Some people struggle with an issue, work to overcome it, and in the process decide to explore its origins. It’s not unusual to hear of someone citing a personal event that inspired them to choose a particular profession. We all know people like that.

I’m not one of them. As a matter of fact, maybe I’m a touch oblivious at times, but it wasn’t until I became an adult that it hit me that most of the people with whom I came in contact did not think the same way I did.

What am I talking about?

At the risk of dating myself, I remember watching an episode of Happy Days (remember that show?) in which Joanie (the teenage daughter in the series’ central family) was dumped by her boyfriend, or dumped him, or some teen-angst-ridden combination of the two. At the end of the episode, her mother brought her a jar of crunchy peanut butter and a spoon, and Joanie proceeded to consume the entire thing. Or at least we assumed that she ate all of it, as foreshadowed by an earlier comment by her mom that she herself had eaten a jar of PB after a similar breakup of hers when she was the same age.

I will never forget that episode, mainly because the notion of eating during a time of sadness or high stress (or excitement, for that matter) was completely foreign to me. Why would someone address their emotional pain with food?

Another incident, also in my teens, totally bowled me over. I remember being at high school, in a roomful of girls. I don’t know how the topic turned to food, but one girl mentioned how she would have loved to have Cheryl Tiegs’ body (supermodel from the ’80s) just so that she could ruin it by eating. Another wistfully admitted that it was a fantasy of hers to be able to just eat and eat and eat.

I so did not get it. While I’d gone through my own weight-related ups and downs as a teen, I never thought of food as anything other than fuel. Some foods I liked, others I didn’t. But when I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t hungry. When I was, I ate.

There is a saying, “If hunger isn’t the problem, food isn’t the solution.” It makes perfect sense to me. What I discovered, however, was that so many people I knew where using food to try to solve problems that had nothing to do with hunger. That method inevitably backfires. When I realized that, within a circle of friends and acquaintances, I was the exception and not the norm, I began asking why.

That’s when I realized that there weren’t many others interested in the same question. As a stay-at-home-mom, I used some of my “free” (ha!) time to become certified as a personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. While it was never my intention to work exclusively in that capacity, I did consider it as a possibility. After all, wasn’t I the perfect candidate? My weight wasn’t an issue; I enjoyed exercising and eating a healthy, whole foods diet; I’d sailed through two pregnancies with a textbook-perfect weight gain that was lost smoothly; and I wanted to spread the word that all you needed to do to get the body of your dreams was (1) eat less, and (2) move more.

IfYouDon'tSucceedTryTrainer

Well, maaaaaybe…or maybe not…

Well, no. I wasn’t the perfect trainer. As a matter of fact, I was probably the worst candidate imaginable.

It became obvious to me rather quickly that l had no idea what it was like to deal with a chronic overweight condition. I didn’t know what cravings were. I didn’t understand how difficult it could be for someone to resist certain foods, or how they might feel ‘hunger’ when their bodies weren’t lacking calories. I couldn’t appreciate why starting and sticking to an exercise regimen could be so tough. And I didn’t get what a powerful effect societal bias could exert against overweight individuals.

What’s more, I wasn’t the only personal trainer who could be so clueless. After sitting in on numerous online and in-person conversations, it dawned on me that those people most drawn to this relatively-young profession — youthful, unattached, athletic, healthy, etc. — were those least likely to be able to relate to their clients.

Educated as a psychologist, I expected that there was more going on behind the scenes than simply recalcitrant clients refusing to follow their trainers’ directions. This set me on the path to explore the “other” components that contributed to weight gain and avoidance of exercise.

And that’s what this blog is all about. 🙂

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I was a diehard Intermittent Fasting (IF) opponent. As a matter of fact, I was frustrated by those who promoted it, believing that it was setting people up for a “starve-binge” cycle. After all, there IS evidence that people who skip breakfast tend to engage in unhealthy eating by the end of the day (here’s an easy-to-read synopsis from Science Daily of a recent study at the University of Missouri). And, being a student of psychology, I felt that it would only encourage a deprivation mentality.

Breakfast is served!

