Food Pushers

It wasn’t until I started managing my weight that I discovered the phenomenon of Food Pushers. People who simply will not rest until you have eaten whatever they are pushing. It is frequently family, it could be your grandma, or even a co-worker, their motivations are sometimes innocent and other times pernicious, but this person seems to have a strongly vested interested in making you eat. They will pull out all the stops to see that your plan is undone.

The first step in dealing with Food Pushers is to recognize them. I didn’t even know of the existence of them until I had a food plan for each day – before I started managing my weight they weren’t Food Pushers they were just people urging me to do what I wanted to do anyway – eat too much tasty food. But once I started managing my weight and resisting their pleas the goals of Food Pushers became obvious.

I think everybody who manages their weight has to come up with their own tactics for handling Food Pushers. Here are some I’ve used:

  • Tell the Food Pusher I’m not hungry, but thank you
  • Just have a bite of whatever they’re pushing
  • Ignore them
  • Claim to not like that type of ice cream (or cake, cookies, lasagna, whatever they’re pushing)

I’ve heard tales of Food Pusher guilt trips you wouldn’t believe, but I don’t have too many of them myself. Guilt trips don’t work on me, and neither does peer pressure. I grew up The Fat Kid, I knew I was never going to be liked or accepted as a kid, so striving to be liked or accepted was a pointless endeavor. This has served me well as an adult.

I don’t know how you will handle Food Pushers, but I know that you, as a person who is working hard to manage your weight, need to be aware of them and have a few strategies for dealing with them.

So – what’s your best strategy for handling Food Pushers?

The Food Industry Does Not Have Your Health In Mind

Here’s an article that I’ve been hanging onto for a while, which I think some might find interesting:

The food industry is driving overconsumption

This doesn’t surprise me all that much. The food industry is ruthless, craven and completely greed- and profit-driven. They are only too happy to put the blame on you, for being a lazy layabout, rather than on their shoddy, death-dealing wares.

Snippet from article:
Promoting physical activity has been the favored approach to solving the problem of obesity by politicians and the food industry, said Swinburn. “It’s relatively uncontroversial, there are no commercial competitors, it’s a positive thing to do, so politicians, egged on by the food industry, heavily promote the physical-activity side of the equation.”

Swinburn said that the food industry has been “extraordinarily successful” in promoting excessive intake of calories. “They’ve worked their marketing out to the nth degree. They’ve got the products that we like to eat, they’ve got the price right—in fact the price of junk food has been coming down for years and is getting cheaper and cheaper. Food is everywhere. In the 1970s…when you went to a petrol station you used to buy petrol. Now it’s a chocolate and fast-food station. The food industry has done all they can to sell their products, and they’re doing it extremely well.”

I have always said, and always will say, that the best bang for your weight-maintenance buck is controlling your intake. It is physically and temporally impossible to exercise enough to mitigate the effects of modern processed food. The best thing a person can do is just not eat it in the first place.

For example, imagine I’m driving home from work and stop for gas. I wander in and grab one of those delicious packaged fruit pies you see at convenience stores – I’ve seen some that come in at 800 calories. I would have to bicycle for an hour and a half to burn that off. And that just puts me back where I started – I haven’t even created a deficit yet! And that’s just for one little pie that probably didn’t even fill me up for more than about a half hour. There doesn’t exist enough time in the day to mitigate the effects of unsupportive food choices. What if I grabbed a regular soda in a “big gulp” size while I was in the convenience store? That’s another 370 calories – I guess I could bike for another hour just to get back to zero.

I don’t have 2 1/2 hours to work out every day, and we’re still on the way home from work. Imagine what happens when I make choices for dinner that aren’t supportive? I can easily eat a 1200-1500 calorie dinner without even thinking about it, by visiting a restaurant and ordering without being thoughtful, or buying pre-made food in a box at the grocery store. I would end up having more of a calorie debt than I have enough time to work off in a day, assuming I could devote my entire day to exercising, which I can’t. Better to just see the food industry for what it is, a profit-driven machine that has no interest in supporting my health, and take pride in standing fast against their onslaught.

I’m a big fan of real, whole foods. Fruits, veggies, lean meats. The things my body recognizes as food. No processing required.

Body Image and the Diet

I was reading an article recently in which the writer was talking about how dieting was such a negative way to live, she never dieted, she ate what she wanted and that people who were pro-body-image should be just like her and never deny themselves whatever food they wanted, and just be happy and healthy. She was, of course, naturally thin.

