In Changing Your Thinking Will Change Your Weight Part One we talked about how the words we use when thinking or talking about weight loss can be powerful agents of motivation. Simply substituting “healthy eating” for “diet” removes negative connotations and helps make us feel more in control of our eating behaviors.
This principle can be applied to developing many habits and attitudes we need to lose weight and keep it off.
Changing the way we think about healthy food is a good example.
I was talking to a woman recently about healthy eating and she mentioned that she had been eating a lot of salads lately. But she didn’t use the word “salad”. She said “rabbit food” and wrinkled her face in disgust.
That’s not the way to build motivation and seize control of eating habits. Clearly, she could find nothing rewarding about eating salads. Referring to salads as “rabbit food” implies it is animal food and unfit for human consumption. Not very encouraging.
Most days I eat sardines right out of the can, but I don’t especially care for sardines. They just aren’t very appetizing. Do I concentrate on all the negative aspects of eating sardines? No. I think about how important it is to include fish in my eating routine.
Fish is high in protein, and that means ounce for ounce it satisfies hunger better than just about anything else. I try to limit eating to mealtimes, so it’s normal for my body to expect food at certain times throughout the day.
After all, you are supposed to feel a little hunger when lunch or dinner rolls around. I look forward to feeling hunger before a mealtime because it is a sign I haven’t been snacking and undermining my weight loss goals. I also look forward to the sensation of feeling full after I eat my sardines.
A lot of this is just reminding ourselves of things we already know.
For example, I remind myself that fish is high in DHA and EPA, two Omega 3 fats proven to have profound effects on metabolizing cholesterol and increasing cognitive functions. For someone like me who has issues with triglycerides and makes a living with my brain these facts are highly motivating.
That little change in perspective – looking forward to the positive nutritional results of a food instead of the immediate sensory satisfaction – makes a huge change in my experience of eating. Instead of thinking only about the sensation of what is in my mouth, my focus changes to healthy eating and the benefits it has for my body and lifestyle.
I apply the same thinking to the sensation of hunger. I can gain weight very easily – it’s a sign of success in long-term weight loss – because my body has become so efficient at digesting what I eat. Notice that I changed “I gain weight very easily” into something positive by paring it with a sign of successful weight loss. Easy weight gain is a sign that I’ve successfully lost weight in the past.
That’s a good thing!
Also, instead of thinking of a hunger pang as a distressing sign that my body is in need of nutrition and is sending out a distress call for immediate feeding I take a different perspective. A hunger pang is a signal that my body is turning from metabolizing energy from sugars and proteins in my bloodstream to metabolizing fat reserves.
That’s a good thing!
It means I’m losing weight, which is exactly what I want to do. Making that simple change in perspective puts me in control of the experiences associated with eating. I feel good about that hunger pang.
I welcome it!
It means that I’m on my way to accomplishing my goal of maintaining my weight and living a healthy lifestyle.
None of this is “looking on the bright side” or searching for a ray of positivity in the gloom. It’s all about applying facts to the experience of weight loss and fighting our human compulsion to make things harder than they really are.
Try it. It will take practice to make it a habit, but that’s true of any skill worth learning.
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One important approach to lose weight is to think about what you say to yourself about food and eating. Most people think of losing weight as an uncomfortable and arduous task. If that is your perspective on the future you probably are not opening your arms to enjoy a new experiences, one that is healthy and good for you.
Focusing on denying yourself the food you really want to eat and anticipating hunger and discomfort is not the way to motivate yourself to change your eating habits. The trick is to starting thinking of healthy foods and eating in new ways.
For example, notice that I used the phrase “healthy foods and eating” instead of “dieting”.
I avoid the word “diet” and “dieting” for two reasons.
First, it’s not really accurate. We are always on a diet. Whatever we are eating is our diet. If you eat mostly vegetables you are on a vegetable diet. If you eat noting but ice cream you are on an ice cream diet. Your diet can be healthy, unhealthy or something in between, but you are always on some sort of diet.
Once you start thinking about a diet this way it opens the door to making changes to your diet. You can change what you eat, when you eat, and how often you eat. That is far more complex than thinking,
“I’m on a diet.”
That phrase brings up the second reason I don’t like using the word diet. For most people the word “diet” has negative connotations. Diets are restrictive. They require us to eat foods we don’t like and we have to stay hungry all the time.
Those are not the kinds of images about healthy eating that tend to motivate people.
