Articles

The Brain/Body Disconnect!

If there is one thing I have learned over the past few years, it is just how little I know.  In the area of health and fitness in particular, there is always new research being done, lessons to be learned and assumptions to be disproved.  It can seem at times that the more I learn, the less I know!  That being said, there are a couple of things that I do have a degree of certainty about.

The first thing is that more often than not, the scale will not behave in the way the think it will.  Let me give you an example.  As many of you know, I weigh myself each morning. This is purely for information and really is more a ritual now than anything.  For the last several weeks my weight has been in and around 59kg.  While getting below this weight might be nice, it would require a large amount of effort.  I definitely am not about to make this a priority right now, so as long as I can maintain my current level, I am happy enough.

Two weeks ago, I underwent a colonoscopy.  The procedure itself is very straightforward. The preparation for it, however, is anything but.  I had to fast for 24 hours prior to having it done, and the night before I had to take a preparation to essentially clean me out.  The morning of the procedure I literally had nothing left in my system.  I was curious about the impact of this and so decided to weigh myself before leaving for the hospital.  I honestly expected to see some ridiculously low number.  Imagine my surprise then, when I saw 60kg on the scale.  Having spent an entire day fasting and purging my body, I had put on a kilo!  My husband even jokingly asked “God, what do you actually have to do to lose weight?”

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I was not one bit concerned about this “weight gain.” Let’s face it, I had more pressing matters on my mind that day, but I did find it funny. Here I am, with all my nutrition training, having spent years managing my weight, and I can still be blindsided by the bathroom scale.  24 hours, and two McDonald’s meals after the procedure, I was back to normal weight, and in fact, weighed in slightly lighter than usual.

The scale is definitely a powerful tool, but she is also a fickle mistress.  If you, like myself find yourself getting a reading so off the wall, it literally couldn’t be possible, just brush it off.  These blips can happen for all sorts of reasons, and there really is little point in agonising over it.  It’s also important to remember that it is the overall trend of your weight that matters, not a single reading.

The second thing I have come to be certain about is that, for most of us, how we see and feel about our bodies, is usually a long way away from the reality of the situation.  We humans are complicated creatures.  We have all sorts of biochemistry and hormones, which not only impact how our body behaves, but also effect how we feel about it.  Some days we wake up feeling that we look great.  Other days, for no apparent reason, we will wake up feeling fat, sluggish and generally like a whale-blob!  I have even had times where I have experienced both in the same day!

There are two reasons why I think this happens.  Firstly, we simply don’t see ourselves how we really are.  I honestly believe we all suffer from a degree of body dis-morphia. We all have certain delusions about ourselves, be they positive or negative.  Some people think they look fat, when they are perfectly slim.  Some others think they should win the X Factor, when in fact, they are completely tone deaf!  I don’t really know what the answer to this is.  The only advice I can give is to be kind to yourself.  Stop negative self talk COMPLETELY.  Life is hard enough, without being your own worst enemy.

The other reason why I think the body and brain have a disconnect, is simply because the brain takes longer to realise that change has happened.  When I was putting my weight on, I was in complete denial.  Of course, I noticed that my clothes were no longer fitting (damn tumble dryer) and that I was more padded than I had previously been, but I was always able to explain it all away.  My light bulb moment came when I was getting ready to go out one evening.  I had laid a pair of jeans out on the bed.  When I came out of the shower, with my guard down, I actually saw them, as if for the first time.  I was horrified by how enormous they were.  I knew that I needed to do something.

When I began to lose weight, it again took a long time for my brain to catch up.  It didn’t matter what the scale said, or how many people commented on my weight loss, I just didn’t believe it.  Ironically, it was another pair of jeans that made the penny drop. Similar to before, I had them laid out on the bed.  Even though I had worn them before, this day they looked to me, impossibly tiny.  My brain said “there is no way they are going to fit you.”  My body, however, had the last word!

It’s not surprising that this disconnect occurs.  Your body really just goes with the flow.  It responds to the inputs and outputs in a very predictable way.  When we take in more fuel than we need, over time we put on weight.  We lose weight when we do the opposite. There is no escaping this, our body is designed to do this.  Our brain however, is a different beast.  When you have spent years, or even decades seeing yourself in a certain way, it can take a long time to reprogram this self image.  If every time you look in the mirror, you expect to see a fat person, that is exactly what you will see, regardless of the reality.

