Dean Anderson (SP_COACH_DEAN)

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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I'm Setting My Sights A Little Higher...

The first Day’s Night had come—
And grateful that a thing
So terrible—had been endured—
I told my Soul to sing—

She said her Strings were snapt—
Her Bow—to Atoms blown—
And so to mend her—gave me work
Until another Morn--

--Emily Dickinson, 410

I’m done with just trying to endure my depression and get back to "normal." I'm setting my sights a little higher this time.

Yeah, I know. Trying to make something out of being depressed is about as easy as trying to tie your shoes with one hand tied behind your back. At least when you start with nothing, anything you do will be something. When you start with a big batch of negatives like the hopelessness, helplessness, fatigue, and mental fog that is depression, there’s really no reason to believe that whatever you can do will even get you out of the hole, much less get you moving along in a good direction. It's much easier to see those depressed thoughts and feelings as enemies to be defeated, rather than tools to use.

But maybe it only seems this way because we've forgotten our basic math. When you multiply two negatives together, you get a positive, right? I'm hoping that at least some of the negatives going on for me right now can be combined into something positive--and something beyond merely getting back to "normal."

Posted 7/21/2009  6:45:03 PM By: Dean Anderson : 102 comments   17,033 views

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From Depression to Progression: Guidance from the Mystery Tramp & Napoleon in Rags

When you got nothing,
you got nothing to lose.
You’re invisible now, you
got no secrets to conceal.
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Bob Dylan
Like a Rolling Stone

If you’re wondering what a couple of characters in a Bob Dylan song (Like a Rolling Stone) have to do with coping with depression (the subject of this series of blogs), so am I. But it made a lot of sense to me last night when I was listening to the song (a nightly ritual), so I thought I’d see if it still makes sense when I try to write about it.

Posted 7/17/2009  6:53:35 PM By: Dean Anderson : 113 comments   20,173 views

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A Shocking Development!

By the time you read this, I will probably be about halfway through my first week of a two- or three-week course of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatment to see if this helps relieve my depression.

In two previous blogs, I had indicated both that I felt pretty uncomfortable with the idea of electric shock treatment (I was a BIG fan of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and that I was going to try a non-medical approach to dealing with my depression before resorting to additional biological treatments. But here I am in the hospital, getting hooked up to the ECT machine.

What has changed in the past week is the urgency of reducing the effects of this depressive episode on other things. For whatever reason, I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed the last few days with a bunch of new memories and flashbacks related to the childhood abuse I experienced for the first 13 years of my life. I don’t know if the depression is reducing my capacity to keep those memories away, or whether the memories have been mucking around in my subconscious for a while and generating the depression. Maybe both. Or neither. All I really do know is what’s happening right now, which is that I can’t handle all of this at once and still function in my daily life—something has to give. I haven’t been able to sleep for 3 days, and my anxiety level is a steady 14 on a scale of 1-10.

Trying to let the past be the past before it’s too late.

Given that I’m 60 now, and that I’ve been dealing with this old childhood baggage in one way or another for my whole life, I figure I’m not going to have many more chances of getting to the bottom of it. So, my desire is to actively and directly deal with this stuff right now while it’s coming up on its own, instead of trying to put the lid back on again. That means I need to get myself to the point that I’m strong enough to do that—and that means getting through the worst of this depression as quickly and easily as possible. They tell me that ECT is the best treatment when a quick response is the goal, so I’ve decided to give it a try. And, honestly, I could do with a week in the hospital right now, with nothing much to do except cope with getting my brain zapped a few times.

Some Background Info
I used to believe that one’s psyche never gives you more than you’re ready to handle at that time, and therefore, that the appearance of new memories and feelings from the past meant that I was ready to handle whatever it was that wanted to make itself known.