I was right, kind of. But that was because there was one aspect of IF that I didn’t take into consideration. It’s called fat-adaptation, and Mark Sisson (of Mark’s Daily Apple) does a great job of explaining it here. So, yes, if you were to try to engage in IF on the Standard American Diet, which is far too high in starchy, processed carbohydrates, you’d run into problems.

But even as I was cursing the IF fans, my own diet was becoming increasingly fat-adapted as I began eliminating starches (my simple sugars were already low) and increasing my nut intake. Then soy and beans became a rarity on my plate, and even my beloved whole-grain breads were replaced by larger amounts of fresh, in-season vegetables.

But what pushed me over to the fasting way of life was that I had a bad reaction to onions one night. And the pain in my stomach made me so wary of putting anything else into my mouth that I simply chose to skip my morning protein smoothie.

And, surprise, I felt good. Very good, in fact.

I ate about noon that day. Then tried it again the next day and lasted until 3:20. No headaches, no irritability…and no insatiable hunger either. I also found that I could train intensely (rowing, heavy weights, interval training) and simply not bonk — I even set some PRs while fasted. There was no feeling of deprivation, only an understanding that I won’t be eating now, but I will eat in a little while. Psychologically, that is the easiest concept for me to handle. I practice “staying in the moment”, the same mindset that enables me to work through high-intensity exercise. I accept what I’m feeling in that segment of time without worrying about what will happen later.

After all, why worry? I see so many people eat when they’re not hungry because they’re afraid that they’ll be hungry later. And these are not individuals who live under food-insecure conditions. Food will still be here in a couple of hours, or tonight, or tomorrow. We live in such a food-abundant nation, now more so than at any time in human history, and yet, that fear of being hungry exists.

Don’t believe me? Check out the “snack” aisle. Just a little something to hold you over until your next meal. We Americans snack incessantly. Snack foods have taken on a life of their own.

One of the things about IF…I don’t snack. I don’t worry about being hungry. I focus on what I have to get done, and if it’s not time yet to break my fast, that’s okay.

I realize that I’m simplifying the process of my dietary changes in this post, along with how I came around to accept IF (and by that I mean my own version of it), but you can see that it took a while for my body to get ready to do this, and for me to accept that this was an viable course of action to take. I have to admit, had it not been for Mark Sisson’s article on how he fasted “naturally” — not adhering to a strict schedule — I might not have succumbed to trying it. But as someone who puts a high value on being aware of my body’s cues and staying in tune with them, I felt that Mark’s comments clicked with me.

So I’m about a month into a low-starchy carb, higher protein/fat IF way of eating and I know that it’s something I can continue. I don’t have anything pulling me back into my prior feeding schedule, not that there was anything terribly wrong with that either. But this way, I am more at peace with my body’s signals. I will be doing more research into the science behind this and continuing to monitor my response, but for now, this is working quite well. Sometimes I hear water gurgling through my intestines, and I reassure myself that I will definitely eat…

…later.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Disclaimer: I do believe that there are people for whom any form of IF is inappropriate. I do NOT feel that this is a one-size-fits-all way of eating; personal issues must be taken into consideration. However, there are individuals for whom this can be an effective meal schedule. If this is something you are interested in, DO.YOUR.RESEARCH!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past couple of decades, you’re aware that we’re in the middle of a childhood obesity epidemic. What you might not be aware of, however, is that we may unwittingly be perpetuating this problem even as we struggle to find a solution. Here’s an example of how this happens:

My 8-year-old took the California Standardized Test over the past few weeks. I had asked her if she was nervous beforehand, she said no…she was looking forward to it because following every test session her teacher was going to give snacks: Goldfish crackers. That’s a rare purchase for us at home because I’m not a fan of processed crackers. But what I’m even less a fan of is equating a job well done with a food prize.

Now, granted, Goldfish crackers aren’t the most evil of concoctions, and I’m actually delighted that the reward was merely crackers rather than sweets even though the idea that we need to offer snacks to mark a good performance (no offense to her teacher, whom I adore!). How about playing a fun game or offering extra recess time?

Great job! Here, have a cookie.

