Stop and Chew Your Dinner

The Benefits of Slowing Down & Chewing More
  — By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
In this era of fast-paced everything, even the act of eating a meal has become something we can do on the run. Breakfast comes in bars, lunch can be eaten while speeding down the highway, and dinner is merely an accompaniment to the evening news, squeezed in between other pressing activities. Invariably, when eating plays second string to everything else, every meal becomes “fast food,” as in eaten-very-fast food. If you find yourself wolfing down your meals in a hurry, you’re actually shortchanging yourself in more ways than you might think.

It turns out there’s a reason food tastes so good. You’re supposed to enjoy it—slow down and savor it, not just get it to your stomach as quickly as possible. Chewing your food thoroughly is actually the first step in the complex process of digestion, and if you glaze over it, just chewing the minimum amount of times necessary to get the food down your esophagus, you’re actually compromising this process. And it’s a mistake many people make.

If you try to imagine swallowing a whole piece of pizza, it’s easy to see why chewing is necessary. But besides breaking up your food into manageable chunks, there’s another good reason to put in the effort and chew. The saliva that coats your food as you chew actually contains digestive enzymes that begin to digest your food before you even swallow it. The enzymes alpha-amylase and lingual lipase begin digesting carbohydrates and fats, reducing the amount of work for which the stomach will be responsible. And it isn’t just a nice gesture. If food fragments are swallowed un-chewed, not only do nutrients remain locked in the fragments, but these fragments create an environment in the colon that is conducive to digestive distress—bacterial overgrowth, gas, and bloating. <pagebreak>

For food particles to even leave your stomach though, the “gates” of the stomach, the pyloric sphincter, must open. Conveniently, chewing also aids in this process, signaling this event. And speaking of signals, just seeing your food causes your brain to send signals to the pancreas and stomach to secrete digestive acids and enzymes that are essential to digestion. And the longer your food has contact with your taste and smell receptors—the longer you chew each bite—the stronger these signals become. Strong signals mean more digestive molecules, less indigestion, less acid reflux, and superior nutrient absorption.

Chewing your food thoroughly and eating your meals more slowly has another benefit. It might shrink your waistline—and not just because you’ll have less bloating and indigestion. Eating more slowly gives your body a chance to tell your mind that it’s full, so that you stop eating before you go overboard. In a preliminary study presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity’s Annual Scientific Meeting in 2004, study subjects ate less when they were instructed to eat more slowly.

Here are some practical tips for chewing more thoroughly and eating more slowly:

  • Give yourself enough time to eat—at least 20-30 minutes just to eat the meal, plus additional time to prepare it.
  • Don’t eat amidst distractions, like the TV, computer, or while driving.
  • Be fully present while you eat. Notice the smell, temperature, texture, color, and subtle flavor differences of each food you consume.
  • Take smaller portions, taking a break before refilling.
  • Put your fork down after each bite.
  • Eat mindfully, chewing each bite as many times as necessary to pulverize any texture.
  • If you’re eating in a group, be aware of the speed at which others are eating. Challenge yourself to be the last to finish.

Besides all of the physical benefits, perhaps the most pleasant benefit of all is that, if you allow yourself to slow down and chew, you’ll enjoy your food much more.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

3 Simple Ways to Build Consistency

Because Consistency is the Key to Success!
  — By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
You don’t have to be an expert to figure out that consistency is pretty essential to successfully change your life, your health, and your weight. But it’s also pretty clear that building a consistent routine of regular exercise and healthy eating is not an easy thing to do.

You start off the day with the best intentions—to exercise, track all your food, and make healthy choices. But then life happens. One of the kids is sick, the babysitter is late, the snowplow blocked your driveway, the boss asks you to work overtime, or any one of a hundred other surprises that can really wreck your day. Before you know it, your plan is in trouble and your prospects for “sticking to it” aren’t looking very good. In fact, things are probably going to get worse as the day goes on. By the end of the day, you have no energy left for exercise, and the task of preparing a healthy meal feels like a big burden when what you really want is a break. Something has to give.

More often than not, “what gives” is your plan to exercise and eat right. When it’s hard to do everything, the things most likely to go undone are those that don’t affect or involve anyone but you—especially if those things aren’t exactly your favorite things to do anyway.

So how do you change this pattern? With the three rules for building consistency.

These three simple rules, when followed faithfully, will make it easier for you to be consistent with your healthy lifestyle habits—even on the toughest days.

Rule #1: Never tell yourself “I’m not motivated.”
That’s not the real problem, unless you really don’t want to lose weight or live a healthy lifestyle. As long as you do want these things, you have all the motivation you need.

It may be true that sometimes you don’t want to exercise, or that you really want to stop and get fast food rather than cooking dinner. That’s understandable, but it doesn’t mean you’re not motivated. It just means that you want two different and opposing things, and you have to make a decision. Telling yourself that you lack motivation is just a way of denying that you really do have a choice. It makes the problem seem mysterious and out of your control, and it makes you feel less powerful than you really are, because you lack something (the motivation) you need. Not true!

In the long run you’ll do better if you acknowledge that the choice is yours to make. You can choose either option, without making excuses or inventing a theory like “lack of motivation” to justify it. Then, pay attention to how you feel about the choice you made, and decide whether that is how you want to feel most of the time.

