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How to Stick to Your Diet

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May-May got ahold of the garnishing tools... What will teenagers think of next?


You guys ask the best questions.  I just wanted you to know that.  Anyway, a question came in this week that is probably the 2nd Universal Question asked by all the women in the universe. The 1st Universal Question is, of course, "Why do men do that!?!"  I can't answer the 1st Universal Question, so I'll take a stab at the 2nd one.

Here is the comment:

Hi Angela! I was just wondering how its going with the no sugar/ flour diet? I see big results when I am faithful, but the minute I "cheat" my body goes back into full force wanting that sugar. How did you keep your willpower? I do well for a couple weeks, see results and then mentally beat myself up for "failing...again." Any advice??? Thanks! 

Translated, that means, "How do I stick to my diet?"

Before I even answer that question, let me say a few things about this particular comment.  This lovely lady was reading my 6-month report on Kicking the Sugar Habit.  When I decided to go "no sugar" I was dealing with some health issues that threatened to become serious.  I was so addicted to sugar that I would skip good wholesome food to eat half a pan of brownies.  That isn't an exaggeration.  When I was younger, I didn't exercise.  I didn't eat much healthy food.  I did eat sugar.  And candy.  And pop.  And junk food.  Breakfast was usually the kind of cereal that turns your milk strange colors.  Somehow, I managed to be underweight anyway.

Fast forward to my mid-to-late thirties.  A high stress job, severe lack of sleep (I only slept 2-4 hours each night) and a lousy diet were catching up to me.  I was starting to have some alarming symptoms (the short list: chest pain, debilitating fatigue, frightening hormone upheaval, hypoglycemia, dizziness, hair falling out, etc.).  By my late thirties, my body just sort of shut down.  I was bed-ridden.  Eventually, I was able to pull myself out of bed or off the couch just long enough to get my most pressing responsibilities done, but that would absolutely wipe me out.  In a matter of a month, I put on 20 pounds without changing my diet at all.  And it would not budge.  It took awhile to figure out what was going on, but eventually I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, estrogen dominance and possible hypothyroid (I never bothered to go on with the testing on the thyroid.)  

Even with all that, it took several years before I knew I had to do something about the sugar cravings.

So that was where I was when I went off sugar.  I craved sugar so badly that I almost couldn't function, but when I would eat it I would crash within 30 minutes.  I knew I was probably at least pre-diabetic and I needed to change my life in a hurry.  Changing my diet was only one of many things I did in those years to recover my health. (Now I am in my mid-40's and going strong, btw.)

When I went off sugar, I never intended it to be a lifelong ban of every single bite of white sugar.  I did it to shock my body into liking what was healthy by denying it what was not healthy.  I also wasn't trying to become a runway model.  If you want to look like a runway model, starve yourself on watermelon rinds and iceberg lettuce.  If you want to be healthy, though, you'll need a little something else.

So, How Do I Stick to My Diet?

1.  Take the Time to Know Your Real Goals.  Most of us rush straight into the next fad diet, determined that this time, it's gonna work.  Slow down, sister.  What do you really want?  Skinny thighs?  To look like a super model?  To shut the mouths of the critics?  

None of those goals will really get you very far.   Why?  They are all born out of a low self-esteem, and you're going to need some healthy self-confidence to tackle a major goal.  Besides, getting skinny thighs won't make you feel better about yourself.  Just ask all the girls with anorexia.  They are ridiculously skinny and they still hate themselves.  

I'll say it again, slow down a little bit.  What do you really want.  If the media didn't dictate what you should look like, and people treated you with respect no matter what you weighed, what would you want?  How about some things like energy, vitality, health and self-confidence?  Let's stop letting the media dictate what we should look like and start thinking about taking care of ourselves instead.

2.  Every single kind of diet will work ... for awhile.  It's true.  If you give up gluten, or sugar, or fruit or whatever the diet dictates say you should give up, it will help you lose weight.  But only for awhile.  It will only take you so far, especially if you have any kind of hormonal upheaval going.  Your body is incredibly efficient.  If you deny it something, it will drop weight for a bit while it readjusts to the new normal, but it really tries to stay the same weight.  (Frustrating.)  Your diet is going to stall.  Then you will need to give up something else or exercise more to jump start it again.  

I know, believe me.  I lost some weight when I gave up sugar, but not all of it. About a year and a half after giving up sugar,  I did low glycemic.  I very quickly stalled again.  So I dropped all grains.  Then I counted calories.  I had to keep dropping the calories to keep losing.  I felt TERRIBLE.  At one point, I was eating 700-800 calories a day AND working out for an hour a day AND I STILL WASN'T LOSING WEIGHT.  I know, it was a totally crazy thing to do and I didn't do it long, but I've got an enquiring mind.  I wanted to know what it would really take to jump start my weight loss again.  Apparently a nuclear bomb wouldn't have been enough.  I decided at that point to just eat the food, folks.  For the record, yes, I regained a few pounds, but not as much as you would think.  My body began to stabilize.  I decided to focus on getting healthy, believing that it is much better to feel good than to get that magical low number on the scale.

