7 Little Food Swaps That Can Make an Impact on Your Health
The food and drink we choose to consume on a day-to-day basis influence our mood, cravings, sleep, anxiety, weight, and so much more. But, to say “immediately STOP eating chips” isn’t realistic, nor does it support living a life without restriction.
Changing, or evolving, what we eat/drink doesn’t have to be torture. In fact, if you want to feel satisfied, continue enjoying your social functions, feel healthier over the long-haul… then making dramatic changes to your diet is THE OPPOSITE of what you need to do.
Here are 7 little food swaps that will, over time, make an IMPACT on your health goals. So, pick 1 or 2, (NOT all 7… NOT even 5 or 6), and see how it goes.
FOOD SWAP ONE TRY THIS: Flavoured fizzy water INSTEAD OF THIS: Pop/Soda
Swap your soda for sugar-free fizzy water – not every soda… just one. Or maybe two. With the fizzy water, check the label and choose a brand with 0 sugar, 0 sodium. There are lots of options out there where the only ingredients are water and flavour.
FOOD SWAP TWO TRY THIS: Open-faced sandwich INSTEAD OF THIS: Regular sandwich on a bun or two slices of bread
Again, not every time, but occasionally opt to remove that second piece of bread and try eating an open-faced sandwich. It’s a small difference that can eliminate 50-100 calories from your day. It tastes nearly identical and, you might even find it tastes better – this way, I notice I actually taste the meat, veggies and… CHEESE.
FOOD SWAP THREE TRY THIS: Boiled eggs INSTEAD OF THIS: Fried eggs
Eggs are a wonderful nugget of nutrition. By sometimes boiling your eggs, instead of frying, we can skip the butter/oil and potentially save 100 calories (found in 1 tbsp of butter).
We’re not saying butter is BAD, but hey, if you can save it and still eat that delicious golden yoke – why not?
FOOD SWAP FOUR TRY THIS: Baked goods using applesauce INSTEAD OF THIS: Baked goods using butter/lard/oil
If you loooooove to bake, seek a recipe that uses unsweetened applesauce instead of butter/lard/oil. We know this might feel like you’re corrupting your secret family recipe for chocolate chip cookies… so don’t try it on that one! Instead, try Googling:
“Banana bread with applesauce” or “Muffins with applesauce”… and give one a try!
FOOD SWAP FIVE TRY THIS: Chips in a bowl INSTEAD OF THIS: Chips out of the bag
We’re not going to tell you to ALWAYS swap chips for veggies. Next time you have a hankering for chips:
Pour some in a bowl Close the top of the bag Put it away, out of sight Enjoy your chips, and when they’re gone… they’re gone. 1 serving of chips can be around 120 calories… but half of a bag could be higher than 500.
FOOD SWAP SIX TRY THIS: Small popcorn INSTEAD OF THIS: Large popcorn combo
You start off feeling amazing, this buttery popcorn is sooooo gooooooood… But then, halfway through the movie your hand hits the bottom of the bag and you’re like “OH NO… I don’t feel so hot. Why did I do that?!”
Some of those combos seem like a better ‘deal’, but with many of us, when we buy a bigger bag… we’ll simply eat more. Next time, try ordering just a small bag. Or if you’re sharing, get the large popcorn and ask for two small bags.
FOOD SWAP SEVEN TRY THIS: Ice cream in a dish INSTEAD OF THIS: Ice cream in a waffle cone
Taking the kids to the Ice Cream Shoppe? Guess what?! It’s okay to have some!!! Instead of getting your fave two-scoop in a waffle cone, try getting a kids-sized amount in a dish. Eat it slowly. Take the time to enjoy it. Life is better when you enjoy your decisions. Getting that two-scoop tastes the same…So choose to eat a smaller amount and you get the best of both worlds – happiness…. And ICE CREAM.
So, you decided to try using a food diary. It sounded so easy when you heard about it.
“Write down everything you have in a day…Ok, simple enough.”
You decided to start with just keeping track of your water intake and your lunch for now. Day 1, you are ready to roll! But you got caught up at work and drank some water and didn’t write it all down and now you forgot which glass you were on. Was it 3 or 4? Shoot! Do you remember? I don’t think so. Should I drink an extra one just in case? You know what, just keep going. Then it was lunch time and you tried using your hand to measure the portion size, but you’re not sure if it was 1 palm, or was it closer to 1 1/3?
What if I have small palms do I still measure it the same? Hey, tomorrow is a new day. Oh no, I forgot to write down how I felt before and after eating on day 3, and I had soup for lunch instead of my usual sandwich. Does soup count towards water intake, or not?
So many questions!! The week is going by and you are becoming stressed looking at the spotty diary you were filling out, worrying about the little details, having more questions than answers. Or maybe you have kept track of everything but you have no idea what to do with the information in front of you.
Hopefully, the tips below will provide you with some insight on how to get the most of your food diary:
The more detail you can put into it, the more the diary can tell you – it’s an investigative tool. Ultimately it’s up to you!
Don’t add up the calories until the end of the day. It’s time consuming to do as you go along, and feels more restrictive creating a calorie ceiling. Diaries are reflective, it’s to help you learn, not to punish you.
Completeness and accuracy – BE HONEST with yourself. No one is here to judge you including yourself. Try to use proper measuring tools like measuring spoons, measuring cups and scales, or portion sizes using your hands if you don’t want to get too detailed. Your fist is 1 serving of carbohydrates; your palm is 1 serving of protein; and your thumb is 1 serving of fat.
Don’t rely just on your eyes. Portions can be deceiving.
Aim for consistency, not perfection. Even if you forget to record, you overate, or didn’t drink enough water, just keep recording. Pick up where you left off and carry on. Don’t throw away an entire day just because your day wasn’t perfect.
Focus on the bigger picture. It’s not about the daily calories or protein, but the overall picture. Life is dynamic and so is your food intake – there are going to be days where you eat more than others and that is OK!!