Posted 7/8/2009  10:33:30 AM By: Dean Anderson : 321 comments   26,189 views

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Playing with My Unhappiness

Last week, I said that, since it seems to be occupying just about all of my attention anyway, I would try to blog about my efforts to come to terms with the depression and anxiety that seem to be dominating my life right now. Here’s installment No. 1 in this series of blogs, in which Mr. Mopey attempts to explain his admittedly strange approach to this project.

Posted 7/1/2009  5:53:03 AM By: Dean Anderson : 135 comments   22,070 views

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Notes From Behind Enemy Lines

“So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.”

--T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Many of you have probably noticed that I haven’t been blogging recently. As this situation is likely to continue for awhile yet, I thought it would be good to at least let you know what’s going on.

Basically, I haven’t been doing very well physically or mentally for the past couple months, to the extent that my ability to concentrate on reading and writing for this blog has been very compromised. The good news is these problems have nothing to do with my recent heart surgery and aren’t life-threatening or anything like that. In a nutshell, I’m having problems with pretty severe depression and a return of old post-traumatic stress symptoms. I guess they may have been triggered by the surgery, but their real roots go back a long ways before that. Physically, everything is fine (except for some annoying nerve impingement problems caused by bad spinal arthritis that I’ve also had for years, but which is now producing symptoms).

Posted 6/24/2009  11:33:13 AM By: Dean Anderson : 395 comments   17,081 views

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Wii Warriors Outnumber Weekend Warriors in the Doctor’s Office

Not long ago, one of Coach Nicole’s blogs generated a pretty interesting discussion about how playing Wii Fit games compared to “real” exercise.

Can lurching across your living room carpet, remote in hand, to return a vicious topspin forehand from your TV set ever compare to a real game of tennis, with racquet, ball, and real life opponent?

That’s a question we may have to leave to the philosophers and sports purists among us to decide.

In the meantime, though, it’s becoming pretty clear to doctors everywhere that Wii Fit sports can generate just as many sports injuries as the real thing, and probably even more. In fact, according to this article, “Wii Warriors” have been turning up in doctor’s offices lately in even greater numbers than the Weekend Warriors of earlier generations, and doctors are beginning to develop a special vocabulary to describe their problems. It’s not just “tendinitis” these days—it’s “Nintendinitis.”

Is this just because more people are using Wii Fit for exercise, or is there something about these “virtual” sports that makes them even more likely to cause injury?

Posted 4/28/2009  7:02:40 PM By: Dean Anderson : 97 comments   9,073 views

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3 Ways to Boost Your Will Power

Will power. It’s one of those ideas we all talk about pretty often—and not usually when things are going well. You don’t hear too many people talking about how they really gave their will power a good workout today, or how it’s responding so well to their efforts to strengthen it.

Nope—will power is that mysterious, ill-defined factor that always seems to be missing whenever we need it most: “I just don’t seem to have any will power at all when it comes to______” (you fill in the blank). And then everyone nods their heads sympathetically, and jumps in with their own latest will power horror story.

But if you asked 10 different people to define what “will power” actually is, you’d probably get quite a few different ideas.

In practical terms, most of us would probably agree that what we mean by “will power” is the capacity to stick to our own good intentions, goals, and responsibilities even when we’re faced with temptations to do something else instead. But what actually gives us that capacity? Is will power the same thing as motivation, or self-discipline, or focus, or determination? Does it come from inside or outside? Can you have very strong will power in some areas of your life (like getting yourself out of bed on time almost every day), but practically none in others (like resisting certain foods or staying consistent with exercise)?

And maybe most importantly, is will power something you can learn and develop over time, or is it just something you either have or don’t have courtesy of your genes?

So far, at least, scientists who study will power haven’t done much better than the rest of us at coming up with a definition. They also haven’t located a specific area of the brain that’s responsible for resisting temptations, or any genes that make it easier or harder to resist temptation and stick to your goals.

But they do know there’s quite a bit more we can do to resist our impulses and stick to our good intentions, beyond telling ourselves to “Just Do It.” According to the research, there are three reliable and proven ways you can boost your own will power.