Being consistent does not mean being perfect. (There are going to be days when you decide to do something other than stick to your exercise and diet routine, and that’s fine.) But becoming consistent does mean giving yourself the power to choose.

Rule #2: Build momentum one step at a time.
It’s never easy to change old habits or start new routines. Studies show that it takes anywhere from 21 to 40 days to really turn a new behavior into a persistent habit. And during that time, you’re going to have to work at it pretty diligently—even when you don’t feel like it.

The key to long term consistency is building momentum. The hardest part is always getting things started. But once you’re moving, staying in motion and picking up speed becomes a lot easier. There are a lot of ways you can gradually build momentum during those first few weeks. Here are some examples:

  • Start with something that’s pretty easy to manage and build up from there. Set a goal of one 10-minute exercise session per week. Then increase it to two 10-minute sessions. Gradually add minutes to each workout (and eventually add one or more additional workouts to your week), until you’re exercising as long and as frequently as you should in order to reach your goals. The simple act of setting aside some time for exercise every day, no matter how little, and sticking to it is enough to start building the habit.
  • Find an accountability buddy—someone who knows about your plan and is willing to give you a push when you feel like slacking off.
  • Join a Team or Challenge here at SparkPeople. It’s always harder to let someone else down than it is to let yourself off the hook.
  • Employ an excuse buster. Find a friend, family member, or SparkPeople member whose judgment and opinion you respect. Each time you find yourself thinking about skipping an exercise session or blowing your meal plan, write down the reason for your choice. Share this reason with your excuse buster and get her honest opinion about whether the reason for your choice is reasonable or just an excuse. You’ll probably find that this makes it a lot harder for you to believe your own rationalizations.

Rule #3: Always have a plan B.
Because life is unpredictable and complicated, you need to have plan B ready—even before you actually need it. Plan B is an alternative way to stay consistent with your goals when your regular routine (or something else) doesn’t work out as planned. Obviously, you can’t foresee every single problem that might come up. But most of the time, the things that get in your way are things that happen fairly often—like kids getting sick, extra hours at work, or days when you just don’t feel very energetic. Those surprises won’t throw you off track if you plan ahead. For example, have a friend or family member lined up to stay with your kids so you can make it to the gym; stock your freezer with some healthy meals when you’re short on time; stash your exercise clothes at the office for a quick workout when you can’t get away.

Put a little time into identifying the most common problems that disrupt your healthy routine, and plan (in advance) what you can do to handle these problems without sacrificing your diet and exercise routine. Then all you’ll have to do is put your plan B into action.

Following these three simple rules will help you overcome some common obstacles while building the momentum you need to stay consistent. At the very least, you’ll be able to take all those lemons that life hands you, and make some good (and diet-friendly) lemonade out of them.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

69% of Buyers are Wrong About Down Payment Needs

69% of Buyers are Wrong About Down Payment Needs | MyKCM

According to a recent survey conducted by Genworth Financial Inc. at the Annual Mortgage Bankers’ Association Secondary Market Conference, mortgage professionals say that first-time buyers still believe a 20% down payment is necessary to buy in today’s market.

Nearly 40% of mortgage industry professionals surveyed believe that a lack of knowledge about the home-buying process is keeping potential buyers on the sidelines. Saving for a down payment is often cited as a huge barrier for first-time homebuyers to make the leap into homeownership.

If homeowners believe that they need a 20% down payment to enter the market, they also believe that they will have to wait years (in some markets) to come up with the necessary funds to buy their dream homes.

The greatest source of confusion cited in the survey results centered around down payments. The results are broken down in the chart below:

69% of Buyers are Wrong About Down Payment Needs | MyKCM

Rohit Gupta, CEO of Genworth Mortgage Insurance had this to say,

“While first-time homebuyers continue to drive the purchase market, we believe many are staying on the sidelines due to the misconception that a 20 percent down payment is required to secure a mortgage.

There are various low down payment options available today that allow prospective homebuyers to reach their dreams of homeownership sooner. It is crucial that, as an industry, we proactively educate eligible borrowers about solutions that will enable them to buy a home when they’re ready.”

Bottom Line

Don’t let a lack of understanding of the home-buying process keep you and your family out of the housing market. Let’s get together to discuss your options!

The 5 Greatest Benefits of Homeownership

The 5 Greatest Benefits of Homeownership | MyKCM

Recently, Freddie Mac reported on the benefits of homeownership. According to their report, here are the five benefits that “should be at the top of everyone’s list.”

  1. Homeownership can help you build equity over time.
  2. Your monthly payments will remain stable.
  3. You may have some tax benefits.
  4. You can take pride in ownership.
  5. Homeownership improves your community.

Let’s expand on each of Freddie Mac’s points:

Homeownership can help you build equity over time.

Every three years, the Federal Reserve conducts a Survey of Consumer Finances in which they collect data across all economic and social groups. The latest survey, which includes data from 2010-2013, reports that a homeowner’s net worth is 36 times greater than that of a renter ($194,500 vs. $5,400).

In a Forbes article, the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) Chief Economist Lawrence Yun reported that now the net worth gap is 45 times greater.

Your monthly payments will remain stable.