***This part is important in piecing things together***
So, it’s the end of the week and you see some words and numbers on a page. What do you do with all of this? How do we piece it all together?
All of this info you have collected help us to identify patterns. Patterns of hunger, emotions and triggers. It’s not about avoiding any of these things, it’s about recognizing, acknowledging them and working through them.
HUNGER AND CRAVING RANKING THROUGHOUT THE DAY
Knowing when you are the hungriest or have the most cravings helps you to better plan for them ahead of time. For example, you notice you’re hungry often by 10 AM. Is it because your breakfast was too small (or nonexistent)? By the time lunch rolls around, you are starved and purchasing the extra chocolate bar on top of your lunch, which you didn’t want to do… Seeing a consistent pattern where you are hungry by 10 AM, gives you an opportunity to plan ahead.
Solution: Grab a bit more breakfast, incorporate a morning snack and see if we can dampen down some of that hunger at lunch, which will help us to make less impulsive choices for lunch.
EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS AROUND FOOD
Eating is an emotional experience just as much as it is functional. Our experiences and connections with food are very personal. Some of us find our appetite increases when we are stressed, while others find the opposite is true for them. We also find ourselves connecting certain foods and activities together, like having popcorn at the movie theatre or having chips while watching Netflix at home. We use food to celebrate and to soothe. Broke up with the boyfriend? Grab a tub of ice cream. Celebrating your anniversary? Go for a nice dinner.
We also have certain feelings around food and the environment we have them in. Do you feel guilty when you eat a donut in your car alone, versus in the lunchroom at work? What about grabbing ice cream with friends versus sitting in your kitchen by yourself spooning the container?
We can eat the same food in different settings and feel differently about it. Do we have the “bad boyfriend” relationships with certain foods? Told yourself you were staying away from him this time… he isn’t good for you… but here you are again messaging him.
We also can be disconnected from our eating experience as well. Maybe you found that bowl of mixed nuts at your friends party, had a few bites, it tasted delicious at first so you kept coming back to it, but now your lips are sore from the salt, you’re not even hungry anymore or enjoying it yet you’re still picking away at it?
Solution: Taking the time to think about each meal we eat, reflect on how we feel physically, emotionally and what connection we have with those foods is CRUCIAL for identifying opportunities for us to make changes and place the power back in our hands.
TRIGGERS WHICH ARE LINKED TO DIETARY STRUGGLES
It’s easy to stay on track when the day is going smooth, but what about those unexpected curve balls? You forgot your planned lunch at home and now you have to fend for yourself. Woke up late and now you’re behind on your whole day and stressed out? Conquering the lunchroom which is overflowing with baked goods around the holidays, or that family gathering this weekend where your sister will make her infamous lasagna?
Figuring out what the triggers and situations are making it harder for you to stick to your plans helps you find solutions ahead of time. This doesn’t mean “I am just going to eat my lunch at my desk to avoid the baked goods in the lunchroom” or “I’ll just eat salad at the family gathering”. No! It’s finding a middle ground which won’t leave you feeling guilty.
Solution: “I’ll have a couple of the treats instead of filling up an entire plate”, “I’ll have a smaller piece of the lasagna and take some home for lunch the next day.”
WHAT YOUR DATA CAN TELL YOU
So you have this partially (or wholly) completed food diary for 1 week or more… You have some data – go back and take a second look.
What is your journal telling you?
Are there any patterns?
An opportunity for change?
Now what is one small step you could take to make a change?
Do you feel you are not consuming enough water during the day?
Maybe we can kick the day off with a glass of water first thing by having it ready on our counter before we make breakfast. Or perhaps you had a more productive activity session when you had a snack prior? So let’s add a little snack within an hour of your activity.
The point is to find the patterns and make small changes that add up over time.
The food diary can be something that we put down and pick back up at a later date or something that we can do on a consistent basis. The more you practice filling it out, the quicker the process becomes and it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes a day to complete, but the wealth of information it can provide is invaluable. Not only that, filling out your diary serves as an ongoing reminder and reinforces all of the incredible changes you are making in your life to live a healthier and happier life!
My phone, like just about everyone else in the modern age, is an extension of my arm.
I use it for everything! Check the time? My phone. Pay a bill? My phone. Send emails, check my calendar, make phone calls, read the news, stay connected…you get it…I use my phone.
Besides being necessary for my daily survival, offering me advantages and advancements I previously didn’t have, the phone is easily our biggest source of distraction as well. Don’t get me wrong, I think a bit of perusing on Facebook, or Instagram, pinning some ideas on Pinterest or sending some funny videos to your friends is absolutely necessary to keep you sane. However, we can easily find ourselves losing hours of our day and week engaging in these activities and not even know how much time we spend doing that.
How many of us find ourselves very busy and, “never having enough time in the day”?
With my phone, I’m sure Apple didn’t single me out for this, sends me weekly reports to let me know how much screen time I have had this week, and I have been shocked at times, “Did I actually spend this much time on my phone?!” Well apparently I had. One could look at this and say, “whatever, I don’t think it’s THAT much” or this can be used as a tool to show you how you ARE spending your time if you DO want to utilize your time differently.
Food diaries can be much of the same.
Why keep a food diary?
It is a tool we can use to work towards a healthier and happier life. The purpose of a food diary is in part for data collection, with data we can inform ourselves, and by being informed we are able to make more sound decisions that ultimately lead to our behaviours. A food diary is not there to judge you for the food you ate or the calories you consume. It is there to serve as a guide, and can be an effective means of practicing mindfulness and reinforcing positive behavioural changes.
What do food diaries do?
Can help us to identify patterns – When am I the most hungry? What am I eating then? Do I have cravings? Am I overeating/undereating at times? Which foods make me feel full and satisfied, and which don’t have the same effect?