Instead of inviting that kind of imagery, forget the word “diet” or “dieting” and avoid the words or thought “I am on a diet” or “I have to go on a diet”. Remind yourself that you are always on a diet – your diet is whatever you are eating. You can have a healthy diet or an unhealthy diet.
Instead of “diet” I prefer to think of what I eat as either “healthy eating” or “unhealthy eating”. Simply by changing the word I use to describe what I’m eating makes two big changes.
First, it puts me in control. I can eat whatever I want any time I want it. I am not at the mercy of a “diet” probably created by someone else that I have to follow without fail. It’s no longer a matter of obedience, conformity and compliance.
I make decisions about what I eat throughout the day, guided by my desire to keep my weight down and keep my body healthy.
Second, an episode of unhealthy eating is just that – one event that is something less than optimal. It’s not “failing at my diet” or “going off my diet”. Instead, it is just a small change to what I normally eat.
So, forget dieting and think about eating healthy. It’s such a small change, but has enormous power in changing your eating behaviors.
News headlines are touting all sorts of economic glad tidings.
The unemployment rate is lower than it has been in years, the stock market is expanding, businesses are reporting record growth and GDP is up and set to go even higher.
So why so do many people see little or no improvement in their own financial fortunes?
A big reason is that we are living in a different economy than the one that ended in 2008. The driving force behind that economy was industry, and the one we are building now isn’t. It is much harder to gauge the health of the economy today fundamental economic truths no longer are what they once were.
Take the stock market for instance. In the old industrial economy increasing stock prices meant investors were confident that the economy doing well. They bought shares in companies they thought had a bright future. When the stock market is in the rise it means companies are expanding – building new plants and offices, selling more of what they make and moving into new markets.
Many large corporations active on the stock market have moved into “financialism” – rather than making things, these companies now act more like banks than manufacturers.
Rana Foroohar explains this at length in her very readable book on finance and economics, Makers and Takers. She points out that corporate borrowing is higher than it has ever been, but the borrowing is not for traditional business expansion.
Instead, corporations are buying back shares, making divided payments, outsourcing labor and using debt financing to minimize tax exposure. Instead of making things, large corporations are manipulating their balance sheets – in legal ways – to increase the value of the company.
This has devastating effects on workers. With the rise of software and robotics, one way to increase stock value is to replace workers with machines.
Workers are usually the most expensive part of any business overhead, so reducing workforce is a positive step to investors. Companies announcing layoffs are more efficient than those hiring workers are, and are therefore better investments.
This is unheard of.
For hundreds of years business expansion meant more job creation and hiring. The idea that business can improve their financial health by laying off workers is just the opposite of conventional investing wisdom.
If you have been following business news for the last couple of years, you know that Sears has been dangling on the edge of collapse. It is selling its real estate – its stores – to offset the cost of borrowing essential to survival.
The details make for interesting reading.
According to Foroohar, in 2015 Sears bundled 235 of its stores into a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), then leased the same stores back to itself. Its retail divisions, already losing money at an astonishing rate, now has the added burden of lease payments to Sears Holdings Corporation.
There is a perverse secret to making money in real estate – debt financing. Most of us think of debt as something to avoid because there is no real upside. That isn’t true for big players, though. There are huge tax advantages to debt financing. Money a company borrows can be deducted as businesses expenses and at the same time, an REIT can generate cash through the leases on property. It’s a win-win.
Sears borrows its money from ESL Investments, a hedge fund owned by Sears Holding CEO Eddie Lampert. (Yes, Lampert is CEO of both the lender and the borrower.) Every time Lampert injects money or lays off employees, Sears’s stock price increases a bit, and every time he closes another store, ESL gains another property.
This is just one small example of how the economy has changed at a very basic level. The idea that debt can be an advantage to a company is difficult for most of us to accept, and that illustrates a larger issue – nobody is quite sure how to measure and manage this new economy.
In The Only Game in Town, Mohamed El-Erians’ interesting and very readable book on modern economics, quotes William Dudley, New York Federal Reserve President on the state of knowledge of our financial leaders in this era of financialism:
“We still don’t have well developed macro-models that incorporate a realistic financial sector.”
In other words, the Federal Reserve doesn’t really know how to measure economic consequences of large companies moving away from traditional trade and towards debt financing.
Something else we have a hard time measuring is jobs. In the old economy when someone had a job, it meant they could rent a house or apartment, buy a car and have enough to eat. Now a job does not necessarily mean any of those things are possible.