When you purchase a home with a fixed rate mortgage, the majority of the payment (principle and interest) remain constant. On the other hand, rents continue to skyrocket. Your housing expense is much more stable if you own instead of rent.

You may have some tax benefits.

According to the Tax Policy Center’s Briefing Book -“A citizen’s guide to the fascinating (though often complex) elements of the federal Tax System” – there are several tax advantages to homeownership.

Here are four items from the Briefing Book:

  • Mortgage Interest Deduction
  • Property Tax Deduction
  • Imputed Rent
  • Profits from Home Sale

You can take pride in ownership.

Most surveys show that a major factor in purchasing a home is the freedom you have to design the home the way you want. From paint colors to yard accessories, you don’t need a landlord’s permission to make the house feel like a home.

Homeownership improves your community.

The National Association of Realtors recently released a study titled ‘Social Benefits of Homeownership and Stable Housing.’ The study explained:

“Homeownership does create social capital and provide residents with a platform from which to connect and interact with neighbors…Owning a home means owning part of a neighborhood, and a homeowner’s feelings of commitment to the home can arouse feelings of commitment to the neighborhood, which, in turn, can produce interactions with neighbors.”

Bottom Line

There are many benefits to homeownership. That is why it is still a critical piece of the American Dream.

9 Simple Tricks to Eat Less

Cut Calories, Not Satisfaction
  — By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian and Nicole Nichols, Health Educator
Setting a goal (such as losing weight) and implementing steps to reach it (like portion control) are two very different things. When it comes to eating healthier—or eating less for that matter—it isn’t always as simple as “just eating less.” Why? Because what and how much we eat is influenced by so many factors—the environment in which we’re eating (relaxed at home or at a party), how much food is served (a portion-controlled meal at home or a super-sized restaurant meal), and how hungry we are (just a little or famished)—mindfulness, speed, emotional state. The list could go on and on.

The good news is that YOU can control many of these factors; it’s just a matter of bringing them to the forefront of your mind until they become habits. Here are nine proven tricks you can use to help yourself eat less and keep your calories in check. Over time, they’ll become second nature—and your weight loss will be second to none!

1. Enjoy every bite.
Do you take time to smell the flowers? How about taking time to enjoy every meal and snack you eat? There is truth in the benefit of slowing down and appreciating the world around you, food included. Focusing on every bite can help you practice mindful eating, which has been shown to cut down on calorie intake. Slowing down between bites allows you to recognize your feelings of hunger and satiety so you have a chance to realize when you’ve had enough—then stop before you clean your plate and later regret it. Eating at a relaxed pace also means you’ll chew your food more thoroughly, thus experiencing fewer digestive issues and less intestinal upset. This may take some practice. The hustle and bustle of daily life often catches up with us and sometimes it takes a conscious effort to take it easy and give your brain a chance to enjoy the food and tell you when you’re full. Until you get in the habit, try leaving a note or motivational saying on your dinner table. ACTION TIP: Set a timer. Start by finding out how quickly you currently eat your meals. You may be surprised to find out that breakfast or lunch at your computer is over within 5 or 10 minutes. Then, work on adding time to your meals, aiming for each meal to take AT LEAST 20 minutes.

2. Use smaller plates, cups and bowls.
Your mother was right about some things: Your eyes really can be bigger than your stomach. Research has shown that when people use large bowls, plates and serving utensils, they serve themselves more and consume more food. In a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 85 nutrition professionals were asked to serve themselves a bowl of ice cream. Researchers provided a variety of bowl and spoon sizes. Subjects with larger bowls served themselves 31% more ice cream; when they used a large spoon, they dished 14.5% more into their bowls. Although the super-sized plates may look slick, put those away for special occasions. When you see a large canvas, you want to fill it! ACTION TIP: Eat from smaller salad plates and small bowls for daily use. Without even realizing it, you’ll serve and eat less. If your dinnerware is oversized, it might be time for new dishes that won’t dwarf your properly portioned meals.

3. Pre-portion your foods.
How often do you eat straight from the bag of crackers or chips? How is it possible to track your food or know how much you eat without measuring it? That’s just one reason you should never eat directly from a box or bag that contains multiple servings of a food. Grab your measuring cups and a small bowl (see #2 above) to keep your calories in check. Why? Because it’s easy to overeat when you’re reaching into a bottomless bag of food. ACTION TIP: Instead of reaching into the chip bag or a big bowl of chips at a party, pre-portion your snacks into a smaller container (or plate) so you know exactly how much you’re eating. Then, put the big bag away (or walk away from the chip bowl). You are much less likely to overeat enjoy the smaller portion you served yourself. So dish it up, put the rest away, and taste every bite (see #1 above).

4. Know your pitfalls.
We all have food weaknesses. That food that you can’t resist. The food you can’t stop eating once you started. The food you have trouble saying no to, even if you’re not hungry. The food you think about even when it’s not in the vicinity. Maybe you’ll never shake the grip this food has you on, but the first step is recognizing it. Take a minute to think about your food weaknesses. Once you know what they are, you can take extra measures to prevent overeating these particular foods, whether you avoid repeated exposure to this food or plan the rest of your day’s intake planning to enjoy a bit of this favorite food. ACTION TIP: Make a list of your food weaknesses and the places you encounter them. Come up with solutions to avoid those encounters, like not venturing down the snack food aisle in the grocery store or choosing a different route to bypass the co-worker who always offers free doughnuts. Stick with your plan of avoidance until you build up the strength to face that food without giving up your control.