While the above is a mild example of a “food as reward” pairing, what happens when that’s taken a step further and kids are rewarded with unhealthy foods? I learned of a school from out-of-state that threw a junk food-heavy shindig as a spectacular end to their testing weeks. These celebrations are organized by adults who look back at what they ate as children and how many wonderful memories of youth it brings back, and want to share these good feelings with the younger generation. Sadly, these childhood memories don’t mesh with the reality of today, and the current state of our collective waistlines.

Equally important is the mixed message that this type of event sends. On the one hand, there are obesity awareness programs at schools, teaching kids healthy eating, encouraging them to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption. On the other hand, they throw all of that out the window with such a festival, as if acknowledging with a wink, “You know all that healthy-food stuff we taught you? Well, we don’t believe it either.”

I freely admit that rewarding ourselves with food is not a new concept. Special meals for birthdays, graduations, promotions, etc. are to be expected. Sharing joy across the table is part of being human. Meals unite us. Food is pleasure in a small, legal package —  and a very powerful motivator. I’m neither disputing that nor trying to squash long-established mealtime traditions.

But you know those ‘special events’ that we chose to celebrate? Well, every day has become special. TGIF? Why raise the bar so high by waiting ’til the end of the week? “It’s Tuesday, lets celebrate!” Indulging yourself has gone from a once-luxury to something that’s commonplace. With food as accessible as it is, in the varieties in which it’s available, we really run the danger of rewarding ourselves into a host of health problems.

As a result, we do our children a disservice by rewarding them with food when the opportunities for rewards seem never-ending and the quality of food has degraded. And some of you might gripe that I’m taking all the fun out of eating. That may be, but with staggering childhood obesity rates that are NOT getting better, and the knowledge that these children are likely to grow into obese adults, it’s time to stop joking around.

Do you really know what you want? Do you know what steps you need to take to get it? If not, you’re going to be at greater risk of being swayed from your goals. What happens at the point when we’re faced with a decision whether or not to engage in a behavior that may or may not be detrimental to our goals? Our actions will depend in large part on how meaningful our goals are and how attractive the other option is. In a way, it’s a balance of those two factors. Knowing exactly what you want will help sway things in your favor and keep you moving towards where you want to be.

If most people have an opportunity to (1) eat a doughnut or (2) abstain in favor of their fitness goals, which one will win out?

Eat like Homer, look like Homer. (www.sfgate.com)

My money’s on the doughnut, and here’s why: most people don’t have a truly clear idea of what they want as far as fat loss goes. They want to lose pounds or “get into shape”. Some just want to “look good”. What do all of those mean? They’re very fuzzy goals, and as a result, achieving them will be difficult. How will you know you’ve reached the point where you’re “in shape”? What if you think you “look good” but then pass a mirror or see yourself in a photo and realize that you don’t look as good as the person next to you? What if you still “feel fat”? All these things make it hard to claim success…

And that’s why the doughnut is such a formidable opponent. In contrast to the uncertainties of fat loss, you know what you’ll get with the doughnut. The melt-in-your-mouth sweetness, the sugar rush…the desire for more. Those pounds you want to lose are so far away. The doughnut is here and immediate. It’s tangible. You can practically taste it.

Add to that, it’s easy to justify eating the doughnut, right? How much of a difference will one doughnut really make?

All of this is why it’s important to not only have clearly defined goals for fat loss, but also an understanding of the day-to-day steps you need to take to get there. Success is determined by your daily efforts. Your daily efforts are determined by your long-range goals.

When you know specifically where you want to go, and are aware of what you need to do every day, resisting temptation becomes easier. When the sun sets every evening, you can claim victory for another day, and the resulting changes to your body become your reward.

If you’re cleaning up after breakfast and come across this, what do you do?

C'mon, it's just a bite...

You’re done eating and not hungry…but there’s still a little oatmeal and PB&J left over. Not worth putting aside in the fridge because no one’s going to eat it later. So where does it go? Into the trash…or your mouth?

Consider your answer then read this.

I have to preface this post by stressing that I avoid sweets of any kind. Doesn’t mean I don’t have them, but the instances are few and far between, and that’s one of the reasons that I don’t crave them. Just as you may have heard people who have switched to clean eating say that after a few weeks, their desire for sugary/fatty foods disappears, I feel that my lack of exposure to that type of food is why I find it easy to ignore it.

