Measuring Fitness Results Beyond the Scale

Scale

Weight: Only One Marker of Fitness Results
Image Courtesy of Microsoft Images

The one instrument that most people use to measure health and fitness progress – the scale – is the one that we have the least amount of control over.  Lots of other things influence weight (i.e. time of day, recent meals, what you’re wearing, the scale you use, the time of the month, maybe you’ve gained muscle, etc.), and it’s usually the last to respond to the progress we make compared to many other markers such as better energy levels, less stress and even a slimmer waistline! You may lose inches before pounds if you’re gaining muscle and lean mass while losing fat.

So while body weight is one way of measuring fitness results, by no means should it be the only one.  I like to “triangulate” results with my clients.  In other words, if someone does want to track weight, I try to have them choose at least a couple of other indicators of meaningful results, such as:

  • Pants, dress or waist size
  • Ability to perform a sport or daily activity better
  • Energy levels
  • Stress levels
  • Hunger levels
  • Self-confidence levels (in your body/physique)
  • Non-Scale Victories (NSV’s)

I came across the idea of NSV’s in a book called Coach Yourself Thin, written by Michael Scholtz and Greg Hottinger.  An NSV is any success you’ve had in the past day, week, or month related to eating better or being physically active that is not related to your weight, but is still meaningful for you.  Something as simple as saying “no” to a free cookie and choosing a piece of fruit instead is a non-scale victory.  Here’s a link with more examples: http://www.weightwatchers.co.uk/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=40701.

Ultimately, weight is really just a means to an end, whether it’s looking sexier, performing better or feeling more energized.  Connect with the real reasons why you want to lose weight and track those too.  Then when looking at results in 4, 6 or 8 weeks from now, review progress on all counts and consider the majority: if your waist is slimmer, you feel better, and you have a list of 10 NSV’s staring you in the face, odds are the improvements you made to your eating and exercise habits have had a positive result, even if the scale only shows a couple pounds of weight loss.

Combat Food Cravings, Part 1: Determine Your Triggers

Food Cravings: Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?

Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?
Photo Courtesy of dusky, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

*Download a complimentary copy of the Death of the Diet Indulgence Journal here to determine your triggers and start fighting food cravings today.  Want to discuss your triggers further?  Comment below.*

You’re minding your own business at work, watching TV, being stressed out, or lounging around after dinner and BAM you find yourself craving something sweet.  Or salty.  The craving may general, or for a specific food. Pastry, ice cream, pizza or gooey macaroni and cheese (if I just triggered a craving for you, I apologize).  The more you try to think about something else, the more you get pulled into the craving.  And then you can’t get your mind off it – until you give in.  Are food cravings inevitable?  When they strike are we sentenced to a calorie-laden, guilt-inducing fate?  Or can we fight back?

First, a review of recent research.

Then, a three step process to start overcoming your food cravings.

Recent Research Review

Recent research provides some obvious, but useful insights – well summarized by Melinda Beck in the Wall Street Journal.  While I recommend reading the article, here’s a Cliff’s Notes summary:

  • Food cravings activate the same reward circuits in the brain as drugs and alcohol (sweets and carbs release serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals).  Anticipation, hit, reward.  And eventually it takes larger doses to get the same hit.  Yes, we can become food addicts, especially to sugary foods.
  • Cravings involve a complex mix of social, cultural and psychological factors, heavily influenced by environmental cues.  Makes sense – you tell recovering alcoholics to stop hanging around in bars or reduce spending time with people who drink like a fish (origins of that analogy?).  If you know you can’t resist cookies – why have them in the house.  Or frequent bakeries?
  • Cravings can be culturally specific – “while chocolate is consistently the most-craved food in North America, Japanese women are more likely to crave sushi.”  And why doesn’t anyone crave kale?!
  • Cravings can have gender differences – 85% of men found giving into a craving satisfying vs. 57% of women.
  • “It’s possible to like a food without craving it, and crave a food without liking it.” Have you ever caught yourself eating something that looked tempting, but half way through you’re like, “Why am I eating this, it’s not very good.”  And then you finish it anyways.