5. Keep a food journal.
Keeping a food diary is the best weight-loss tool. Several studies have confirmed this, and most SparkPeople members would agree, too. One recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that dieters who kept track of their food lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. Writing down what you eat will encourage you to think about your food choices all day, and consider what you’ve already eaten and what you plan to eat later. This means you’ll make conscious choices more often and usually curb your calorie intake as a result. Whether you jot foods down on a sticky note, keep a small paper pad in your purse or use SparkPeople’s free Nutrition Tracker, writing down everything you eat will keep your calories in check. ACTION TIP: If you don’t’ already, start tracking your food. Even if you don’t list all the calories, fat or carbs you eat, even a simple list can make a big difference. Don’t forget to include beverages, sauces, condiments, and other small “tastes” in your log! Extra calories can be hiding in these items.

6. Use the proper plate method.
Most meals we eat at home or in restaurants are backwards: big portions of meat and carbs and very few (if any) vegetables. If your plates put veggies in a supporting role, you’re probably consuming too many calories and hurting your weight-loss efforts. Using a perfectly portioned plate can help! ACTION TIP: Fill half your plate with disease-fighting vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with your whole grains. This method automatically piles your plate full of filling, low-calorie veggies that also provide fiber, vitamins and minerals to fight disease. It also helps control portions of starches and protein, which can sometimes become larger than necessary. Keep in mind that using a smaller dish still helps, even when using the proper plate method.

7. Pack in the protein.
Studies show that protein plays a key role in regulating food intake and appetite; people who consistently consume protein regain less weight after a significant weight loss, too. Protein helps increase feelings of fullness because it takes longer to digest. When you skip protein in your meals and snacks, those pesky hunger pangs might encourage overeating! So get into the habit of consuming protein at each meal and snack. ACTION TIP: Stick to lean sources of protein: Beans, hummus, egg whites, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products (cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese, and milk) can all give you muscle-building proteins without added fat.

8. Doggy bag it.
Portions served at most restaurants set you up for overeating. Sure, we want a good deal for our money, but it often comes at the price—our health. A full meal can contain more than 1,200 calories at some eateries, and that’s before dessert. Even if you have the best intentions to eat only half of your meal when it arrives, it can be hard to stop or know when you’ve reached the halfway point—especially if you’re distracted while talking with friends and family. ACTION TIP: Take your good intentions one step further. Ask your server to pack up half of your meal before it hits the table. That way, you’ll stop when you’re halfway done and still have leftovers for tomorrow. It works because it’s a clear “stop sign” in your meal (like #3 above) and most people aren’t likely to dig into their doggy bag or take-out box before leaving the restaurant.

9. Eat breakfast.
People say breakfast is the most important meal of the day for good reason. Studies show that people who eat breakfast have a lower BMI (body mass index) and consume fewer total calories each day than people who skip breakfast altogether. A professor at the University of Texas found that eating earlier in the day leads to lower total intake throughout the day. A common explanation is that eating breakfast allows a person to feel less hungry throughout the day. Another is that those who skip breakfast allow for “extra calories” later in the day because they skipped a meal, but in reality end up overshooting their energy goal. Whatever the reason, eating breakfast IS part of a healthy lifestyle and an important factor in healthy weight maintenance. ACTION TIP: Many people simply don’t “feel hungry” in the morning or don’t like how breakfast makes them feel. Start small. You CAN retrain your body to feel hungry and enjoy breakfast. Soon, you’ll wonder how you ever skipped breakfast in the first place! Start with these quick and healthy breakfast ideas.

With these tools as your defense, you’ll be on your way to a healthy weight in no time! Jot them down in your journal or keep them on a small sticky note to refer to when you’re out. With a little practice, you’ll finally be able to control your calorie intake without feeling deprived—or hungry!

Selected Sources
De Castro, John. “When, how much and what foods are eaten are related to total daily food intake.” Br J Nutr. 2009 Aug (4): 1-10.

Westerterp-Plantenga MS. “The significance of protein in food intake and body weight regulation.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2003 Nov (6): 635 – 8.

Wansink B, Van Ittersum K, Painter JE. “Ice cream illusions: bowls, spoons and self-served portion sizes.” American Journal of Preventitve Medicine. 2006 Sep 31 (3): 240-3

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

50 Non-Food Rewards for Fitness and Weight Loss

Healthy Ways to Celebrate Success!
  — By Megan Patrick, Staff Writer
Losing weight and maintaining healthy habits are both challenging, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also be rewarding. Besides the intrinsic benefits that come from feeling better and reaching new goals, rewarding yourself for your healthy efforts will reinforce your new habits and inspire you to continue your journey.

There are lots of effective and motivating ways to reward yourself (both large and small), but first you need to come up with a system. One easy solution is to tie rewards to SparkPoints or fitness minutes rather than weight loss alone. Start by choosing a target that is challenging but not unreachable. For example, give yourself a reward if you reach 600 fitness minutes in a month or each time you earn 500 SparkPoints.