Identify hidden calories – We are human beings and, as such, are quite awful at ‘eye-balling’ portions and we can easily under- or overestimate how much we are actually consuming. Forget about that coffee with cream from earlier, or don’t realize how much salad dressing we are having.
Opportunities for change! Can we make substitutions? Make food choices that are more filling or nutritious? Try different foods and see how they affect our bodies? Having whole food instead of a smoothie. Do some foods seem to cause digestive issues? The list can be endless and is going to vary person to person.
Now, is keeping a journal something that everyone can do? No. Do some people enjoy the process and do it forever? Definitely. Do some people do it for 2 weeks at a time and suddenly gather a ton of insight into their eating habits and patterns? Absolutely!
One area we need to be careful is that counting calories/protein in a food diary can certainly become an obsessive behaviour – remember this isn’t going to work for everyone! The bigger picture is in helping us to identify our patterns and behaviours around food. Most of the time when we utilize a food diary in clinic, initially we don’t have patients count their calories/protein.
A lot of insight can be gained by just putting a little more thought into how much food we are eating, when we are eating, and what we are feeling before and after we eat. What you thought was 1 cup, is actually 3. Am I eating because I am hungry or because I am stressed? Is watching TV a trigger? The insight that can be gained is truly invaluable, and allows for steps to be taken to start making small incremental changes. The key is accuracy and honesty – there is no judgement here.
So what do we record in a daily health diary?
What? What did you eat and drink over the course of the day? This includes any and all food, condiments, any liquid calories, and the amount of water you have per day.
How much? Measure food the best you can – your hands can be great for comparing portion sizes. Your fist is a serving of carbohydrates; your palm is a serving of protein and your thumb is a serving of fat.
When? What time of the day are you eating? – How long are you going between meals/snacks?
The Feels!! How do you feel before you eat? Hangry, ravenous, tired, sad, stressed, etc. How do you feel after you eat? Satisfied, stuffed, still hungry, happy, etc.
Activity? When and how much? Are eating enough before your activity? Are you eating enough after? How did your workout feel? Did you feel sluggish, lots of energy, or meh? Activity is fantastic but we need to make sure we are properly fueling our bodies before and afterwards to ensure we have productive workouts. Without the proper amount of fuel it can make activity difficult and unenjoyable, and it can lead to overeating afterwards!
Mindfulness! Now, not every food diary has this but for ours at HE we like to incorporate it as we believe it is important to take things 1 step farther. To consider what we are grateful for? What has gone well today? Maybe not so well? How can we learn from our mistakes?
That is a pretty basic overview of how food diary can be beneficial. Again, it is a tool in the toolbox. Is it going to solve all of our problems? Of course not.
It is one more thing that when utilized properly can help us to gather insight and information to make actionable change.
So I hope this helps provide some clarity on completing a food diary – as always start small, like everything else this is a change in your daily routine/habits. Trying to fill out a food diary front to back can be overwhelming, so start with 1 meal or snack and slowly start increasing your journaling skills over time. With some practice the whole process can be done within a few minutes each day.
Thinking about the benefits that can come with it, it might be worth putting down that phone OR even using an app on your phone to help you out with the process! Next week, we will continue talking about health journalling – some tips to make it seem easier, and the THREE MOST IMPORTANT things in piecing all of this together.
Dr. Dan and our team at HE believe in health journalling SO MUCH that we made our template available FOR FREE online.
Do you believe that if you could spend more time in the gym THAT would be your ticket to weight-loss? More exercise = more weight-loss?
AND have you been in a situation where you wanted to indulge in a treat, felt guilty about it, but managed to make a deal with yourself…
“I’ll have a treat now, THEN I’ll just do a little bit more exercise tomorrow to make up for it?”
I have been there more times than I can count. Negotiating my way into days worth of cardio to make up for extra food eaten. Even though social media keeps telling me how many calories are in my favourite treats and the ridiculous amount of activity I will need to complete in order to work those calories off – I STILL had the same equation in my head.
“If I eat more, I’ll just exercise more to fix it.”
We see exercising as a means to lose weight and the relationship between food and exercise as 50:50, with exercise being more important.
“I mean, I am sweating, and hurting, so it must be having a huge impact, right?”
But does it? What if I told you the balance is not 50:50?
And that exercise has been proven to NOT be an effective means for weight-loss, would you believe me?
I hear the skepticism already….
Just hold on, lemme explain…
In a very simplified model, the key to weight loss (burning the excess energy stores on our body – FAT) lies in the balance of Energy IN vs Energy OUT. Energy IN being the food you eat, contributes to the full 100% while the Energy OUT has a few components to it:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) (energy needed to keep you alive every day)
Energy to break down (digest) food (because it takes energy to make energy)
Activity throughout the day
Your BMR accounts for about 60-80% of the Energy OUT – you have no control over this. Food digestion is about 10% and the rest of the 10-30% is your daily activities – going to work, caring for the kids, mowing the lawn, exercising, etc. Now, the activity component is the only component that is FULLY in your control. So you compare 100% of the Energy IN to 10-30% of controllable Energy OUT – your balance is way off.
How about a mathematical example?
If we say there are 3,500 calories in 1 lb of fat, and for ease of calculation let’s say you want to lose exactly 1 lb of fat per week, you would have to create a calorie deficit of 3500 calories/week. Or an extra 500 calories/day.
An average person would walk at a speed of:
4 miles/hr and burn 5 cal/min…..3500 Cal/5 min = 700 min/per week 700 min/60 min = 11.7 hours/week (or 1.6 hrs a day)
You would have to walk about an hour and a half every day for 1 week, making no changes to your diet to lose 1 measly pound. Even if you wanted to commit to this amount of activity, is this sustainable in the long run? Because whatever you do to lose weight, you must be able to sustain it for life to keep the weight off – and 1.5 hours…? That is ALOT of walking!