Three Steps to Fend Off Unwanted Food Cravings

Fending off unwanted food cravings involves three key steps:

  1. Become Aware of Your Triggers
  2. Determine How You Fight Back Best
  3. Decide What’s Worth Indulging In – How Much & How Often

It’s hard to fight unless we know what we’re fighting against, so Part 1 this week discusses how you can become more aware of your food craving triggers.  Use this week to determine and explore your triggers.  Consider everything from what, where, when, with whom, why, etc.  Part 2 next week will discuss how to fight back and how to decide which indulgences are worth it.

Step 1: Become Aware of Your Triggers

Think back to your most recent cravings – what caused them?  Were you somewhere?  Was it a particular time of day?  Were you stressed?  Five of the most common triggers that make us cuckoo-for-cookies are:

Emotion – Do you find yourself seeking out food when you’re angry, lonely, stressed, tired or even happy?  Physical hunger typically comes on gradually, while emotional hunger is usually sudden, and often for a very specific food (usually not an apple).   Ever have those times when you eat snack after snack and nothing seems to be hitting the spot? Well, that’s because you’re not physically hungry. You’re emotionally hungry. (Adapted from Adam Gilbert, MyBodyTutor.com)

Habit – Going on auto-pilot can be useful in some cases, but not in others.  Do you always eat dessert or snack after dinner?  Do you always munch on foods while watching TV, or while sitting at your desk at work?  Do you always have chips with your sandwich?  If you “always” eat something for a reason other than physical hunger (especially if you find yourself eating even though you’re full), odds are it’s become a habit.

Boredom – Idle hands can lead to unwanted calories.  Do you find yourself sitting down to watch TV or read and you start munching and munching and munching?  Or how about at work.  Your mind wanders off after a particularly boring assignment – oh and look, there’s free donuts!  When there’s nothing else to do, eating can become an easy default activity, even if we don’t want the calories.

Environmental Cues – Is food the focus of every celebration, or bad day?  Is going out to eat the social activity of choice for your friends and family?  Do you find yourself staring at a candy bowl at work?  Are there treats in the house that you buy for others, but end up mostly eating mostly yourself?  Do you tend to go to certain restaurants or cafes (or ice cream parlors) that force you to make less-healthy decisions?  The saying “out of sight, out of mind” exists for a reason.

Hunger – If you go a long time between eating (or if you eat foods that tend to spike your blood sugar), your blood sugar can drop.  As a result, hunger hormones spike, your brain freaks out and you’re no longer looking for the healthiest option – you’re looking for the closest option, even if it’s cookies, candy or pizza.

You may notice some of these triggers have overlapping causes – if you’re hungry and bored and only junk food is available, the odds are stacked against you.  Let’s unstack them.  Download a complimentary copy of the Death of the Diet Indulgence Journal here to determine your triggers and start fight food cravings today.  Want to discuss your triggers further?  Comment below.

Part 2 next week will discuss how to fight back against food cravings and how to decide which indulgences are worth it.

Want to Eat Better or Lose Weight? Write on!

Man Writing What He Ate

Do you spell spaghetti with one “t” or two?!?
Image Courtesy of Microsoft Images

Keeping a food record, independent of other factors, can lead to better weight loss across a wide range of people.  Click on the link and check out figure #4 a little more than halfway down the page – the more food records kept, the more weight lost.

Why does food journaling work? Because it gives you a moment to pause and consider what you’ll be eating…and why you’re eating it.  Journaling also provides you with a concrete record to review and learn from.  Patterns and trends that you never considered become crystal clear when you look at it on paper:

  • Seven hours between meals leads to an afternoon crash and overeating at dinner.
  • Every time you go out with friends you end up eating and drinking a little more than you wanted to.
  • It’s too hard to say no to the brownies in the house after dinner.
  • A stressful day always leads to a comfort food.  And so on.

