiety and stress about eating and burning the right amount of calories that I can't take it anymore. I know this comes from having an eating disorder in the past. While I've been recovered for many years, clearly when I start thinking about losing weight -- something from that time gets triggered in my brain. So I drop SparkPeople again because I'm scared and stressed out and don't want to go back to that time.

Yet I really do need to pay attention to my physical health -- to eat better and move more. Improving my physical health also really helps my mental health. I have depression and anxiety, both of which are helped by exercise and good nutrition.

So I reset my goals again. It felt crazy, but this time I chose "I just want to live a healthier lifestyle without setting a weight loss goal." I do want to lose weight -- but clearly, setting a weight loss goal isn't working for me. Clearly it's counterproductive for me to set myself quantitative goals for calories eaten and burned every day. It sets me in a stressed-out mode of "I HAVE to meet this goal or I am a FAILURE and EVERYTHING IS RUINED." If that goal is there on the page, I can't ignore it or give myself permission not to meet it, or even forgive myself if I try but don't meet it. I can't help judging myself very harshly against it. I try to talk myself out of doing that, but the negative emotions are still there, and I can't fully control them.

So I'm going to accept that and work with myself compassionately. I'll still do my best to track the food I eat and the exercise I do, but I'm going to set myself much smaller goals to start with. Like, maybe not even try to change my eating and exercise at first, but just set a goal of entering it into the tracker for a week or two. Just get in the habit of being mindful about it.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

SETAGOAL1 1/6/2012 8:10PM

    You have not given up on yourself. You now know you are the only one that can make it happen for you.

You have the power to succeed or fail.

You have chosen to succeed.

Few baby steps complete a long journey

Writing is progress!!!

Janet emoticon

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SAQUOIA1 1/6/2012 2:36PM

    Its good to know what fits you and starting slow may be for the best. Good luck emoticon

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Well, since my last blog entry, I haven't actually been running again. Instead, I've been doing gardening and a WHOLE lot of house cleaning. It was a disaster zone in here. When the dishwasher broke, and we were out of clean dishes, I snapped. I washed dishes for a solid day, and then cleaned and reorganized the rest of the kitchen. I took out about five loads of recycling and three bags of trash from stuff around the house. While some dishes were soaking, I cleaned the master bathroom.

The only thing I haven't yet done is mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors -- and that's because a regular mop won't be enough. They've been neglected long enough that only hands-and-knees scrubbing will do the job. I don't mind washing floors that way -- it's the only method my dad uses -- but it does take a bit of time and preparation. Once the worst is off, it should be easy to maintain using my microfiber pad mop and a squirt bottle of cleaner.

(P.S. Can I just say that more men should be like my dad? He understands that cooking and cleaning need to happen, and just naturally takes his fair share of responsibility for them, without having to be reminded or asked. They're on his mental radar screen in the same way they are for most women I know, but not for many men I know. I think it's because he grew up in a big family, and everyone had to pitch in if the house was going to run at all.)

I haven't eaten all that well over the holiday weekend. It could've been worse, but I feel like I should have just eaten the grilled chicken and corn on the cob without butter, and not had any baked beans or macaroni salad or sangria or the small piece of Italian sausage. And I definitely should not have eaten a slice of sausage pizza last night -- should've just had a glass of water instead. But I did stick to reasonable portions of everything, and talked myself out of a second slice of sausage pizza.

I need to go grocery shopping, but a snafu with my paycheck means that I don't have the money right now. Will have to see what I can do with what we have in the house. We have some beans and tomato sauce -- maybe I could make some chili.

Actually, I need to go and find out what is up with my paycheck. I'll hit the gym while I'm out.

I think trying to lose weight, fix my finances/budget, keep a tidier/cleaner house, and finish my degree all at the same time is overloading me. But all of those things are important! I was in such a stressed and rotten mood by the end of last week, though. I ranted here, and I ranted elsewhere about housework, and just generally felt grumpy. A bit better now.


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