However, even I am not immune to the siren song of the most addictive of processed hell- foods. Here’s a personal example:

"Difficult to resist, the Dark Side is."

My family and I were at a reception where coffee, juice and doughnuts were served. Now, an offering like that makes me break out in hives (even bagels & cream cheese would have been better), but until I have enough money to create “healthy food” endowments for the places that I frequent, I’m stuck. While I got coffee, my husband got that obscene fried frosted round thing. He offered me a bite.

I accepted, not sure why, maybe just because it’d been so long since I’d tried one. I don’t remember the exact order of the events that followed, but I think  saliva flooded my mouth, I got a tingling sensation, a major sugar rush that warmed my whole body…all of which preceded an Id-like need for another bite. I don’t know how much more I consumed before I came to my senses, but the intensity of my lustful reaction took me aback. It was then that I decided doughnuts were the creation of the devil and should be rounded up and burned at the stake.

For that moment that I was under the doughnut’s spell, I had an epiphany of sorts. I saw how easily one could, with minimal practice, polish off a half dozen doughnuts before realizing what happened. Those junky abominations are engineered for lightening-fast consumption. You hardly need to chew the thing before it dissolves! The rapid sugar delivery to the bloodstream is drug-like.

Food doesn’t twack me like that most of the time, but this one did. And then I thought, if it made me, a true sugar shunner, suffer a momentary lapse of reason, how much damage could it do to someone who is more susceptible to the influence of these foods? How much would it test someone’s resolve…and what are the chances that, hypnotized by the promise of a blissful sugar stupor, one would even remember to resist? In general I try to offer kinder, gentler suggestions for changing eating behaviors, but in this case I’d recommend that you never let one of these arteriosclerotic bombs near your lips.

No, not even into your line of sight. Stay away!

When I picked my kids up from school yesterday, I asked them the same questions I always do: whadya learn, did you play nicely, whadya you eat for lunch. I used to pack their lunches, but they decided they wanted to  eat a hot meal from the school cafeteria just like their friends do. I initially sniffed at the idea, but after learning more about California’s school lunch guidelines, I acquiesced.

I discovered that for my son, one of the perks of eating from the cafeteria is that he gets a choice of regular (“white”) or chocolate milk. Guess which one my son chooses. That ruffles my feathers because I know of the problems associated with liquid calories, but I recognize that while I cannot control what he has at school, I’m still the nutritional overlord at home and don’t budge on healthy eating principles there.

Yesterday, my son announced that he had “white” milk for lunch. My daughter explained: there was no chocolate milk available, only “white” milk, so most kids didn’t drink milk today.

Why is this an important point? Because there’s been a push by the dairy industry to slow the decline in milk consumption by fighting to keep chocolate milk in schools, arguing that when chocolate milk is removed, kids choose less nutritious drinks. The National Dairy council contends that kids don’t drink enough milk as it is, although one wonders how much milk consumption would be deemed “enough” by the organization that has a vested interest in selling as much dairy as possible.

Regardless, my daughter verified that without chocolate milk, kids didn’t drink much of the other stuff. There were no other drink options available besides water, which did not strike me as a negative, but the situation may be different in other school districts.

The behaviorist in me recognizes a bigger problem, however. Children aren’t drinking chocolate milk because they feel the need to get more milk in their diet. They’re drinking it because it’s sweet. By loading milk with sugar in order to coax kids to consume it, we’re basically shaping an addiction to sugar. The more that chocolate milk is presented, the more that kids will demand it in and out of school. That’s not limited to chocolate milk, it encompasses all the other foods they’re consuming. The more sugar that’s in food, the greater the expectation of sugar is, and the greater the resulting demand for a higher level of sweetness. This isn’t rocket science, this is basic learning.

Think I’m picking on the poor kids by wanting to take away their sweetened chocolate milk? Think it doesn’t matter, ‘cuz they’re just kids? Guess what? Those children will grow into adults who will spend lots of money searching for ways to drop the extra weight they packed on because of their sugar addictions. And the majority of them will not succeed.

Yes, it matters.