Part of the problem is defining and counting jobs. In 2015, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) delivered a report to Congress putting the proportion of contingent work jobs at about 40% of all jobs. That is, almost half of people counted as employed were actually “involuntary part time workers” who did not make a living wage.
However, a 2017 report by Katz and Krueger from the Federal Reserve put the portion of contingent jobs at about 15%. It also estimates that only 6% of the jobs created between 2010 and 2015 are traditional full time jobs. The other 96% are contingent jobs.
Contingent jobs are just part time versions of regular full time jobs. The education industry has been moving to all contingent instructional staff for some time. At the community college where I work, about two thirds of the teachers are adjunct, and teach the great majority of classes. Adjuncts are paid about one third that of full time teachers.
That is typical for most industries.
This brings up another new normal issue that is affecting American workers.
Wages are not increasing, and they haven’t for some time. The slowdown in wage growth began in the early 21st century, prior to the Great Recession. Advances in robotics and software is almost certainly driving the shift away from human capital and towards automation. In other words, humans are losing value in the workplace.
In a 2013 research paper, Frey and Osborne estimated that technology would reduce the need for human workers partly or completely for about half of the occupations then in existence. This analysis found that most of the jobs at greatest risk were those paying low wages and requiring little training.
A paper published in 2017 by Lordan and Neumark found that the push for an increased minimum wage was actually causing employers to accelerate their move towards automation. An obvious example is the move by McDonalds introducing kiosk ordering and delivery by Uber. Autonomous cars are already entering our transportation system. By the time they are common McDonalds will likely have few or no humans in its stores.
This trend is not new. Between 1977 and 2012, more than 6.6 million manufacturing jobs were eliminated by either technology or offshoring. The interesting aspect is that while industrial jobs were disappearing, the manufacturing sector was doing quite well. Productivity actually increased at the same time that employment was decreasing.
One of the great challenges us is how to interpret our new economy. It is so unlike the old one that we have trouble understanding even its most basic concepts.
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Sylvia Tara, PhD has given the frustrated world of struggling weight losers a bushel of gifts in her new book, The Secret Life of Fat.
Like many of us, Tara has struggled with keeping fat at bay most of her life. The experiences she describes are the same ones that I have been facing my entire adult life. Through years of experimentation, I find that I have to keep my caloric intake around only 1400 calories in order not to gain weight. Panicked friends make a habit of telling me that I’m starving myself and no good can come from eating so little.
It turns out that Tara has come to the same conclusion about her weight and maintains the same daily input that I do. She is a trained biochemist, which vindicates the ways I have been keeping my fat at bay all these years. It’s also one of the reasons Tara is so good at explaining the latest research on fat and diets in a way that lay people can understand.
Have you noticed that the Juicing craze has lost its luster? The juices of most vegetables are loaded with naturally occurring sugars that are absorbed right through your intestinal wall and into your bloodstream, which carries it to your pancreas. The pancreas reacts to this onslaught of sugar with a ton of insulin. The insulin converts the sugar into fats, including dangerous triglycerides, that ends up sitting around your vital organs.
It turns out that the pulp of most fruits and vegetables is fibrous, and fiber absorbs water. If you eat the whole food as nature intended the fibrous pulp releases its natural sugars only gradually as it travels through the intestines, avoiding the shock to the pancreas because that is the natural way for the body to digest sugars.
Interestingly the idea of eating as nature intended applies to polished rice. Polished rice has the external coating of rubbed off making the carbohydrates inside each grain of rice easier for your body to digest quickly. Since our bodies process carbohydrates into sugars almost immediately, eating rice that without the external coating polished off is probably not a good idea.
2. Sleep Well
After reading Tara’s book, I was surprised to learn that my life struggles with insomnia contribute to the challenge of losing fat. It turns out that lack of hormones have a lot to do with the way we experience feelings of fullness and satiation. Lack of sleep lowers the hormone leptin and increases ghrelin, a combination researchers find that leads to metabolic changes leading to overeating and obesity.
Additionally, being awake late at night is associated with eating and drinking. For one thing, there is not a lot to do at two or three in the morning and the temptation to eat a little something can be overwhelming. If you find yourself awake try reading or writing and avoid computers and TV — the wavelength of electronic displays tends to keep us awake.
Also, there is a certain logic in drinking alcohol to force sleep, even though it is notorious for putting on weight. Yes, alcohol is a depressant and will put your to sleep, but it won’t keep you asleep unless you drink until you pass out. Drinking alcohol to go to sleep just ensures that you will awake up in a few hour later more wide-awake than ever.