Posted 4/14/2009  1:27:14 PM By: Dean Anderson : 155 comments   38,901 views

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Keep Your Eye on the Real Prize

Expectations are powerful things. They can turn relatively easy challenges into incomprehensible failures or transform the most difficult situations into interesting and rewarding opportunities. What you get out of your own efforts depends almost entirely on what you expect to achieve in any given situation.

The foundation for getting the most out of yourself and your own efforts in any situation is continually choosing and adjusting your expectations so that your strategies and actions match up well with what you can realistically achieve in that situation. Otherwise, you'll end up spinning your wheels trying to achieve the impossible, or settling for a lot less than you could accomplish, or never bothering to find out what really matters to you.

My recent experience with some medical problems and a pretty long hospital stay might provide a good, concrete example of this principle in action. If not, this blog will at least give you the opportunity to introduce yourself to my Inner Pig, who will likely be appearing here in future blogs.

Posted 4/9/2009  6:39:41 PM By: Dean Anderson : 195 comments   16,084 views

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Not Exactly the Vacation I Had in Mind…

Next week, it will be five years since my weight first dropped below 230 pounds, which is where it hovers most of the time now, give or take 5 pounds. That’s more than 140 pounds below my highest weight ever (I’m not actually sure what that highest weight was, since the scale only went up to 370).

Today’s blog was originally going to be a nice little travelblog about the hiking and camping vacation I had planned for early April, in honor of my official eligibility for membership in that somewhat exclusive club of people who have lost over 100 pounds and kept it off for 5 years.

Unfortunately, though, I’m not going to be taking my camping vacation next week. Instead, I’ll be spending this week in the hospital, getting a bad heart valve replaced. I’d love to report that all my training in psychology and philosophy, and my experience as a life coach are enabling me to cope with this turn of events without much trouble, but that just wouldn’t be the whole story.

Posted 3/24/2009  6:03:36 AM By: Dean Anderson : 324 comments   13,590 views

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Comfort Undereating, Anyone?

Here's a concept that could make losing weight a lot easier: comfort undereating.

We all know how easy and tempting it is to reach for something to eat--especially something that's sweet, rich, or salty--in times of stress. "Comfort" eating and "emotional" eating are two of the biggest problems for most people who struggle with their weight.

But one of the odd things about comfort eating has always been that it rarely actually makes us feel good for more than a couple of minutes. After that, we quickly end up feeling guilty or upset--especially if we're trying to eat healthy or lose weight. But still we do it, even though we know how bad we're going to feel as soon as we're done. That immediate reward we get from it really conditions us to reach for the food, and before you know it, you've got an automatic habit on your hands that's very hard to break.

Wouldn't it be nice if NOT reaching for something to eat in times of stress produced that same kind of feel-good reward? It sure would make it easier to break the habit of comfort/emotional eating.

Well, guess what? According to some recent research, those good feelings may be just what you can experience if you can manage to get past that first impulse to eat something when you need a little comfort.

Posted 3/19/2009  12:24:34 PM By: Dean Anderson : 121 comments   14,189 views

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Vibration Training: Latest Fad or The Real Deal?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a machine for a few hundred dollars, plant it in front of your TV set, and stand on it for a couple hours per day while it did all the work necessary to burn calories, build muscle, and lose weight?

If you like to browse the web for new weight loss and fitness products, you’ve probably seen advertisements for Vibration Training machines, along with claims that these machines can work wonders for your weight loss. You may even have seen one of these machines in your gym.

Vibration Training (also called "acceleration training") is definitely a “big thing” on the fitness scene these days. But does it work, or is it just another gimmick?

At this point the verdict is still out on what Vibration Training can actually accomplish. But there are some things we do know:

• It’s not just a money-making gimmick. Vibration training does have serious scientific support, and can be very useful for some purposes when done properly and with high quality equipment.

• Many of the machines on the market now, especially the cheap ones, ARE just gimmicks. The claims manufacturers make, especially about their weight loss advantages, are false, and following their recommendations can actually be dangerous to your health. Many of the cheap machines can’t deliver even on the legitimate benefits of vibration training.