3.  Know Thyself.  Take a good look at what your triggers are.  Is it stress?  Are you tired?  Sad?  Is your loved one waving a Krispie Kreme donut under your nose?  Knowing what causes you to fail will help you guard against it.  If your family keeps junk food around (mine does), make some healthy snacks (that you actually like) and keep them in the freezer.  Instead of taking a bite of their food, go grab some of yours.  You aren't completely denying yourself -- you're just making a better choice.  If you eat late at night, try to rearrange your day so that you can go to bed earlier (sleeping more can help you loose weight!!  See #5).  It's an undisputed fact that most people don't eat while they're sleeping.  If you are an emotional eater, see if you can find things that cheer you without food.  Emotional eating temporarily helps the emotions, but there's a price to pay.  Later, you actually feel worse because of the eating you did.  Retrain yourself to do something else when you start reaching for the food.  Maybe you could put a little sign in the cabinet to remind you to call a friend or go for a walk instead of grabbing the cookies.  It won't be easy, and you will probably stumble along the way.  Keep trying.  You're worth it.  And stop the self-trashing talk.  It isn't helping.

4.  Feed Your Cravings.  Cravings aren't the devil.  They are actually your body trying to tell you something.  Now, obviously, a craving for sugar does not mean you should go stuff your head in a bag of cream puffs.  But you should listen.  Your body is trying to tell you that it needs something.  It needs fuel.  Glucose (a form of sugar) is your body's favorite and quickest fuel, so it will ask for sugar when it's hungry.  The more nutrient dense your food is, the less you'll deal with cravings.  If you've been eating a lot of junk, it might take some time for your body to replenish enough to stop the cravings.  Give yourself time to heal.  Green smoothies, traditionally prepared foods, real food -- reach for foods with a high nutrient value.  Junk foods fill your stomach, but they don't feed your body.  You'll be hungry again pretty quickly because your body still needs the nutrition it didn't get from the junk food.  Feed your body well.

5.  Get some sleep.  No really.  Lack of sleep releases a stress response in your body.  Cortisol (one of the stress hormones) actually causes you to retain fat.  So, when you get enough sleep, you're skinnier and less cranky.  Go take a nap.

6.  Exercise in moderation.  More is not always better when it comes to exercise.  Moderate exercise  (what constitutes moderation will vary according to the individual) is very helpful in reducing stress, moderating hormones, providing muscle tone, and increasing energy.  Too much exercise, however, actually increases the stress response in the body.  There's that cortisol again, wreaking havoc on our waistlines.

7.  Fix medical problems.  Honey, if you've got an out-of-whack thyroid or you're estrogen is through the roof, it doesn't matter what you do, losing weight is going to be near impossible.  Address those issues first.  Take care of yourself.  As you get healthier, it will be much easier to maintain a healthier weight.  

8.  Give yourself some mercy.  Falling off the wagon isn't a big deal as long as you get back on again.  You'll still get to your destination eventually.  Self-hate is an ugly thing.  Forgive yourself and your body for not being what you think it should be.  Work with your body, not against it.  Learn to catch yourself when you speak negatively about yourself and/or your body.  Loving yourself is a major step toward health.  The stress of beating yourself up isn't helping you reach your goals.  Let it go.  

I know myself well enough to know that I will sometimes eat the wrong things.  How do I handle that?  I follow a 80/20 rule.  I try to eat well 80% of the time and I don't even worry about the other 20%.  I also know myself well enough to know that my 20% will start creeping toward 30%, then 40%, then 50%, and so on.  Pretty soon, if I'm not careful, my 80/20 will look more like 20/80, and we'll be right back where we started.  (Like the holidays.  It was definitely more like 20/80.  Ugg.)  When I see that happening, I just slide it back to where it should be.  There isn't any point in berating myself.  That's life, and I'm a human, not a Diet-Saint.

_______
So, to answer the question above, I do eat sugar/white flour over the holidays and for birthdays.  I also eat it when I'm invited to someone's house for dinner ('Cuz who wants to be the party-pooper who turns up her nose at the hostess's good food?  Not me.  I eat it and enjoy myself, thank you.).  I try to be moderate and take small pieces during those times.  Then I try to make sure I'm nourishing my body with nutrient dense foods the rest of the time so that I can be healthy and to reduce cravings.  Am I a super-model?  No.  But then, it would take more than dieting to turn me into one of those.  I'm thinking a full body transplant might be in order.  And the fountain of youth, because there aren't too many super-models in their mid-forties.  

I hope that helps a little.  Can you think of things I didn't mention?

Have a great day,

Angela 

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