I don’t expect such people to ever be reading my little blog here, but I think it’s important to point out for the record that anybody who is naturally thin without working too hard at it is the exception, not the rule, in this sedentary culture. If you lucked out and won the metabolic lottery, it is a little bit disingenuous and insulting to give weight management “advice” to people who have spent their entire lives struggling with weight.

Let me be clear – I have spent my entire life struggling with weight issues. The decades I spent just eating whatever I wanted, I ended up so overweight I couldn’t even function normally. If I don’t work at it every single day, my weight will spiral out of control immediately. I’m not working at it every single day so that I can be thin and pretty and wear the latest fashions, I work at it every single day just so that I can maintain my health. My alternative isn’t being a little bit chubby if I don’t fight tooth and nail against obesity, my alternative is morbid obesity. I hang on to my health, some days it seems by my fingernails, working every day to maintain the weight I’ve lost, only to be lectured regularly by people who are naturally thin who tell me that I should not diet because it’s an “unhealthy, negative outlook.” Let me tell you what is an unhealthy outlook: Telling people how to manage their own health.

Here’s something that people who are new to exercising or weight maintenance, people who have never had to work at it might not realize: It’s not fun, mostly it’s hard work, and there’s usually other stuff I’d rather be doing, but I do it because it needs to be done. That’s how I honor myself and my body. I wish I didn’t have to do it. I wish I could just eat what I wanted when I wanted, I wish I could adopt a laissez-faire attitude about food and exercise. I can’t. Just like coming to work every morning, or doing the dishes, I do it because it needs to be done. I don’t get a choice. If it were fun and exciting and interesting it wouldn’t be called a workout, it’d be called a funout. It’s not awful, it’s generally not painful, it’s just that all things being equal, I’d rather be doing something else. But I certainly don’t need somebody who has never had to actively manage their weight telling me how to do it.

Book Recommendation – Thin For Life

Most of the strategies that I talk about here aren’t anything new. Let me tell you about one of the most valuable books I’ve read regarding long-term weight management.

There is a conception that losing a lot of weight is almost always followed shortly thereafter by gaining it back. This has happened to everybody who has lost weight. But some people lose it for good So, when trying to learn to keep weight off for good, doesn’t it seem somewhat obvious to go find the people who’ve lost it and kept it off, and ask them how? All of the “Masters” interviewed for Thin for Life by Anne M. Fletcherhave succeeded in losing at least 20 pounds and keeping it off for at least 3 years. Most people lost more and kept it off for longer – the average was 63 pounds and over 10 years. These people know what they’re doing.

Highly Recommended!

The book is organized into 10 “keys for success” from the Masters. It’s not a weight loss book by any stretch. It’s a collection of stories and tips from people who’ve mastered their weight. There is no “Thin for Life” diet – the author stresses over and over that everybody must find their own way, a method that works for them, and it’s different for everyone. Some people need the structure of a group, some people need to go it alone. I have done both. The first 100 pounds I lost I did alone, the rest was done in a very structured environment. I will point out that the first go-round I didn’t know what I was doing and ended up needing major surgery to remove my gallbladder due to my drastic caloric restriction, lack of research into the matter, and extremely poor health care at the time. The basic truth, however, is that no matter how much support a person uses to lose weight initially, maintenance eventually and inevitably comes down to flying solo.

Most people have to try several times to lose weight and keep it off. The losing part is relatively straightforward – it’s a limited period of time, and most people can stand a little discomfort or inconvenience when there’s a foreseeable end. But, most will inevitably go back to the old habits. But, as I’ve mentioned myself, just because you’ve lost and then regained several times does not mean you shouldn’t try again. All of the Masters interviewed for the book stressed that they had tried many different times and many different ways before finally getting it right. God knows I’d lost and regained countless times before I found “my way.” But the really important point is, how can anybody be expected to get it right the first time around on something so complicated and emotionally charged? Especially with next to no education on the underlying concepts? I personally believe that weight management should be taught in school – not just in some health class you go to in 5th grade to learn about your period and eating from the food pyramid. The basic weight maintenance math needs to be taught, and the basics of how to eat lots of tasty food without getting lots of calories – preferably in high school. I had no idea what a calorie was or how it worked until I’d put on over 100 pounds in the 4 years after college and became desperate to change my ways. All I knew was I should try to reduce my calories. I didn’t know how to figure out how many I needed, or how to balance what I was doing. This is becoming increasingly and vitally important in our sedentary culture.

