As the semester wraps up at the school where I teach, and I enter final exams into the grade book, I notice some familiar occurrences. Students figuring out the minimum work they need to do in order to maintain their current grade in the class and those who worked extra hard on the final in order to compensate for missing work earlier in the semester.
I used to be one of those students. In middle and high school, I hated turning in homework for many of my classes. It wasn’t that I didn’t love learning, it’s just that the process of doing homework seemed silly to me and I felt like my time was better spent in other areas like extracurriculars or reading some non-course literature. I always attempted to learn the material, often scoring incredibly well on exams, which balanced my grades much to the chagrin of my teachers and parents.
However over time those bad habits began to take their toll. Now as a teacher, I have come to realize that homework is an important component of learning, providing continuing opportunities to strengthen your knowledge and skills in an area. And I learned that lesson the hard way, when in one high school class I fell so far behind that I eventually needed a tutor to help me learn the material so I could pass the final exam.
Why did it take getting to near failure before I caught myself? It wasn’t until a recent HMR class, when an instructor said something relating to weight management, that I made the connection. I had become complacent in my success. With every slip in my grade, I would readjust my goals, lowering the bar to make the falling grade more acceptable. Until eventually it got so low, I couldn’t figure out how to do the work by myself to bring my grade back up to where it needed to be to pass the class.
As a teacher, I have made it a goal to ensure students I work with don’t fall into these same bad habits. And as a student entering the HMR program in 2013, I was determined not to let myself slip. I did every homework assignment. I studied my own behaviors as well as paying close attention to every lesson my teachers and fellow classmates shared. And I found myself excelling at something I had failed at so many times in my adult life. I lost weight. And a lot of it.
I had successfully practiced the behaviors of the Decision Free Diet to the point it had become second-nature. My brain learned to appreciate and thrive in this structured environment full of homework and accountability. And I eventually “graduated” to the next step, Phase Two. Managing my weight and maintaining my new lighter body.
It was in Phase Two where I met my own personal nemesis again. I found myself slacking off on healthy behaviors, choosing to skip a serving of vegetables and having a an unmeasured serving of fried rice instead. And as I saw small gains on the scale, I kept readjusting my healthy weight range. When I got worried about the gains, I found myself holding “cram sessions” where I would jump headfirst into weight loss behaviors in an attempt to adjust for gains, without making a plan to sustain that loss (much like a student crams for a test and then forgets all of the material the day after). And over time, I became complacent. Until I had gained so much of my lost weight back, that I felt like a failure.
This has not been an easy post to write. Nor has it been an easy lesson to come to terms with. Through my complacency with the ever-upward creeping scale and my desire to focus on “extracurriculars” instead of foundational lessons, I have found myself failing in weight management. I made choices to ignore the lessons I learned in Phase One and Phase Two classes that would allow me to be successful, and instead I felt shame and a loss of so many health benefits I had worked hard to earn, like climbing stairs without feeling winded or sleeping without feeling acid climbing up the back of my throat.
Maintaining weight loss is a course you cannot graduate from. It is a course you are enrolled in for the rest of your life. There isn’t a final exam you can hire a tutor to prepare you for, where you only need X% in order to pass your class and maintain your weight on your permanent record. And this has been a difficult lesson for me to come to terms with. In order to be successful in this lifelong lesson, I will need to be consistent in practicing my healthy behaviors. I will need to stop adjusting up what is a “passing grade” for a healthy weight range to justify continued weight gain. And I will need to stop being complacent in the world of the gap.