Before I discovered SparkPeople, I created my own reward system that had two components: one to reward healthy behaviors, which are the only things you can truly control, and another to mark weight-loss progress. It’s very similar to earning SparkPoints, which you can add up by doing healthy tasks such as tracking your food, exercising or utilizing the supportive Community. But if you have some specific behaviors that SparkPoints don’t cover, you can use this list for ideas and customize it however you wish to fit your own goals.

My Healthy Choices Reward System
1 star for going to the gym
1 star for going to the gym three times in one week
1 star for walking at least 30 minutes
1 star for walking outside in temperatures below 20 or above 80
1 star for drinking at least six cups of water per day
2 stars for drinking eight or more cups of water per day
2 stars for staying below my daily carb range
1 star for meeting my daily calorie goal
2 stars for not weighing myself more than once a week
100 stars = I got a reward from my list

To mark my weight-loss progress, I bought an old-fashioned silver charm bracelet and added a new charm for every 10 pounds I lost. I chose charms with symbolic meaning to remind me of my journey and all my hard work. For example, because walking helped me drop the first 10 pounds, I chose a silver sneaker. When I got halfway to my goal weight, I chose a tiny pair of scissors.

50 Non-Food Reward Ideas
Almost anything can work as a reward as long as it fits into your budget and doesn’t undermine your efforts. Food does undermine your efforts, so always choose ways to reward yourself that don’t involve eating. What works as a reward should be inspiring to you; otherwise, it won’t compel you to stick to your program. Here are 50 ideas to get you started (arranged from least expensive or time-consuming to most):

  1. Give yourself permission to take a nap.
  2. Visit the library or bookstore all by yourself.
  3. Have a guilt-free home spa afternoon.
  4. Sleep in!
  5. Take a selfie to celebrate your progress.
  6. Spend an hour away from your phone or computer.
  7. Eat lunch outside or at least away from your desk.
  8. Clean out your closet and donate all your too-big clothes to charity.
  9. Post your progress on social media (or SparkPeople) so your friends can celebrate with you.
  10. Take a bubble bath.
  11. Drive to a beautiful neighborhood or park to walk instead of taking your usual walking route.
  12. Use smiley face or star stickers to note milestones on a wall calendar hung in a prominent place.
  13. Make your own ribbon or trophy.
  14. Make or buy a refrigerator magnet with a motivational quote.
  15. Take a vacation day from work to do whatever you want!
  16. Unwind with a movie of your choice.
  17. Plan a night out with your friends.
  18. Buy a lottery ticket.
  19. Subscribe to a fitness or healthy cooking magazine.
  20. Get a new driver’s license photo. (Don’t lie about your weight.)
  21. Download a new fitness app for your phone.
  22. Buy a new workout song.
  23. Get yourself a bottle of fancy shower gel or lotion.
  24. Pick up a new plant for your garden.
  25. Invest in some moisture-wicking workout socks.
  26. Get fitted for a new sports bra.
  27. Try a new shade of nail polish.
  28. Get some new shades for outdoor exercise.
  29. Come home with a bouquet of flowers.
  30. Try a fresh hair color.
  31. Buy a small personal blender for smoothies and protein shakes.
  32. Order a pair of high-end wireless headphones.
  33. Invest is a fitness tracker to motivate you even more.
  34. Sign up for a charity walk or running event.
  35. Splurge on some nice yoga pants.
  36. Go for a mani/pedi.
  37. Treat yourself to a massage!
  38. Take a cooking class to up your game.
  39. Get a new hairstyle.
  40. Get fitted for workout shoes at a running store.
  41. Go for a flashy piercing or tattoo!
  42. Start a charm bracelet.
  43. Get your rings resized to fit your smaller fingers.
  44. Plan a weekend getaway with your significant other.
  45. Adopt a dog so you’ll always have a walking buddy.
  46. Hire someone to clean your house so you have more time to hit the gym.
  47. Try a fun exercise class like Zumba or pole fitness.
  48. Book a session with a personal trainer.
  49. Schedule a professional portrait shoot.
  50. Two words: Dream vacation!

There are countless ways to reward yourself, and while it may seem trivial, research shows that rewards that are personal to us do in fact help us stay motivated and establish long-term habits. It’s worth the time to come up with a system and a list of rewards for your own milestones!

What are your favorite ways to reward yourself for healthy habits or weight loss?

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

5 Emotional Roadblocks That Are Keeping You Fat

Are Your Weight-Loss Efforts Being Derailed by Years of Baggage?
  — By Ellen G. Goldman, Health & Wellness Coach
Eat less, move more is the advice touted to the overweight ad nauseam, as if it were really that simple.

I have been in the business of helping individuals take off unwanted pounds for more than 30 years. Although success usually does include cutting back on unnecessary calories and moving more, there are a myriad of other factors that are part of the equation. Sleep, stress, metabolic factors, genetics and body type can all affect how quickly or easily you lose weight. And, without a doubt, emotional factors have a huge impact as well.

I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and I would never attempt to analyze or prescribe solutions to a person who might have an emotional roadblock interfering with his or her weight loss goals. However, I can share with you some of the patterns and hindrances I’ve come across over many years of training and coaching my overweight clients. Perhaps a glimpse into these themes will help open your eyes to some hidden obstacles that have been holding you back.