One of the insights I appreciated was that the Masters in the book had readjusted their goal weight over time, as I have myself. Some of them decided after achieving a too-low goal that it was entirely too hard to maintain such a weight, and gained 5, 10, 15 or even 20 back just to be at a weight they could maintain without killing themselves with exercise and hunger. Some had decided, like me, that if getting to that elusive super-low weight was so difficult, imagine how hard it would be to maintain it forever? Because maintaining it forever means basically eating like you’re on a diet forever. I really liked the discussion of finding a good goal weight and what factors to take into account.

I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in what it takes to lose and keep weight off. Nine of the ten “Keys to Success” in Thin to Life ring very true for me. Maybe they will for you too.

The Silver Bullet Theory, or Am I a Weight Loss Failure?

How did I become a diet success after decades of obesity? Why did it take so long, what was I doing in the meantime, and why don’t I recommend the program I did to everyone?

Here’s what I did: I failed at weight loss. A LOT.

 The last diet method I tried was the silver bullet that did the trick for me and my individual needs. Not necessarily for you, not for many other people, but for me it was exactly the information and presentation I needed to solve my weight problems. That’s why it was the last one.

But before I found it I tried about a dozen other ways that didn’t work for me. 

Starting at the age of 13 I’ve been on just about every diet program out there. I failed at all of them. I tried NutriSystem, just starving myself, Think Light!, The Zone, Body for Life, veganism, Weight Watchers, and about a hundred other unnamed crazy ideas. I failed at every single one of them. Sometimes I was able to lose 5-10 pounds which quickly returned, sometimes I actually gained weight.

The thing I needed most was the ability to keep track in a scientific, mathematical, no-nonsense method. For me, being able to count calories in and out put the power in my hands to control my weight. That’s not necessarily an approach that appeals to everyone, and I recognize that. The process of finding the method that meshes with your personality isn’t always straightforward.

I think what’s really important to realize, and that I didn’t realize until it was too late to help me at the time, is that just because a particular program didn’t work for me doesn’t make me a failure. It always felt like it, every time a new program failed me, but stepping back and evaluating from where I am now, I needed to try each of those different methods so I could eliminate them, move on and try a different approach until I found the silver bullet for my particular personality and circumstances.

I remember being so frustrated after failing at Weight Watchers because I was unable to control my portions or choices adequately, and thinking “Why can’t I just find a diet that tells me exactly what to eat? I don’t want choices, I want to know exactly what to eat to lose weight! If I could find a program that just gave me my food for the day, I would follow it religiously. Just tell me what to eat, I obviously don’t know!”

I was so frustrated with all the diet marketing telling me, “You can eat whatever you want and still lose weight.” Because I couldn’t, I’d tried eating whatever I wanted and I grew morbidly obese. So clearly whatever I wanted to eat was not a sure-fire method for losing weight. And I knew it. I knew I was not a good candidate for a program which gave me control over my food choices, I’d proven to myself throughout my whole life that the choices I made unaided weren’t healthy, I was ready to surrender control to somebody who knew what to do, and that’s why the program that finally worked for me was a good fit for me.

Most people aren’t in this same boat. Most people probably just want to lose a few pounds to fit back into their skinny jeans, or get a little more physically fit. Most people want to lose weight while eating their favorite foods and still enjoying a social life. I needed a more comprehensive, behavior-modification program, and I finally found it. But it took a long time and many attempts, plus lots and lots of failures.

So, am I a failure because I gained weight on Body for Life? 
Am I a failure because I couldn’t lose weight on Weight Watchers?
 Do I think everyone should do a medically-monitored meal replacement program because it changed my life?

No. I wasn’t a success because the only way to succeed is to use the program I used, I was a success because I kept trying until I found the silver bullet that worked for me, my personality and circumstances.

Do I think Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, The Zone and Atkins are worthless because they didn’t work for me? Absolutely not. I try to look at it like I look at past relationships – unless I’ve been actively damaged by the interaction then it’s no harm, no foul. Each one taught me something useful – I learned that it wasn’t the one for me, enabling me to rule it out and keep looking. Each one put me a step closer to finding the way that worked for me. And that is why there are so many ways to learn weight management – everybody needs something different.