Much like a student who struggles in an advanced academic class, I am going back to my foundational coursework. I have accepted that I need to work on my relationship with fruits and vegetables. And I need to lose the weight that I have allowed myself to put back on my body. So I have started again as a student in the Core classes of Phase One, enrolled in Healthy Solutions this time from the beginning. I know this means I will be faced with making more decisions during weight loss, which I found difficult in my transition to Phase Two. So this will be important for me to focus on during the weight loss phase. It also will mean I am eating a higher calorie minimum prescription, which will mean I lose at a slower rate, but will also mean more time to practice these behaviors during weight loss. I am back in my late night Wednesday classes and surrounded by a number of new and returning HMR students. I am determined to be successful again, this time not just in weight loss but also in the lifelong class of managing that loss. I know the HMR Diet works. I just need to make sure I am also doing the work.
With this in mind – I’d love to hear your favorite HMR Phase One recipes. Decision Free and Healthy Solutions. Please share or link in the comments!
I have been sitting on this post for about a week. I wrote it in my head and then rewrote it about 60 more times before I finally opened up my computer and started writing. So what you are getting now is a stream of conscious thought that has been overthought. And that’s about where I am with this topic right now.
I had a very stressful series of incidents occur recently in my life. Without going into detail, I will leave it as one of the more stressful moments in recent history. And now, in the aftermath of the initial fallout, I am left reflecting on what I did well and where I need to continue to work on my stress management strategies.
First, a good practice, is that I exercised. A LOT. I worked out every day for at least an hour and on top of that took long hikes several days with friends. This physical activity helped me to relieve a lot of the physical anxiety I was feeling about the events that had unfolded. For an hour, I could just run, bike, row, kick, jump, sing loudly to music and leave my stress at the gym door.
I also tried to ensure I met my minimum intake of vegetables and fruit each day. I didn’t alway make it. But I kept it in the front of my mind and would opt for produce if it was available and in front of me.
But then there was the bad. And if you have been reading my posts for awhile, you can guess where I am going with this. I ate and drank just about everything in front of me after consuming that produce. I didn’t shovel food nonstop, but I did not make conscious choices about what I ate or when I ate it. I ate to comfort myself from the emotional and mental stress that I was facing. I would go out with friends to avoid facing the stress and would drink (in mostly restrained quantities) but this loosened my inhibitions which resulted in even less restraint about food choices. And it was a holiday week which meant those bad choices were everywhere around me.
I didn’t stop to think. I didn’t stop to evaluate how those food choices would impact my weight management. I didn’t consciously, in most cases, even realize I was making decisions about food. And now in hindsight, I can see where I didn’t use my other tools to manage my emotional and mental stress.
I am trying to regroup. I have meal plans and have food prepped. I am preplanning in order to reduce my choices about food. Which will help me continue to work through the current stress factors in my life. But I want to continue to build my stress management toolbox. And I think there are some pretty awesome people reading my ramblings. So I am throwing it out to you.
If you are still reading this post, please take one minute to reply. Share one way you manage stress. Or one way you combat emotional eating. What’s in your Stress Management/Weight Management toolbox?
I have been away from home for five weeks. Three for work and two in the middle of that for vacation. And at some point, despite all my best intentions and attempts at environmental control and planning, I gave up.
The last two weeks have been especially difficult. I have lived in a dorm on the opposite coast with doctor’s orders to rest an injured leg. I ordered shakes and a shaker bottle to be delivered to my dorm and I brought all my physical therapy equipment along with some workouts I could do without aggravating my injury.
And every morning, I woke up and had a shake. Most mornings that was accompanied by fruit, and sometimes an egg. I did my physical therapy. I rarely did any other exercise. And I used my injury and exhaustion from travel as excuses not to try to do more.
Lunch and dinner started out okay the first couple of days. I would load up on veggies. I would make giant salads. I would figure out if there was a lower-calorie entree. And I would be full. But the longer I sat at the dining table during our extended meal breaks, the more often I would get up for second and even third servings of high calorie foods. Eventually I gave up on hitting the salad bar first. I.gave.up.
Then I flew home and attempted a half marathon. I knew I would be taking it easy but my injury flared (probably honestly from the weight I gained adding extra impact) and I walked the last five miles. So the next day, upon finally returning to my apartment, I stepped on the scale and faced the truth. And I added that truth to the truth of my previous semester.