The main objection I (and probably many other dietitians) get from people in response to keeping a food record is that they “don’t have the time” to keep a detailed record and “don’t want to measure” everything they eat.  My response?  Don’t worry, do your best.

Of course, the more detail I can get the better, but keeping a food journal, especially in the beginning of my relationship with a client is not to analyze their exact daily caloric intake.  Instead, it’s to give me an idea of the types of foods they eat, when they eat, where they eat and of course, why they eat.  It gives me a lens into their life, via their food.  Because in the end, changing a person’s eating habits impacts a lot more than just what they eat.

More importantly, though, this exercise provides my client with an opportunity to become aware of, and reflect upon, their own eating habits.  By the time I see them for their first session, they’ve usually already got their own ideas on how to make changes. I’m there to be a sounding board, correct any misconceptions and help make the proposed eating improvements the “path of least resistance.”

Can you devote 3 to 5 minutes a day to your health? And you don’t have to touch a measuring spoon (unless you want to).  Just focus on three things:

  1. What you ate
  2. When you ate
  3. Why you ate (were you really hungry?  Or just bored?  Or stressed?)

Extra credit responses include where you ate and rough estimates of how much you ate – just use your hand (a fistful, a palmful, a fingertip, etc.).  Get access to the easiest, most comprehensive food journal (a $15 value) by subscribing to the monthly JM Wellness newsletter to the right.

Then at the end of the week spend 3 to 5 minutes reviewing the record and seeing where you could, and are willing, to improve.  Or contact me and we can review it together!

Reference: : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515566/

Movie Review: Lbs.

“Monday came. Alright, Monday came and I started. And I’m going to go back and I’m going to tell everybody that Monday came and I’m getting it done.  How many times, it might be 1,000. But on 1,001 I started.”                      -Neil Perota

Yesterday I watched a movie that struck a strong chord within me: Lbs., directed by Matthew Bonifacio and starring Carmine Famiglietti. Maybe it’s because I saw a little bit of myself played out in the main character. Granted I was never as overweight as the lead, nor were my parents force feeding me sausage and peppers.  But the feelings exhibited by Neil during his multi-month journey to find peace with his health, his weight and ultimately his own self-worth ring true. Confidence when taking my shirt off at the beach. Wanting to feel happy in my own skin. Growing up in a house where food served an emotional role, especially for my mother.  I close my eyes and can imagine myself going down the same path as Neil, had I made different choices almost eight years ago.

When you dissect Lbs. as a movie, the cinematography was fine, the script was a bit clichéd and some of the characters were almost caricatures of the “type” of people you’d deal with on a path like Neil’s.  But sometimes you need to be hit upside the head with an exaggerated dose of reality to realize how sabotaging these environments can be in real life.  The drug addict best friend, which drew out the parallels between drug addiction and food addiction. The parent and family who present love through food. The social scene focused on food. The relationship that could never be. The love interest who only cares about the skin deep. The pursuit of health for others rather than for self. The process of transformation.

It’s all there, presented in a 90-minute film that documents a 100-pound weight loss that inspires respect for the effort and commitment required for personal transformation.  Rarely is weight loss the grand event TV makes it out to be.  It’s hard work and difficulty.  Fits and starts.  Learning and failing and getting back up.  What makes the weight loss amazing is that the filming of Lbs. occurred over two years, as the actor who played the main character Neil actually lost the weight himself.  From what I’ve dug up on the film, it appears Bonifacio and Famiglietti are good friends from NYC, and the film was partially a documentary of Carmine’s own desire to lose weight.  You can read more at IFC’s interview with the director here.

But the best part of the movie, the absolute best part, is the ending.  It sums up the efforts of countless people in America and across the world where food is more than fuel.  Food is stress.  Food is comfort.  Food is happiness.  Food is guilt.  Food is life…or is it?

You can watch the film on Netflix or buy the DVD here: http://www.lbsthemovie.com/

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