Not only that, since you exercised, your body is going to increase your hunger hormones. Try to make you eat more to make up for the calories you lost during your workout. As well, you are a HUMAN BEING. So following some kind of exercise we tend to slow down. We might decide to take the elevator instead of the stairs. Have a nap in the afternoon. Or spend more time sitting at work because we got our steps in already for the day. So you will burn less calories throughout the rest of your day…
So, it is clear that exercise is not the golden ticket to weight-loss.
Does that mean we dismiss exercise altogether from a weight-loss strategy due to its little effect on numbers? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
An important takeaway is not to focus on what exercise DOESN’T do, but to shift our attention to what it DOES DO.
THERE IS NO DRUG OR THERAPY MODERN MEDICINE CAN PROVIDE THAT COMPARES TO THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE…
By no means is this exhaustive but, exercise improves:
Blood sugar levels
Blood pressure, and
Can reduce the risk of some cancers better than any drug
But used alone it does not have a large impact on weight-loss. Exercise has a bigger impact in WEIGHT MAINTENANCE. On top all this – exercise feeeeeels goooood and it helps to drive other healthier behaviours and habit formation.
So, can we stop thinking about exercise as a means for weight-loss?! How about we reframe the role of exercise and place a different value on it? As the saying goes “If you don’t make time for your health, you will have to make time for your illness.”
Why not exercise for your health? To be more flexible? To be stronger? To manage stress? Even if you don’t lose a pound being more active, activity can help you to negate most, if not all of your potential risks that carrying excess weight may have.
So, what should you be doing then, and how much?
The recommendation is for 150 minutes of exercise per week – an average of 30 minutes/day of moderate activity. It doesn’t even have to be all one session, you can break it up into shorter bouts. It can be whatever activity you enjoy, whether it’s going for a walk, riding a bike, cutting grass, washing your car, working in your yard, or going to gym facilities and workout classes.
Find something you enjoy, start small, schedule your activity in like you do your appointments and, get moving! To quote Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a family physician and expert in Obesity from Ontario, Canada,
“Some is good, more is better, but everything counts.”
The Mental Games – May the Odds be Ever in Your Favour
I consider myself a good driver, and every once in a while, I have a little fender bender. However, this time I was caught by a radar camera. How dare they have a police officer sitting on a side street without telling me, and then catch me driving 15 km/hr above the speed limit?
On top of that I didn’t even have a good excuse for speeding… “I never expected you to be sitting on a side street?” I would have to come up with a better defense than that, as I went down to traffic court to see if I could sweet talk my way out of it – or at least get it reduced. With this being my first traffic violation, the odds were looking good, plus added the leverage of a great driving record, I felt fairly hopeful. I really hoped I’d be able to say “I rest my case” or “I object”, but I knew that was pushing it. The important thing was to just get out of this ticket.
The room where you see the judge/crown prosecutor to negotiate your fate has multiple cubicles, so you grab a number and wait your turn. There are makeshift dividers providing minimal privacy, and you are able to overhear each individual next to you plead their case and ultimately the crown prosecutors decision.
So, there I was on my best behaviour, and ready to address my case. I hoped the judge was in a good mood, but it was hard to tell from their stern expression. I provided quick and clear answers and patiently waited in silence until I was asked to speak. During the silence of my own case, I overheard another case being discussed a cubicle away:
The judge: “Why were you speeding?” The lady: “Well, I woke up…and right off the bat I was stressed.” It sounded like she had quite a lead up before she was in her car and got caught speeding. The day each of us was caught speeding was similar. We each were heading off to our respective workplaces and got caught speeding, but my morning had been fairly peaceful and easy, hers in comparison was full of little hang ups and roadblocks.
I managed to get my ticket reduced and left after the discussions were finished. I don’t know how her case turned out, but it got me thinking. I don’t know what this lady was going through, maybe she was looking for excuses to get out of her ticket and embellished her story, or maybe she was actually dealing with a number of stressors that I couldn’t relate too.
For me, I was not stressed out over this ticket. I was more annoyed that I would have to pay a fine. To this lady, the speeding ticket was just another problem on top of all the other problems she was already dealing with. Regardless, her ability to plan, organize, and be thoughtful about her decisions, habits, and behaviours on a daily basis is likely impaired.
This is not unlike many of our patients who are trying to manage their weight. Obesity is a complex disease that often involves a large mental health component, that can be overwhelming from the minute you wake up until you go to bed. If we are not managing your mental health, you might have continuous roadblocks every step of the way – setting you back, or making steps forward much more challenging.
Obesity is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination.
Obesity is the disease you wear, and there is a significant amount of stigmatization and mental health disorders such as depression, and anxiety that are associated with the disease itself. You are not only having the daily war in your head – managing low self-esteem, negative self-talk, dealing with failures from past diet attempts, seeing your weight yo-yo up and down. You are also dealing with how society will treat you for being overweight – being judged for buying a lunch because you forgot the one you packed at home, being passed over for promotions or jobs, healthcare professionals telling you that you are ‘fat’ and need to lose weight…
Does this all sound familiar? Maybe on top of all that, you suffer from an eating disorder (binge eating, bulimia, and night eating syndrome). After your usual day, you head home binge and self-medicate with food in an attempt to reduce your stress and anxiety, to what we can hope is a tolerable enough level to sleep. Then, you wake up and do it all over again.
No amount of pep talk, inspirational quotes from Facebook or Instagram, or motivational videos on YouTube will “snap you out of it”.
As you struggle to cope, are you thinking, “Hmmm, I better pack some healthy snacks for tomorrow and coordinate my outfit for my planned physical activity as well.” Probably not. Any of these are a lot to deal with and #thestruggleisreal, very real.
The journey towards a healthier YOU takes a lot of preparation, organization, and thoughtfulness. You have to be privileged in order to change your habits. From having the time to plan out your week, to determine what you will eat, when you shop, preparing your meals, scheduling physical activity, affording your meals, etc. While many of these tasks are not overly difficult and can easily be done once, replicating them on a regular basis is the challenge.