Case #1: Whom would I be if I weren’t the fat, funny one?
As long as John could remember, he was overweight. However, it never stood in the way of him having loads of friends and being happy. He could remember his elementary school teachers telling his parents how enjoyable it was to have him in the classroom; he knew how to be funny without being disruptive. His parents would beam with pride as they shared the feedback with friends and family. In high school and college, he had loads of friends. The girls adored him and thought of him as their trusted buddy and confidant. When broken-hearted by some other boy, they relied on John to cheer them up using his sense of humor.

Now, happily married with two kids, he loves overhearing their friends say, “Your dad is so funny!” When John’s doctor told him he needed to lose weight to control his rising blood pressure and elevated glucose levels, he hired me to help him. Having made several failed weight-loss attempts in the past, he seriously doubted his ability to succeed. Each week he would set goals around sensible eating and making time for evening walks after dinner. The week would start off great, but by Wednesday, he was slipping back into old unhealthy eating habits and making excuses not to take his walks.

Frustrated, he couldn’t seem to understand why he struggled to stick to his goals for more than a few days at a time even though he wanted to lose the weight so badly. One day I asked John, “If you were able to stick to your plan throughout the week, and you began to experience weight loss, what would that look like and feel like to you?

I don’t know who was more shocked by his response, John or me, when he stated, “If I was to actually stick to my plan, I know I would lose the excess weight. I wouldn’t be fat anymore. That idea feels so strange. Whom would I be if I weren’t the fat, funny one?

Case #2: Who am I to be perfect?
Margaret had the kind of life that others envy. She was a brilliant economist, had a devoted and loving husband, two great kids who were excelling at school—even her dog was well-behaved and a joyful companion. Margaret and her husband traveled to exotic locations when on vacation and entertained friends often in their beautiful home. Being a compassionate, smart and insightful individual, family and friends came to her for advice all the time.

The only area of Margaret’s life that she did not seem to have under control was her weight. She carried 30 extra pounds on her body that she had been trying to shed for many years. When we worked together, she tearfully said, “I’ve got everything I could possibly want, except a body I am comfortable in. I know what I need to do, and often do exactly that. But after a while, I fall off track and begin to self-sabotage. I find myself eating junk when no one is watching, and telling myself I just don’t care. But I do care! This extra weight is making me miserable!”

I asked Margaret to spend some time visualizing herself as successful, to close her eyes and imagine a future where the self-sabotaging behavior was no longer a problem, and she was living her life in the body she desired. I told her to think about and even journal about the thoughts and feelings that come up when doing her visualizations. A few weeks later Margaret reported, “At first it felt fabulous. I imagined being in form-fitting clothing that was beautiful, looking in the mirror and feeling proud, being lighter and more energetic. But when I imagined my friends seeing me, I began to think they would be put off by the ‘new’ me or feel intimidated. After all, who am I to be  perfect?

Case #3: What if I find out I’m just not that interesting?
Bob was in his mid 40s when we began working together. He had an excellent job and was highly successful and respected, yet he still felt like a failure. Bob was unmarried and experiencing many moments of loneliness. He had always been overweight and extremely shy. Wanting desperately to find a woman with whom he could have a relationship, he attempted some online dating sites. Bob went on several first dates, but they never seemed to go any further than that. He was convinced women were turned off by his size. Bob thought that if he could lose the excess weight, it would increase his possibilities of women going out with him more than once, thus getting to know him better.

Despite being a highly motivated and creative goal-setter, he continued to fill lonely evenings with fattening junk foods. The pounds weren’t budging. When we explored the pros and cons of losing weight versus keeping things as is, Bob stated that “the advantage to not losing the weight is I can continue to use it as an excuse for striking out with women. If I were thin, and they still rejected me, I would find out that I’m really just not that interesting. That would feel much worse than them not liking me because I am fat!”

Case #4: I’m keeping my family safe.
When Sue came to me for weight-loss coaching, she was concerned that she and her husband had steadily been gaining weight during their 15-year marriage. Particularly alarming was seeing two of her four children also show signs of rapid weight gain. Her own doctor and their pediatrician expressed concerns. She bought the groceries and cooked the meals, so Sue recognized the need to change her habits at home.

We worked together on planning healthier meals and snacks for her family. Although she made a few minor changes, there seemed to be a celebratory meal, holiday or guests visiting every week. At those times, Sue couldn’t get herself to cut back on the lavish meals and treats her family was accustomed to. Although losing weight felt like an important goal, she couldn’t stand the thought of her family or guests feeling deprived.

I asked Sue to chat with me about the role food played in her family when she was growing up. Sue was the only daughter of two parents who grew up during the great depression. As a child, she was told stories about the years her parents had little to eat, and how her grandparents used food stamps and rations to put meals on the table. Far surpassing their parents’ lifestyle, her dad was a highly successful businessman and her mom a stay-at-home wife. Food and money were never issues. Holidays in her home were a gathering of grandparents, aunt, uncles, and cousins with tons of delicious food and treats, a tradition that Sue continued in her own home. Sue could remember her grandparents saying how lucky she was to live during a time when she could feel safe and secure that there would always be enough to eat. “Wow,” she exclaimed, “I guess I am just trying to keep my family safe with food!”