• You definitely should not buy a cheap machine, plant it in front of your TV, and plan to spend hours on it to speed up your weight loss. That could cause serious health problems, and won’t do anything at all for your weight loss.

Here’s some information you can use to separate the fraudulent claims from the ones worth investigating, and decide whether Vibration Training might be something that could be right for you.

Posted 3/17/2009  6:00:00 AM By: Dean Anderson : 85 comments   166,585 views

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What’s the REAL Price of Junk Food?

Warning! Rant Ahead.

Have you ever wondered why healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are more expensive than junk food? Or if there's anything you can do about it?

Think about it for a minute. That bunch of carrots for sale in the grocery store is basically yanked out of the ground in some remote location, hosed off, thrown in a truck, and delivered to your grocery store. Sure, that costs money. The land, the seeds, the pesticides, the water, all the labor, the transportation, the grocery store itself—none of this comes cheap. It costs even more, apparently, if you want to leave the pesticides out and go organic.

Now consider the humble Twinkie. As Michael Pollan puts it:

“ Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?”

Good question. Especially these days, when a global economic meltdown is making the cost of healthy eating even more of an issue for many people. Just how does your supermarket sell Twinkies and other “junk” foods so cheaply?

Posted 3/5/2009  6:29:00 AM By: Dean Anderson : 130 comments   17,821 views

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Staying Motivated, Tip #10: Reward Yourself at the Right Time for the Right Thing

There's no doubt that rewarding desirable eating behaviors is a very good way for us humans to get ourselves to stick to healthy eating plans, even when we’d rather go for the gusto.

But not just any reward will do the trick. You have to be careful to reward yourself for the right things at the right time.

There are three very common mistakes people run into when they try to use rewards to motivate themselves. Read on to find out how you can avoid them.

Posted 3/3/2009  12:12:17 PM By: Dean Anderson : 92 comments   11,958 views

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Poll: Why do YOU exercise?

There are lots of good reasons why people exercise. We all know that it’s something we should do because it’s good for our health, helps us stay active and enjoy life longer, and burns extra calories for weight loss or weight maintenance.

But most people who are successful at sticking to an exercise program over time also have more individual reasons for exercising. Often, it’s these more personal reasons that actually get people up and moving on those days when just knowing they should do it doesn’t get the job done.

My personal reasons for exercising have gone through some changes over the past few years.

Posted 2/26/2009  12:37:41 PM By: Dean Anderson : 248 comments   21,099 views

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Staying Motivated Tip #9: Don’t Neglect the Dark Side of the Force

I was reading through my previous blogs in this series of motivation tips when I realized that, with all the emphasis on positive thinking, a reader could get the impression that you should never say a harsh word to yourself when things aren’t going well.

That’s definitely not true.

There are plenty of times when 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.”

Sometimes, you really do need to point out to yourself exactly how and why what you’re doing is less than totally brilliant or desirable. And you need to do it in a way that will help you remember this lesson before you act the next time this issue 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 this is by looking at a very common problem that often responds better to a little self-administered toughlove than to happy talk. This problem is familiar to dieters everywhere. You run into some tempting food that isn’t on your diet plan, and that familiar inner struggle starts up. “I really shouldn’t.” “But it’s only one little treat, I’ll make up for it later.” You have the treat, but that’s not the end of the story. Later on, you’re tired and trying to decide whether to cook those steamed veggies you planned for dinner or order a pizza, and you find yourself thinking “Well, I’ve already blown it for today, might as well have the pizza and start over tomorrow.”

This is the point where a good healthy dose of toughlove can really save the day. But what, exactly, should you say to yourself?

Before you read on, take a moment to remember back to the last time you were actually in this situation. What did you say, and how did that work for you?

Posted 2/24/2009  5:56:27 AM By: Dean Anderson : 68 comments   11,005 views

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