The advice I give to anyone going through this, is just be patient.  Your body knows what to do, even if your brain is struggling.  Trust the process, control what you can, and know that eventually your jeans will show you what’s what.  Be well xxx

 

Advertisements
Articles

The Goldilocks Effect

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to buy a new mattress.   We had had our existing one since we moved in and it was long overdue for replacement.  It was flat as a pancake and I was tired of feeling like I was sleeping on springs.  It goes without saying that I am no mattress expert.  There was a million choices and it seemed impossible to differentiate between them.  But, I figured anything I chose would be a marked improvement on what we had.  So, just pick one, right?  Instead of getting overwhelmed (which I usually would) I did what people normally do in a situation like this like this.  I didn’t go for the cheapest, and didn’t go for the most expensive.  I went for something in the middle.

This is fairly standard in decision making.  It has been well documented by behavioural experts.   If you don’t believe me, just notice what you do the next time you are choosing a bottle of wine in a restaurant!  This all got me thinking, if this Goldilocks effect is so standard in decision making, that it is essentially the default, how come it doesn’t translate into the rest of our lives?  How come so much of our behaviour is one extreme or the other.

I have talked a lot on the blog about the idea of balance.  I want to have a healthy diet, but I don’t want to feel restricted.  I want to get enough exercise, but I don’t want to run myself into the ground.  I love to keep busy and active, but want to avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  Why is it that in these areas of my life, I find it difficult to determine what it “just right?”

I mean, wouldn’t it be ideal if our bodies were programmed to give us immediate feedback?  Like, “OK Arwen, that’s enough cake now.”  How perfect would it be if we were given accurate indications on how much actually is enough?  Of course, there are plenty of devices we can plug data into.  We can track our food intake, our energy expenditure, our sleep and just about any other metric you can think of.  However, is our reliance on these tools only further damaging our ability to make good decisions by ourselves?

Any regular readers will know that I have experimented with just about every diet protocol that there is.  I have gone from elimination type diets, where I ate as much as I wanted, but only from certain food groups, to diets that involved weighing and tracking every bite.  No matter how diverse these diets appear, they all have one common drawback.  They don’t feel like a “normal” or “natural” way to eat.  I am at the stage now, where I really want to be able to eat intuitively.  The only problem with this, is that I don’t trust my intuition.  Do you blame me?  It hasn’t got an awesome track record of keeping me in line!

It is a very similar situation with training.  I always wonder if I could or should be doing more.  I am constantly on the look out for new things to incorporate into my routine.  New ways to get more out of my training sessions.  Again, it would be lovely to feel in tune enough with my body to be able to relax about it.  I don’t want to spend any less time in the gym, but it would be nice if it took up less head space.  Surely the only time I need to be actively thinking about training, is when I am actually doing it?

In short, I have reached a point now where I want my training and nutrition to just tick along in the background.  I don’t want them to be a source of stress or anxiety.  I would love to be able to just rock up to the gym and do whatever workout I felt like, without worrying about how it will impact the rest of my week.  I would love to blow off meal prep if I am tired or busy, without it giving me a panic attack (not literally, but you get the point!)  As it is, I am over thinking and creating problems for myself, using up time and energy which could better serve me elsewhere.

Having given all of this a lot of thought, I think the only way I can learn to trust my inner Goldilocks is if I let her take control.  This isn’t going to be an easy transition for me.  I am a complete control freak and I always have a nagging worry in the back of my mind that if I take my foot off the gas, even for a second, I will wake up 20kg heavier.  I know how irrational this is, but you try telling that to the voices in my head.

I have a trip to Rome coming up in 3 weeks, and I think this will be the perfect time to experiment.  For the four days I am there, I will not even attempt to track a single calorie or macro.  I won’t be eating at my desk or with other distractions.  I will try to use eating in a more relaxed setting, to help me to better recognise and trust my hunger and satiety ques.  My travel companion has never struggled with her weight or food in general, so she will be a good guide.  I also won’t have access to a scale, kitchen or bathroom, so I will need to trust myself to do without the former, and not worry what is happening with the later.  (I will post my meals and snacks on my Instagram story, so you guys can see how it’s going.)