Depending on the level of support you need, the following could be useful tips:
Engaging your team of healthcare professionals to support you
Developing your support system through friends and family, or through peer support groups
Find an accountability partner
Take small steps; don’t try to make drastic changes over night
Practice gratitude on a daily basis
If you are suffering from a mental health disorder, such as depression, before we embark on any lifestyle changing efforts we need to ensure we are properly addressing your mental health FIRST!
As I said, changing your habits requires planning, organization, and thoughtfulness and having something like uncontrolled depression is going to make it near impossible to carry out those practices.
It is OK NOT TO BE OK!
It is a common misconception that losing weight will help to treat your depression and anxiety – this is just not the case.
So, if you are the one going through this process, remember PLEASE be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself in the way you would talk to someone you love. Be gentle and compassionate. We are all doing the best we can, and small progress is better than no progress at all!
Plotting your Weight-loss Journey with Values instead of Goals
Values are innately a part of every individual on the planet, Instilled in us at a young age by our parents, society, and cultures, they are important to us, and ultimately dictate our behaviours and beliefs without us even realizing it. Without them, life would be difficult, as values provide us with purpose and help us make decisions.
Some who don’t have a strong sense of their values can sometimes struggle with making decisions, such as whether they go back to school, move to a big city for a new job, etc. Those who have a greater sense of their values are better equipped to look at a choice and decide which option better aligns with their values.
Compared to goals, values are generally unwavering. I would argue they don’t change over time but rather they evolve.
For example, a goal is ‘I want to lose 10 pounds’, and a value is ‘I want to be happy and healthy’.
I like to think of values as the directions on a compass. Values set the course and point us in the direction we want to go. There are specific destinations along the way, and these are our goals. Despite reaching one destination… we never stop. Instead, we infinitely continue on the course our values have set reaching one destination after another.
Goals on the other hand are finite. They are a great motivational tool and give us markers of accomplishment to strive for in the short-term but, unless they are tied to our values once we achieve our goal the question becomes, ‘Now what?’
Classic example – Olympic athletes who train their entire lives to win a gold medal:
Day in and day out, that gold medal is their goal and nothing else matters. Then the day comes and they win the gold medal. Everything they have poured their heart and souls into for years comes to fruition.
Then what? Many athletes end up crashing, becoming depressed and even suicidal. Why? Because they had nothing else beyond that one goal, and they struggle to adjust to a life that does not involve constantly striving for a gold medal.
In living a healthier lifestyle and trying to lose weight, we see much of the same. My patients constantly tell me their goal weight: ‘I want to lose 20 pounds.’ ‘If I could just get down to 150 pounds I would be happy.’ The list goes on for numerous iterations just like this.
Goals can be motivating because while you are working towards that goal you put on the blinders. You ignore the cookies in the lunchroom; you don’t have that extra glass of wine; you bring a lunch with you to work; you hit the gym; you essentially do everything that is necessary to lose weight and work towards your goal. The problem with using goals – especially when it comes to weight-loss – is that you either reach that goal or you don’t.
If you don’t, you start beating yourself up, believing you are a failure because you could not reach your ‘goal weight’. In turn, you revert back to your old lifestyle and end up gaining the weight back and possibly then some, all the while, further loathing yourself for putting weight back on.
Now what if you DO reach your goal? Well, the blinders come down. You start to give yourself permission to have that cookie in the lunchroom or have that extra glass of wine, because ‘Hey, I lost 20 pounds. I deserve to treat myself.’ Again, over time you revert back to your old habits and end up putting all the weight you lost back on. At least until your next attempt, and the cycle continues…
What if you set a health or weight-loss goal based on your values? Instead of saying, ‘I want to lose 20 pounds.’ How about, ‘I want to be healthier or lose weight, so I can keep up with my kids, so I can have less pain in my knees, so I can enjoy my retirement, so I can live the life I want to live…’
Notice the difference? When we set goals based on our values, we don’t just stop moving forward when we reach our goal. We maintain our progress or we set another goal and continue to strive towards our values. It is about the JOURNEY rather than a specific destination.
So the next time you are thinking about setting yourself a goal.
Our values dictate our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours often without us even realizing it. So, how then do we determine what our values are and actually put them into words?
This can be a challenging question for many people. Part of the reason is that our values are so deeply ingrained within us, that they are driven by emotions and instinct vs. intellect. What do I mean by this?
If you’re into watching video, check out the same exercise on our YouTube channel
When we look at the human brain, there are two important components we are dealing with:
The Limbic Brain, this is where emotions, motivation and learning occurs, and The Neocortex which is involved in higher order functions such as problem solving, perception and language.
Unfortunately, the limbic brain is disconnected from the language part of the Neocortex.
When the limbic brain transmits signals to our body, it is generally a feeling or an emotion that we can’t quite describe.
Think of that ‘gut feeling’ we have all experienced at one time or another. Without a connection to the language part of the brain, it becomes very difficult to put our emotions and feelings into words! The same applies when we attempt to articulate our values. This is a gross oversimplification of neurobiology but, I hope that helps to clarify what I am getting at.
The good news: with some practice and a few exercises, we can begin to articulate what it is we truly value and find important in our lives.
VALUES help to set the direction of our journey through life, and GOALS are the destinations along the way. Unlike goals, which are finite and eventually come to an end, our values are infinite. We never accomplish or finish our values. We simply continue along the path in the direction our values have set for us.
Let’s get to it:
How do we determine what are our values around living healthier lifestyle?
The first question(s) I ask my patients are:
Why do you want to be healthier? Or Why do you want to lose weight? You’ll soon come to realize ‘WHY’ is the most important piece. The answers I often hear for these questions are: ‘To be healthy.’ ‘To not feel uncomfortable.’ ‘To be happier.’
Again, I pose the question ‘Well, WHY?’.