At my lowest, I was 150lbs on the HMR scale. Tonight, the scale showed 188.9.
Back to the title. Because I probably owe some explanation to the rambling thoughts that have been racing through my head over the last several days.
I felt like a failure when I stepped on the scale in my apartment on Monday. I did not want to come back to class because I have managed to gain a significant amount of weight since transitioning to Phase Two. But rather than feed my emotions, I actually locked myself in my apartment (save for a trip to the dentist) for the last 48 hours in an attempt to figure out what has been going on and how I let myself get to this point. Let’s call it a personal intervention. I figured out many of my triggers. I journaled a plan for the next several weeks as well as a plan going into the school year. I cried. I binge-watched “Extreme Weight Loss” and prepared lots of veggie dishes (I had produce delivered – I didn’t trust myself in a grocery store right when I got home).
So I have plans going forward. I have reflections on my past. I even have a fridge stocked full of supportive food. But I still had not come to class. And this was causing some serious anxiety for me. I even considered feigning illness or exhaustion. Anything to avoid confronting my behaviors and the HMR scale.
But I showered. I got dressed. And I got in my car. And I drove myself to class an hour before it started because honestly I thought I might back out. I am ashamed of my behaviors and how I gave up on my healthy habits, but I also know I am human. I know through my previous classes that I needed to confront myself to stop the guilt-shame cycle. And I remember class as being a supportive environment that would help me as I face the obstacles ahead to lose the weight I found over the last seven months.
I didn’t want to come to class tonight. But I needed to come to class. And so I am here. Ready to learn. Ready to continue to work to better myself.
Last night in my HMR Phase Two class, we talked about habits. What they are. Discovering our motivation behind the habit. And how to work to break bad habits while establishing supportive habits.
A topic that was almost too timely for me.
Earlier in the day, I had fallen into an old habit that was surreal but vaguely familiar as it is one I thought I had broken but found myself rediscovering recently. The habit of eating until I was sickening full with no real hunger preceding it.
I have had several recent occasions where I have found myself falling into this habit and I have been journaling to figure out the triggers. It was thus interesting to participate in last night’s discussion as it solidified what I had been realizing about myself.
The eating starts when I am tired and stress. I feel rushed with too much on my scheduling plate and what seems like too little time. I know I need to eat, so I grab supportive foods.
This falls in line with what some people suggest. That when you want to eat, you should replace non-supportive foods like potato chips with supportive foods like carrots. Because then you can satiate your hand-to-mouth desires.
However, what I am slowly learning about myself over this past year, is that this doesn’t satiate my emotions and I end up stuffing myself until I am sick to my stomach. Even with supportive foods that might not cause too much damage, I feel gross and still unsatisfied.
Which means I feel gross. I am unsatisfied. And now I still want unsupportive foods. And while feeling full should keep me from eating those unsupportive foods, I still go for them. And maybe right now it is just small bites. But it’s small bites of high calorie foods on top of the massive bowl of beets and the banana and the bowl of cherry tomatoes and it all adds up.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Because as I reflect on my successes this past year, I realize that the times I have wanted to eat and I didn’t take the first bite, I was able to alleviate my stress and anxiety in other ways.
When I have been angry and stressed, I have found that dropping down and doing 5 push-ups (or more) immediately gives me a physical relief that is far more satisfying than a bowl of lettuce. And if I have more time, lacing up and going for a walk or run allows me to process my thoughts away form food.
When I am sad or feeling more of a low-energy emotional need to eat, journaling about why I want to eat helps me find the trigger without pulling it. And then I can figure out a solution to this need – do I need to feel pampered? Do I need a hug? Do I just need to cry without a reason?
While some people may be able to find a solution through replacing high calorie foods with low calories foods when they have an emotional trigger to eat, I am realizing that this won’t work for me.