Any of you who may be reading this, thinking it all sounds crazy, let me tell you how much I envy you.  I have battled for a long time with very disordered thoughts and behaviour around diet and exercise.  At the moment I feel like I am controlling it, as opposed to it controlling me, but I am acutely aware of how quickly the scales can tip in the other direction.  Enough is enough.  Be well xxx

Ps.  Any of you who have come up against similar issues, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Articles

Rise and Grind?

Do you remember, as a child, your mother walking into your bedroom, and in a sing song way, greeting you with “rise and shine?”  Well, I certainly do.  (Even if I am uncertain about whether it actually happened, or if I borrowed the memory from American TV)  Something about that phrase is just so uplifting.  It seems to promise that the day will be full of sunshine and positivity.  All you have to do is wake up and it will all be waiting for you.

Fast forward 30 years, and the phrase has been significantly altered.  Instead of being told to shine, Grind is the order of the day!  The sweet and uplifting message has been bastardised and now it speaks of aggression, drudgery and toil.  Certainly not something I want to wake up to every morning.

Yes, yes, I will admit, three years studying English has meant that I read more into words than is merited at times.  However, it’s not just these three little words I take exception to.  I have a problem with the entire philosophy of “grinding.”  As we stand, half way through 2017, we are in the grips of an epidemic of personal effectiveness.  We are in constant competition to see who can be seen to be working, if not the hardest, then certainly the longest.   It wasn’t too long ago, that the only thing getting people up at 5am was either a bout of insomnia, or an early morning flight.  These days it isn’t unusual to hear people say they wake at 5am each and every morning, because “there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.”

Enough hours for what?  Well, there’s work of course, and if you want to get ahead, you have to be the first to arrive and the last to leave.  There’s the gym, if you aren’t spending hours a week there, are you even trying?  There’s books to read and Podcasts to listen to, all informative of course, because you wouldn’t want to waste time on anything that’s just for fun.  There’s meals to be prepped, FitBits and MyFitness Pals to be sated.  Meditation and mindfulness are a must.  And naturally, Social Media isn’t going to keep up with itself, now is it?  God, I am exhausted just typing all that, nevermind doing it!

The crazy thing is, not so long ago, this would have been a fairly accurate description of my life.  Work was bedlam and long hours were the norm.  I was in a new role, so everyday there was something new to learn.  I was in college as well. Even the gym was a constant source of stress.  I was either tying myself up in knots trying to get there, or beating myself up for not going.  I spent all of my very limited “leisure time” reading educational books and listening to education Podcasts.  Were they instructional and informative? Yes.  Were they what I needed at the time?  Absolutely not.

My mind was under constant pressure, and just like anything else subjected to grinding, it began to wear down.  My sleep was the first thing to suffer.  Not surprising really as all the nuggets of information I had crammed into my brain fought amongst themselves during the night.  The next thing to feel the effects was my creativity.  I had no desire to experiment with food or even to talk to my lovely readers.  Everything became a chore.  Just as it is possible to over train the body, I had over trained my mind.

I know I am not alone in this.  My news feed is awash with images of other Grinders.  I see them on a daily basis, “hustling” from dawn to dusk, fervently ticking off the never ending to-do list, so that they can be seen to #winningatlife.  Let me tell you something guys, if you constantly feel exhausted you are you doing it wrong!  If you feel like your life is dictated by an arbitrary list of tasks, you are doing the exact opposite of winning.  Who exactly are you competing with anyway?

Of course it’s important to work hard.  If you have goals, and most of us do, it will take effort to achieve them.  But this needs to be done in a balanced way.  It is okay to do things just for fun sometimes.  Not only is it okay to relax, it is vitally important.  Rest and relaxation are just as crucial to your health and well-being as your nutrition and fitness.  When it comes to your mental health, I would argue that R&R is even more important than anything else.

I like to learn lessons the hard way, and this was no exception.  I still have a lot going on.  There are still a million things I want to achieve, and I will always have moments of feeling like I will never get it all done.  However, I am learning just how important it is, to do the seemingly unimportant things.  Don’t underestimate the cathartic effect of a chat with your friends, a warm bath, a cuddle with your puppy or simply doing nothing.  Strolls don’t have to be just about step counts, and reading doesn’t always have to be “educational.”  Trust me when I say that anything, which makes you feel refreshed and revived, can never be a waste of time.