This is often met with bewildered looks, and the look of ‘What the hell do you mean WHY? Isn’t it obvious?’ Then I prompt a response back such as, ‘Do you want to be healthier so you can stay at home and “Netflix and Chill”?’ After, hopefully a chuckle and another bewildered look, this usually garners a bit more of a deeper dive – and – we start getting closer to an individual’s values.
‘I want to be healthier so I can have less pain in my knees.’ ‘I want to be healthier so I can play with my grandkids.’ ‘I want to be healthier so I can travel without worrying about my health.’
Now THOSE statements demonstrate something we can set our personal compass to. These are not destinations or goals. The most important thing to remember? If you can still ask ‘WHY’, you likely haven’t found your value or the deeper reason for wanting to make a change!
REAL-TIME VALUES EXERCISE:
1)Pull out a piece of paper and write down as many values you can think of, fill up the entire page!
2)Next, we need to create a value statement. Below are the simplest forms of a value statement, and you can feel free to use them or create any kind of variation that you feel works for you.
‘I want to be healthier so that ____________________’, or
‘I want to lose weight so that ____________________’, or ‘I want to live a life where my health is not preventing me from long into the future.’
Again, I recommend writing these statements out by hand as they generally become more deeply internalized. Write as many as you can. The more you put into this exercise, the more you will get out!
3) NOW – I want you to post that piece of paper somewhere in your home or an area that you will see it every single day. This will be a daily reminder for the journey you are embarking on!
So, why did we go through all this trouble? As I said above – our values dictate our behaviours.
When it comes to making changes and living a healthier lifestyle, you will constantly have to make decisions that will affect the direction you are travelling.
For example: To eat the cookie or not eat the cookie, to go for a walk or not, to pack a lunch or not, etc. Fundamentally you will have 2 choices. However, with your beautiful handwritten value statement(s), those choices will hopefully be easier to make and might look something like this:
‘If I eat that cookie I bet it will be delicious, BUT you know if I don’t eat that cookie then I will be living based on my value of being able to keep up with my grandkids.’
Now will this work every time? No. Also, by no means am I saying that one cookie is going to derail your entire journey, BUT the cumulative effects of eating a cookie daily, might.
What if it’s your grandkid’s birthday and there are cookies and cake around? Does living based on these values mean you can’t partake in any of the good stuff? HELL NO! The bottom line is that your VALUE in this case is your grandkids – hence, spending time with them on their birthday.
And guess what? Birthdays sometimes involve cake and cookies, and THAT IS OK! In fact, it is a fundamental component of a healthy lifestyle.
We will get into this more in future blog posts but, food is a large part of our culture and society. We not only use it for fuel, we use it for celebration, when we are feeling sad, or when we are spending time with the ones we love!
So, I hope this helps you in finding your values and setting the course for your journey, whatever that might be! If you ever feel like you are restricting yourself or avoid socializing with those you value because you might be too tempted by food…then we need to talk.
When I hear the word “goals” my brain thinks, “go big or go home”. If it’s not some mammoth goal it’s not worth doing.
It can’t be “Hey, it would be nice to do 5 unassisted pull-ups”… it has to be 100 of the crazy whole-body-swinging CrossFit ones.
It can’t be “jog at a moderate speed”… it has to be a Usain-Bolt-worthy sprint.
It can’t be “a 1 minute plank”… it has to be a 15-minute circuit of core-numbing acrobatics, that I watched an Instagram model doing with ease.
BIG goals get us fired up and excited. We can visualize ourselves doing the crazy pull ups, that sprint, those planks, and it seems so real we can basically check it off as “goal achieved”.
And then what happens? No plan, no preparation. We dive in! We learn very quickly we DO NOT have the stamina or core strength for that 15-minute ab-circuit – we are buckling after 20-seconds. Our body hurts physically and emotionally, we get overwhelmed, discouraged and then throw our hands up and quit altogether. We compare ourselves to the girl/guy we saw in the video and think “they made it look so effortless, it can’t be that hard, I must be a failure”, and instead of feeling empowered and motivated, we feel disappointed because we couldn’t replicate similar results.
With goals we tend to see the start and the finish, and neglect everything in between. We neglect the milestones and check-points along the way that are necessary to accomplish our goals!
So, how do we set up a goal properly to increase our chances of success?
Ask yourself WHY you want to accomplish this goal. The answer bringing you back to something you value, like strengthening your back to live with less pain, for example. Knowing what drives your goals will keep you focused and moving forward during the times the plan is falling apart, or after you accomplish your goal and wonder what is next.
Once you figure out WHY, the next step is HOW. How will I achieve this? The answer is SMART!
SMART is an acronym and stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
SPECIFIC – This is the details on what it is exactly you want to achieve. The more specific the better. Saying you want “a strong core” isn’t very specific, what does “a strong core” mean to you? Is it a particular look, or performance level for your body? Would you like to strengthen your core to hold a 1-minute plank or perform olympic gymnastics? All requiring a different level of core strength. Saying “I want to be able to complete a 10-minute ab circuit without stopping” is more specific.
MEASURABLE – How will you measure this goal? For the ab circuit, you can use time as your measure. Break down the circuit into smaller 1-minute intervals, and as you get stronger keep adding a minute on until you reach the full 10-minutes.
ATTAINABLE – Is it possible to attain this goal? What are my barriers? Do I have the time to fit 10-minutes circuit into my day? Can I schedule it in? Does something else need to be neglected in order for me to prioritize this? A goal that is too difficult to achieve could lead to failure. Failure can affect your mental health. Leading you to beat yourself up, and beat down your self-worth and self-esteem. Instead of feeling empowered you will feel inadequate. Definitely not something I would want to sign up for.