Case #5: Food is love.
Lois was a chubby kid and grew to be an overweight adult. A bright, fun loving young woman with a promising career, she was concerned that her weight might stand in the way of advancement. She knew that to continue climbing the ladder, it would be necessary to get in front of management and customers more often. Feeling self-conscious because of her size, she noticed that she would stay quiet during meetings rather than speak up and share her great ideas. She decided that losing weight would increase her confidence and therefore advance her career.

When I asked her what she believed was her greatest obstacle to losing weight, Lois stated, “I feel happy when I indulge and miserable when I try to restrict myself. But of course, I feel more miserable after the fact. I tell myself I will abstain from the treats, but put them in front of me and I can’t resist them. I have no willpower!” When I asked her what she thought about when she was indulging, she realized most of the time she was reminiscing about her childhood. Lois’s dad left when she was only eight, so her Mom raised her alone. She remembered feeling sad and abandoned by her dad, and would cry often. Trying to cheer her up, her mom often took Lois out for ice cream or to the local candy store or bakery for treats. Those were her favorite times. Her mom unburdened by work or housekeeping, gave Lois her undivided attention, and was relaxed and fun to be with. Even if her Dad wasn’t around, Mom took care of her and she was loved through food!

Case #6: You can’t control me.
Terry could not remember a time since college when she was not trying to lose weight. She had tried every diet imaginable. Despite having some success, she would always put back whatever pounds she had lost and then some. When we started working together, she said this would be her last attempt. If she was not successful this time, she swore to give up trying.

We began with small lifestyle changes, building upon one another. It was slow and, at times, frustrating for Terry, but she began to consistently lose about half to one pound a week. Terry incorporated walking into her daily routine, learned to recognize when she was no longer hungry and stop eating, and modified her favorite recipes to healthier versions. When we celebrated a year of working together and a 48-pound weight loss, I asked Terry why she thought this time she had succeeded.

“You never told me what I could or couldn’t eat. You helped me create a food plan that was flexible, and I could make decisions based on how I felt and what I thought I would enjoy,” she said. Terry began telling me about her parents, a topic we had never talked about before. They were well-meaning and quite loving but incredibly controlling. She grew up with strict curfews, rules around how much TV she was allowed to watch, how many hours a day she had to study, and when she was allowed to visit or talk on the phone with friends.

Being “health nuts,” her parents also had rigid restrictions regarding food. There was absolutely no junk food in the house, groceries were purchased at the health food store only and fried food and sugar were thought of as “poison.” When Terry went to friends’ homes, she would raid their fridges and pantries, indulging in all of the treats that were forbidden in her home. When she went off to the local community college (she was not allowed to go away for school), Terry purchased greasy foods in the cafeteria and always had dessert. At those times, always feeling that she was sneaking from her parents, she would think, “you can’t control me!”

From these stories, I hope you are able to see how often we have the best of intentions, yet struggle to reach our goals. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, introduce the theory of conflicting commitments in their wonderful book, Immunity to Change. Without an understanding of the reasons why we hold on to the very behaviors that keep us from getting where we so desperately want to go, sustained change will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

Awareness is the first step toward breaking down the barriers. Once we are aware of why or what we are doing, and how it is in a sense protecting us and keeping us safe, we can begin taking small steps, or doing experiments to see what happens. For many, this is the road to success.

However, others will still struggle, and could benefit enormously from working with a mental health care professional. As a coach, I recognize a few signs that will tell me my client needs some additional assistance in order to move forward. When clients come to their sessions week after week having made goals but not following through, feel as if their sabotaging behaviors are uncontrollable, or are constantly blaming their situation on the past, others or circumstances, it’s time to suggest working with a therapist.

So if your weight-loss journey seems more like an uphill battle that will never end, despite being highly motivated, do some thinking around what competing commitments you might be holding on to. A good coach or therapist, or even talking with a trusted friend, can help you shed some light on your situation. In the meantime, call upon your own self-compassion and recognize that you are doing the best you can, and weight loss is indeed way more complicated than just eating less and moving more.

Sources
Kegan, Robert and Lisa Lahey. 2009. Immunity to Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Deci, Edward. 1995. Why We Do What We Do. New York: Penguin Books

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

12 Ways to Bust Out of Your Comfort Zone

Escape Your Fitness Rut & Reach Your Full Potential
  — By Melissa Rudy, Staff Writer
A comfort zone is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to work out there.

Comfort is defined as, “a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or discomfort.” That sounds conducive to napping in a hammock, getting a massage or sipping an umbrella drink by the pool—but not working out. After all, that old catch phrase “no pain, no gain” was coined for a reason.

I’ve been lured into my fitness comfort zone many times. When I find a workout routine that I like, I tend to put on my exercise blinders. There was the year I discovered spinning, when I pedaled furiously five days a week. Then there was that stretch of several months when I ran the same six-mile loop every day. And on the days when cold weather forces me into the gym, I make a beeline for the row of ellipticals and treadmills, not because they’re fun or challenging, but because they’re comfortable—all the while eyeing the weight machines with equal parts fear and curiosity.

On one of my recent elliptical days, as I churned out the miles to nowhere, an uber-fit woman hopped onto the elliptical next to mine and struck up a conversation. I’d seen her around the gym before, flitting from one weight machine to the next, constantly switching up her routine.