Life is constantly making demands of us, and just like any vessel, if not replenished we will eventually be emptied.  So, it is up to you to decide, do you really want to grind?  Or would you prefer to shine?  Be well xxx

Rise-Shine-2016-550x366

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles

Maintenance Is a Dirty Word!

Anyone who has ever managed to lose weight, will understand what I mean when I say it can be highly addictive.  Stepping on the scales and seeing it move in the right direction feels incredible.  Bumping into someone you haven’t seen for a while and hearing those magic words “have you lost weight?” can keep you smiling for hours.  This is a good thing.  During the weight loss phase, these little boosts are extremely motivating and can help us overcome all sorts of obstacles.

Let’s face is, there will be days when you won’t feel like training.  There will also be times when Susan’s hot chicken roll seems more tempting than your Tupperware of salad.  It is at these times when the motivation, which comes from seeing results, will help strengthen your resolve.  Even if it means you don’t sit beside Susan at lunch!

So, what happens when the weight loss phase is over?  You have reached your goal and decided that you don’t need or want to lose any more weight.  You are happy with where you are.  However, you have worked too damn hard to simply revert to your old ways and end up right back where you started, right?  Que the maintenance phase!  Although strictly speaking, calling it a “phase” is a misnomer, because if we do it right, this “phase” will last as long as we do.

Yes, you heard it right.  Maintenance is forever!!  In truth your weight can only ever do one of three things.  Go up (we have already established that this is a non runner,) go down (again, not ideal seeing as you are already at your target,) or stay the same.

It’s the FOREVER bit that people have a hard time accepting.  I was definitely not prepared for it.  I assumed, like a lot of others, that I would go on a diet, do that for a while, then come off the diet and go back to “normal.”  So, that’s what I did, LOTS of times.  It was a continuous cycle of weight loss, followed by almost immediate weight gain.  I was missing an important part of the puzzle.  I had failed to realise that it was my “normal” which was doing the damage.  The very definition of insanity, I was doing the same thing and expecting different results.

I credit myself with a reasonable amount of intelligence, but damn it took me a long time for the truth to sink in.  Keeping weight off requires the same amount of energy and focus as loosing it in the first place.  Good nutrition, exercise, hydration, sleep and stress management are all just as vital in maintenance as they are during weight loss.  The simple, but perhaps unpopular, reality is that taking your eye off the ball, will eventually cause a back slide.

Another unfortunate reality of weight maintenance is that those little boosts I spoke about earlier don’t really exist.  When maintaining your weight, by definition, you won’t see the scale moving much, if at all.  Your friends and family will be used to your new sleek physique and so probably won’t dish out as many awe struck compliments as they did when you were loosing weight.  All this means is that you will have to rely on intrinsic motivation.  In other words, it’s all on you!  You will need to focus on how good you feel inside yourself to help you to make good decisions on a daily basis.

james-hill-quote-it-is-ironic-that-we-focus-on-weight-loss-when-the

So yes, maintenance is hard, and it is un-glamourous, but one thing you do have going for you, is that you know you can do it.  You have successfully reached this point, so you know you just have to keep doing what you have been doing and you’re golden!

I am not for one minute saying you need to meticulously count calories for the rest of your life.  Neither am I saying that you need run marathons or compete in Crossfit.  I do however, recommend that you continue to track your weight, at least until you find the sweet spot and figure out what you can and cannot get away with.

I got married three and a half years ago.  I had lost about 15kg on the run up to the wedding and was pretty happy with my body by the time I walked down the aisle.  Since then I have lost a further 5kg.  I have done this so slowly that I really consider it to be more maintenance than weight loss per se.  In this period there have been holidays, birthdays and Christmases (of course.)  There have been times I have completely overdone it, and times when I knew I needed to keep a tighter rein on things.  Life does not need to stop at the end of your weight loss.  However, if you think going back to how you lived before your diet began will help you keep your results, you are just as deluded as I was.

When I gave up smoking more than a decade ago, I remember saying to my husband that I would never smoke again.  Not because I didn’t want to light up a cigarette, but because quitting was so hard that I doubted I would be able to put myself through it again.  This is similar to how I feel about my weight.  Loosing weight is as emotional roller coaster and not something I would choose to go through again.  So, maybe maintenance is worth the effort after all.  Be well xxx