REALISTIC – What is your starting point and is this goal within a reasonable reach for you at this stage? Is a 10-minute ab circuit attainable? Absolutely! However, if you can barely hold a plank for 30 seconds, 10 minutes will be too much to start. Maybe working on just holding a plank for a minute is a better starting point. Then increasing to 2 minutes and so on until you reach 10 minutes. Then set a new goal of starting the circuit. Breaking the goal down into smaller achievable ones will provide the success needed to encourage one to keep reaching higher.
TIMELY – How much time do you need to achieve your goal? Giving yourself too much time will leave you unmotivated, but setting too tight of a deadline will be sure to overwhelm and lead to disappointment. A deadline will also keep you on track and create some urgency. Giving yourself 1-month to move from a 1-minute plank to two minutes may be too relaxed of a timeline, but moving up by 1-minute every 7 days could be urgent enough to help you push yourself, but not too urgent that you won’t be ready to move to the next round.
Now that we have considered all aspects of SMART, we can formulate our goal and THE PLAN.
“I intend to hold a 10-minute plank without stopping. I will achieve this by starting with a 1-minute plank and increasing the time by 1-minute every 7 days for a total of 10 weeks. This goal will get me closer to the larger goal of doing a 10-minute ab circuit without stopping, and will help me to strengthen my back!”
Once the goal has been designed you can’t just set it and forget it. The plan needs to be revisited at appropriate intervals, and adjusted. Some aspect of SMART needs to be tweaked in order to stay on track, as with most plans they don’t work out exactly as we had hoped.
Revisiting the plan also lets you see how far you have come and celebrate the little milestones as you reach them. Because where would be the fun in all work and no play?
Obesity is a complex progressive chronic disease that involves abnormal or excessive adipose tissue or fat which may negatively affect your health.
Adipose tissue however is not just “dead” weight we carry around, it is an organ which produces certain substances that can have a negative effect on the body.
According to Statistics Canada about 60% of adults are overweight or obese, rates which have been rising from previous years for both adults and children.
What causes obesity?
The most common misconception about obesity is that it is due to excessive eating and limited exercise – to cure it we just need to eat less and move more. Now nutrition and activity levels can certainly play a role, however, it is much more complicated than that. Unlike many other conditions, which can often be kept private, obesity is very public. It is a disease you wear, and your triumphs as well as your failures are on display for everyone to see. The topic of Weight Bias in our society is a blog for another day but because obesity is a disease you wear there are a number of misconceptions and beliefs that often contribute to obesity. One common perception is that obesity is completely self inflicted and it is just laziness or lack of willpower that is the reason an individual stays obese.
However, I can assure you that no one has tried more diets, weight-loss fixes, and programs than individuals who are overweight. Willpower, starvation, and suffering will only go so far.
So if it is not a matter of eat less and move more, what is it then?
Obesity is a chronic condition involving many contributing factors such as our environment, social aspects, genetics, medical conditions, medications, and mental health which all contribute to obesity and how it is managed.
From an evolutionary standpoint, our bodies were designed for a world that existed 30,000 years ago where food was scarce, and we might not have known when our next meal was coming. So when we did eat our bodies did everything they could to have us consume as much as possible and store as much energy in the form of fat as physiologically feasible. Now our world today is vastly different from 30,000 years ago and we have an overabundance of food in western society; however, our bodies are fundamentally the same fat storing machines as they were 30,000 years ago.
Complex mechanisms prevent our bodies from losing a lot of weight and as weight-loss progresses we often hit a plateau as our body adapts to slow down our metabolic processes and the same efforts we were using previously for weight-loss are no longer effective. We must carry out more dietary restriction and more activity in order to achieve further weight-loss – in essence you must endure more suffering!
Again, the body adapts and slows its metabolically processes down even further. Eventually, as the scale stops moving and ‘the stubborn fat’ will not budge most humans throw up their hands and quit, because the suffering is no longer worth it, and well, a life full of suffering is just something that no one will want to maintain for the long-term. As such most individuals revert back to their previous lifestyle and gain back the weight they lost. Unfortunately, our metabolic processes don’t rebound as our weight back to what it was previously and many individuals often gain even more weight then they had previously following a weight-loss excursion and the cycle then continues……
How is it measured?
There are two measures used to determine obesity, one is BMI (Body Mass Index) which uses height and weight to classify the size of an individual, and the second is the Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS) which looks at the impact of obesity on an individual’s overall health.
BMI (Body Mass Index) uses height and weight in the formula below to determine the size of a person placing them into categories:
BMI does not factor in sex, ethnicity, body shape, age or muscle mass and is not representative of the health of an individual.
BMI DOES NOT FACTOR IN SEX, ETHNICITY, BODY SHAPE, AGE OR MUSCLE MASS AND IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE HEALTH OF AN INDIVIDUAL.
2) Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS) looks at the clinical assessments of medical, mental and functional impact that obesity has on an individual to determine their obesity-related health risks and is a far better predictor of overall health than just BMI alone. EOSS has 5 categories encompassing the progression of organ damage with Stage 0 being no apparent risk factors all the way up to stage 4 with end stage organ failure.
Impact on health:
Impact on health can be described by the 4 M’s Mechanical – Obstructive sleep apnea, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (heartburn), Osteoarthritis (mostly of the knees), Plantar fasciitis, Urinary/fecal incontinence, Intertrigo (skin-fold infections) and other skin issues such as stretch marks, skin tags, acanthosis nigricans (roughened darker skin patches often found on the back of the neck, armpits and groin area)
Mental – depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, low self-esteem, negative self-talk, body dissatisfaction, disordered eating/eating disorders. Some of these leading to obesity for example due to medications that are taken to manage these conditions, and some of these are contributing factors as to why an individual is unable to manage their obesity.
Metabolic – Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and elevated cholesterol which can increase the risk of heart attacks, gout, gallstones, fatty liver disease, infertility and increased risk of complications during pregnancy, and increased risk for certain cancers.
Monetary – Education and Employment (higher education and income tends to have lower rates of obesity), Obesity can lead to an increased cost of living (e.g., clothing, mobility aids), and the potential cost of weight-management programs.