“I know this is none of my business,” she said. “But why don’t you ever do weights? I see you on the elliptical and the treadmill all the time, but you never lift. I just hate to see someone with so much potential get stuck in a cardio rut.”

After I got past the shock of the unsolicited advice, her words struck a chord with me, because they rang true. The only thing stopping me from getting out on that weight room floor was my own self-doubt, which had me stuck in my comfort zone. Later that week, I called to make an appointment with a personal trainer for a strength training session.

As certified personal trainer Kim Schaper says, “It’s easy to stick with the ‘fun’ fitness activities because they’re typically safe and non-challenging—which is sometimes okay—but in order to see results, we have to get out of our comfort zone, because that’s where change happens.”

If your workouts have become tedious, your scale isn’t moving or you just feel like your body is stuck in neutral, here are some tips for shaking up your routine, taking a risk and getting wonderfully uncomfortable.

1. Form a cross-training tribe.

You already know that working out with a fitness buddy increases the odds of sticking to a fitness plan. Take that one step further and find a group of motivating people with various interests. Maybe that means trying a free CrossFit class, doing yoga in the park, running a race with some co-workers or all of the above. Cultivating friendships with people across multiple disciplines will help you keep your workouts dynamic and challenging, while creating your own personal cheering squad.

Ellen Yin of Ledbetter Fitness recommends joining a local Facebook group centered around a common fitness interest, such as tennis, triathlons or weight lifting. “This is a great way to meet new friends in town, find a group to train with and hear about events,” she says. “Being part of a community of like-minded individuals will motivate you and provide you with a safe outlet for sharing your goals and progress.”

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2. Be spontaneous.

If you’re headed to the same old Monday night spin class but the bright blue sky and crisp air are calling you outside, grab your trainers and hit the trail instead. Do you always exercise right after work? Switch it up and try a sunrise workout. Occasional changes in routine will keep your body guessing, your muscles working and your mind stimulated.

3. Don’t shy away from (a little) pain.

Have you been avoiding a certain workout or intensity level simply because it’s physically uncomfortable? Trainer Franklin Antoian of iBodyFit.com points out that an effective exercise will always involve some sort of pain, and that the key is increasing intensity slowly. “You may experience muscle pain, soreness, tiredness or another discomfort,” he says. “Expect this and deal with it appropriately—don’t let it surprise and defeat you.”

Carol Frazey, a trainer with The Fit School, has her clients run or walk a mile on the first and last day of her sessions. “I tell them that whenever you try to run your fastest mile, it always hurts, for everyone. The key is to learn to listen to your body to determine what is real pain that could cause injury and what is discomfort that comes with pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.”

4. Push a little farther or harder.

The mind is a powerful exercise tool. Schaper recommends having a little self-pep talk before each workout, where you tell yourself you’re going to do the very best you can. Another tip is to add an extra five minutes after your regular routine. It may seem like a small time frame, but it could equate to an extra half-mile of running, an extra set of reps or a few more laps in the pool. Try throwing in some quick bursts of extra intensity, too: If you’re a runner, incorporate a few sprints; if you’re lifting weights, pause at the top of the movement and hold before releasing. You can also use mind tricks to push through periods of fatigue. “If you’re running and want to stop, commit to a marker, like a tree or mailbox yards ahead, and rest there,” Schaper says.

During periods of intensity, Frazey reminds her clients that the discomfort is temporary. “I tell my clients: ‘You’re strong. You can do anything for three minutes’ (or whatever time is left). This is when they can say in their head, ‘Yes, I am, and yes, I can.’”

5. Start out slowly.

When introducing your body to a new exercise or routine, give it time to adapt to the movement and pay close attention to how your muscles respond. “I like to test the waters by doing a rep or moving slowly to make sure I have the movement down properly, then will increase speed as appropriate,” says fitness and nutrition expert Mandy Unanski Enright.

Ultramarathoner Beth Weinstein of Only Atoms emphasizes the importance of small goals. “Pay attention to how you feel after you reach outside your comfort zone and meet each small goal. Like climbing a mountain, each step counts. Focus on small steps that add up.”

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6. Keep a training log.

If you can’t hire a professional, Kelly says it’s a good idea to keep a fitness journal. “Logging your personal bests will keep a record of your progression and help you target your weak points,” Kelly says. “You’ll be motivated by your progress, and this will help you slowly increase the demands your body needs to get results.”

7. Focus on the payoff.

After Frazey’s clients have finished a particularly grueling workout, she urges them to pay attention to how they feel. “I’ve found that every time someone is cooling down after having pushed themselves outside of their comfort zone, there is a glow, a giddiness and a real sense of accomplishment in them. I ask them to enjoy and remember this feeling. This is what one needs to remember when the pain of exercise discomfort sets in. The reward of an amazing sense of joy and accomplishment is so worth a few minutes of discomfort.”

8. Try a new class.

If you’ve been stuck in the same workout routine for weeks, months or even years, shake things up with a new group fitness class. There are dozens of different boutique studios offering specialized workouts, such as barre, CrossFit, aerial yoga, boxing or pole dancing. “Having a regular class time adds an extra level of accountability, and working out in a group environment challenges you to keep up with the class pace,” says Yin. When trying a class for the first time, Enright says the most important thing is to arrive with an open mind and to put your confidence in the instructor to teach you the proper technique.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com