What I did today to keep it off

I tried to talk myself out of going to the gym today after work. I had a bunch of errands to run after work, and for some reason late in the afternoon this started to seem like a valid reason to skip the gym. I needed to get some paperwork to an office downtown, which I’d already been told could be left in the after-hours drop box (and therefore didn’t need to be there before closing time, hence no need to disrupt my gym plans) and yet here was my head, trying the old “let’s skip the workout” routine again.

I seriously have these conversations on a regular basis. You would think that after all this time I would have complete control over these sorts of derailing instincts, but you’d be wrong. I still have them and I still have to fight them.

I went to the gym anyway and did an hour of weightlifting and cardio. And all of my errands got run. AND I stuck to my food plan today. I can fit it all in if I don’t let me talk myself out of it!

Rules of thumb for drinking my calories

One of my rules of weight management is to not drink calories. Everything I eat needs to perform a job, and that job is to keep me from feeling hungry. Beverages do not aid satiety, so they don’t get on the plan very often. Not soda, not cocoa, not a triple vanilla half-caf mocha frappuccino with whipped cream, not fruit juice, not egg nog for sure! There are just two exceptions for me, but I’ll cover those last. First I want to talk a little more about two of the drinks I just listed which often cause people to want to debate, so let me tell you my take on them.

“No fruit juice!” is something I’m militant about. To my mind drinking fruit juice is exactly the same as drinking regular soda – a giant calorie bomb of sugar with no feeling of fullness. The process of making juice from fruit is the process of removing the beneficial part of the fruit – the fiber – and leaving the part that’s only there, evolutionarily speaking, to make humans want to consume it – the sugar. There’s nothing magical or special about fructose (aka the sugar that sweetens fruit) which makes it healthier than the sugar used in soda. Sugar is sugar, it exists to carry fuel, in the form of calories, into a body. Often people think choosing fruit juice is a healthy option, but for weight management that would be shooting myself in the foot. Ounce for ounce, soda has fewer calories, and neither one provides any significant health benefits. I might as well have a Coke and a smile, because according to experts, “The upside of juice consumption is so infinitesimal compared to the downside that we shouldn’t even be having this discussion.” Whole foods are a much better source of vitamins and minerals if that’s a concern. If I want something that tastes like fruit, I eat a piece of fruit. I get the feeling of fullness I should be getting for the calories I’m consuming plus all the vitamins and minerals. And honestly, eating 7-10 cups of fruits and veggies a day I’m getting the nutrients I need from my food already.

Diet soda has been getting a bad rap lately. But if my choices are regular soda or diet soda, I will always pick the diet soda. I know that some people are happy to eschew all soda, diet or regular, and that’s great. But not everybody is ready to do that. I’m one of those people. I occasionally drink diet soda because so far, none of the claims made about artificial sweeteners have been conclusively proven. However, the risks to my health of morbid obesity are widely understood. Where my health is concerned, I’m much more concerned with the immediate and obvious risks of obesity upon my life versus the unproven, potential, scientifically-nebulous

The occasional treat is good for the soul.

risks posed by diet soda. So I do occasionally enjoy diet soda. In moderation – I don’t drink more than one a day, and some days none at all, because where food and diet is concerned, all things should be enjoyed in moderation. When I don’t feel like having a soda but having something bubbly to drink sounds good, I will happily have club soda or seltzer water with some lemon or lime squeezed into it. Iced tea is another calorie-free option I enjoy. But, as far as I’m concerned, diet soda is a useful tool for me to employ in moderation. I lost 200 pounds while drinking it, so I’m not concerned that it causes weight gain, as some claim.

So what are the two exceptions to the “don’t drink calories” rule I mentioned above? Alcohol, and a latte. First – if I have the calories in my budget, a small non-fat latte is 90 calories gladly spent for me. I have one about once or twice a month – it’s a treat, not a habit.  And secondly – as of today, as far as I know, there is no calorie-free alcohol anywhere in the world. So if I’m going to enjoy alcohol, I am careful to write down the calories, limit myself to only one or two, and make the best choices I can. A bloody mary is a decent choice for weight management – I can get away with a small one for about 150 calories. A glass of wine comes in about the same, a moderate-sized glass of cider or beer on vacation won’t derail me either. It’s a treat, something to be enjoyed only once in a while, but on days when I do, it’s good to have a couple of moderate-calorie options available to me.