The iron clad rule must be no eating or drinking, (aside from water), after dinner.
3. Intermittent Fasting
Fasting will result in weight loss, and that is no surprise. After all, fasting is simply not eating for an extended time. When no calories are entering the system there is nothing to be turned into fat, so even the most modest of everyday activities results in fat loss.
The problem is that extended fasting is not a good long-term fat loss strategy. Not eating for days signals your metabolism that times are hard and your body reacts by hanging on to every bit of nutrition that comes its way. You might be encouraged when you see you weigh less while you are fasting, but as soon as you start eating again — no matter how gradually — your body will turn everything it possibly can into fat.
What about intermittent fasting, that is, eating for only portions of the day? This weight loss strategy is quickly catching on and has the backing of nutritional research. The idea is to fast only for portions of a day.
For example, your daily fast might begin right after dinner and last for 18 hours because you skip breakfast. By skipping breakfast, the “eating day” lasts only from about noon to six or seven in the evening.
Not eating anything for 18 hours might sound like a daily dietary water boarding session, but it is not that bad. It is simply extending the “fast” we naturally experience while we are sleeping.
And…well…there is a trick that makes it very easy to integrate intermittent fasting into your life.
For some reason it is a lot easier to fast for 18 hours a day if your body is not processing loads of carbohydrates. I’m not sure why this is, but I found that I could routinely fast on a daily basis only when I had already reduced carbs and replaced them with oils and fats.
This brings a word of caution. Avoid the temptation of eating carbs after you have successfully reduced them in your diet. Like addictive drugs, carbs start a cascade of biochemical changes that are an invitation for fat to return.
4. Mind your Biome
Most people have a vague idea that their intestines digest food, extracting nutrients and distributing them throughout the body while anything that unusable turns into waste. That the basic idea, but there is a lot more to it.
Think of the digestive process as one huge biological process operating at the level of cells and hormones. Our intestines are filled with a colony of bacteria that digests our food. This colony was not there when we were born — viruses and bacteria from the environment created it when we started eating solid food when we were babies. (This is why the stuff that fills a diaper does not smell bad until after weaning.)
We do not naturally have enzymes that can break down complex sugars called polysaccharides, but we pick them up in the food we eat as babies. These polysaccharides are a kind of bacteria that convert complex plant based sugars into simple sugars our digestive system can turn into energy.
You might think that your skin or lungs are the biggest organ exposed to the external environment, but it is actually your digestive tract. Our digestive tract is about 30 feet long and averages a little more than an inch in diameter. I did the math and was astounded at the surface area. The number I got was so impressive I will not share it here. You do the math. (Hint: about the same square footage as a “tiny house”.)
One last biome related surprise courtesy of Sylvia Tara:
As amazing as it sounds, recent nutritional research finds that a virus found in chickens can cause the biome to change resulting in obesity. Yes, it is possible to become obese by catching a particular virus from a chicken.
5. Schedule sleep, exercise and meals
If you have read this far it should now be obvious that eating whatever seems appealing no matter what time of day with no regard for future consequences is a great way to gain weight and eventually become obese. Creating and maintaining structure is vitally important if we want to stay healthy and control weight.
There is an interesting psychological aspect to creating a daily structure around eating, nutrition and exercise. Many people object to the idea of creating structure because of issues of control — they feel as if they lose control over their lives if they follow a strict routine.
However, their lives are already out of control. If they had control of their lives, they would not be doing the things that make them fat and uncomfortable. Creating structure is not lack of control; it is a method of exerting control over our bad habits, poor decision making and impulsive behaviors. It seems to me that is the definition of control.
Creating structure is just a matter of creating habits, and habits are easy to establish. Just do the same thing every day for a month and a habit will appear. Go to bed at the same time every night, eat meals at the same time every day, and establish an exercise regimen for the same time every day. Do that for a month and you have a structured routine.
Of course, routines always get interference, but a well-established routine can weather occasional interference.
Develop an evening routine before going to bed as well. Repeat that evening routine every day and you will find sleep comes faster and deeper. We all have the occasional sleepless night, but we can usually power through the next day.
Eat only at meal times, (you are supposed to be hungry right before lunch or dinner), get exercise at the same time every day. It is a good thing to incorporate change into the routine as well. Maybe you will do cardio and strength training on alternate days, or eat fish on Mondays and Fridays. We are omnivores and that means variety in all things.