The first goal of therapy to stop further weight gain. For some individuals this is all that is possible. There is no specific amount of weight which needs to be lost, the aim of obesity treatment is to reach our Best Weight – which is the weight we reach when we are living the healthiest lifestyle possible, that we honestly enjoy! Weight loss doesn’t have to be drastic in order to see positive improvements in health. A loss of 3-5% of your original body weight can have marked improvements on your health status, and further losses can lead to further health benefits. Most clinicians aim for an initial weight-loss goal of 5-10% of your original body weight.
Current treatment options include:
Lifestyle modifications: Diet, physical activity and behavioral modifications fall into this category. The overall goal being to properly nourish the body and create a caloric deficit by decreasing the energy coming into the body (food) and increase the energy spent by the body (activity). This component should be the foundation of any weight loss treatment.
Health Canada approved treatment options include: Saxenda (liraglutide), Contrave (naltrexone/bupropion) and Xenical(Orlistat), affecting appetite, cravings and fat absorption. Medications are officially approved for individuals with a BMI over 30 kg/m2 or those with a BMI of 27 kg/m2 with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
Surgery is an option for individuals who have a BMI of >40 kg/m2 or those with a BMI >35 kg/m2 with other compounding medical conditions. Surgery involves reducing the size of the stomach and/or rearranging parts of the intestines. This allows us to decrease the volume of food the body can take in, and/or the amount of food the body can absorb.
So there is no question about it, Obesity is complex, it is progressive, and it can certainly have negative impacts on our health. Will every individual that has excess weight develop health complications as a result? No. In the same sense, not every individual who has excess weight needs to lose weight either! Ultimately, your focus should be on living the healthiest and happiest life you possibly can. If that leads to weight-loss, wonderful! If it doesn’t there is absolutely nothing wrong with that either!
If you are considering making lifestyle changes it can certainly be challenging to do it on your own. I would encourage you to reach out to your family physician or other trusted healthcare professional for advice and support on the best way to go about it!
Of course, you can contact our team at Healthcare Evolution – we’re here to support you in every way that we can!
A Magician Never Reveals His (Diet) Tricks, but I am NOT a Magician
So, what is the key to weight-loss? Which diet is the best? Which supplement or magic pill will make it all happen?
The lifestyle and fitness industries are currently worth billions of dollars and it is predicated on selling you the lie that you are not worthy if you are overweight, obese, and unhealthy. That you don’t deserve to have the job you want, the car you want, or live the life you want to live until you lose 20 pounds or have the body of a magazine model.
If you look on social media, you can find tons of groups and individuals of varying varieties promoting the keto diet, intermittent fasting, diet/detox teas, body wraps and the list goes on and on. What develops in these groups is almost a cult-like mentality often started and organized by the loudest cheerleaders who claim how the ‘keto diet’ worked for them. It was the breakthrough that finally let them lose weight and gave them the life they wanted! So, since it worked for them – well it must mean that this is the ONLY method that works, and it is therefore going to work for you… as well as for the other 7 billion people on the planet!
I mean there has to be 1 golden ticket that can work for everyone? Right?
The truth is, there is NO BEST DIET…For every single diet or craze that has hit the market, I can find you at least one individual for whom this particular diet or method worked for, and allowed them to finally lose weight. However, it wasn’t their special diet or supplement that made it possible for them to lose weight.
Fundamentally, in each situation here is what happened:
Calories IN < Calories OUT
That is it. FULL STOP. It is the simple law of thermodynamics. When we take in less fuel than we burn, we create a calorie deficit which forces our body to start burning our excess fuel stores – our FAT. Weight-loss did NOT occur because of a reduced carb intake or that you went 18 hours without eating. You fundamentally reduced your calorie intake to < the calories you were burning…that is it! Our bodies – as complex and as fascinating as they can be don’t just ignore the laws of thermodynamics.
Now stay with me here. I know some of you are probably saying obesity is a complex disease and the process of weight-loss isn’t as simple as a physics law a scientist developed a couple hundred years ago. And you are RIGHT!
Obesity IS VERY complex and intentional weight-loss can be challenging. While weight-loss can be defined by the law above, it does not consider all of the other factors that have a role in the amount of weight that each of us carries. There is a multitude of factors, many of which we have ZERO control over, that make managing our weight so difficult. Everything from genetics, to the environment, to the way were raised all play a role in how much excess weight we carry.
YES most of these trends and crazes can certainly help you overcome the complexities of weight management, however, they involve suffering, restriction, and sometimes just ridiculous endeavours in order to achieve it.
Most importantly they are NOT SUSTAINABLE!!
So then what do we do? Is intentional and sustainable weight-loss something that can be done safely and effectively? Absolutely.
Focus on making small changes to your nutrition, that work for YOU and are SUSTAINABLE. Can you increase your protein intake? Maybe start eating breakfast consistently? Or maybe you need an afternoon snack in order to prevent you from overeating while making and eating dinner? Start small and go slow. The key is not to make a number of dramatic changes all at once and become overwhelmed.
Then in terms of your weight-loss journey, the numbers on the scale need to stop being your benchmark.
Focus on the healthy changes you are making in your life and the positive outcomes you are experiencing because of those changes – such as:
being able to walk farther,
keeping up with your children,
eating until you’re satisfied rather than stuffed,
feeling good in your clothes,
carrying laundry without getting winded,
lowering blood pressure,
the list goes on and on!
So, the next time you hear about a new trend or see a friend that has lost a significant amount of weight by doing X, and you’re considering the same.
Ask yourself, will this work for me? Are the changes that I would have to make something I could do for the rest of my life? If you said ‘NO’ to either of those questions then that diet, supplement, or what have you might not be the right choice for you! Instead make lifestyle changes that you ENJOY, can SUSTAIN, and that work for YOU, not your friends, not your co-worker, JUST YOU!