So the new habit I am working to develop it to not take the first bite. To continue to work to recognize my triggers and to use my non-food toolbox to process my emotions.
Last Fall, I wandered into a 6am gym class with motivation to get fit. To lose weight.
I left less than 20 minutes into the class in tears. I couldn’t keep up. I felt like I was dying. I was embarrassed and I swore I would never go back.
Before anyone blames the teacher, it wasn’t him. He was awesome. It was me. I was ashamed at how heavy and how out of shape I had let myself become.
I did this to myself.
No one made me fat. Yes, life happened. Shitty things have happened in my life. Things that motivated me to stuff my face full of fatty foods. But no one sat there force feeding me except me. Wonderful things also have happened in my life. Things I had celebrated by, you guessed it, stuffing rich fatty foods in my mouth. And I had all the reasons in the book why I couldn’t work out. Hello I teach six classes a day, coach after school, and work at tournaments at least half the weekends during the calendar year (many of which require travel). I obviously had no time… except the time I was sitting on a couch stuffing my face or at a bar drinking and (you guessed again) stuffing my face.
So I was ashamed. And guess what I did?
Bought myself a high calorie beverage from Starbucks and drove myself through the McDonald’s drive-thru for TWO sausage McMuffins (with cheese!) and TWO hash browns. And a full sugar soda. You know, to wash the candy coffee drink down.
Here’s the deal. I know someone reading this is judging me. And that’s fine. I am putting myself out there and expect to be judged. It’s the Internet for heaven’s sake.
I know there are people who are out there who think that obviously if we just stop eating like what I described, we would all be thin. But for those who know me, or who have struggled with their weight, once you start packing on pounds, even if you switch to healthier choices, it is still incredibly difficult to shave off enough calories to start the scale moving down. I didn’t eat every meal at McDonald’s. In fact, I ate a relatively balanced diet most days out of the week. But between the amount of healthy food (portion control) combined with the comfort food combined with a lack of activity, my scale just kept climbing.
I was ashamed when I left that fitness class. And I never went back.
November 13, 2013 — I left work and took myself out for sushi. It would be my last meal where I would stuff my face freely and not worry about the consequences. I enjoyed and savored all the foods I knew I would be leaving behind. I was bloated and uncomfortable when I left the restaurant and I drove across the street to the HMR health class.
Nine months into HMR, I transitioned from Decision Free to Healthy Solutions. And six weeks after that I began the transition to Phase Two. I have spent the last six weeks battling life in the real world. And I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. It has been two of the hardest months I have had in a long time.
Losing weight in HMR, if you stick with the plan and don’t give yourself excuses to cheat, is incredibly easy. You are isolating yourself from the real world of choice. It’s safe. It’s easy. And throughout the process, the classes prepare you for life in the real world.
Some people have made judgey comments about HMR because they feel as though they are “better than that” and people should be able to lose weight on “real foods” and you “don’t learn how to manage life” and “the weight will just come back on.”
Here’s my take on those who judge.
Wow. I have been wanting to say that for years. Because I have struggled with my weight since I was a teenager. And I listened to those judgey people for almost that long. And every time I attempted to “just eat healthier” and failed, I would spiral further and the scale would climb higher.
Maybe preparing all of your own food from scratch and choosing healthy options on every menu works for you. That’s awesome! I am not judging your lifestyle so please stop judging those who make the choice to seek outside help in getting weight off and learning to manage that weight.
But I live in the real world of balancing an 80 hour a week job. And I don’t have the luxury of just “finding a new job” or “taking some time for myself.” I have to work. I actually LOVE my work. I am changing lives. I LOVE being a teacher and a debate coach. And that’s not going to change.
So let’s stop the judging and the diet shaming. Because I want to tell you something.
I got the pounds off quickly. I learned a lot about myself and the real world in the process.
And although I alluded earlier in this post that the last six weeks have been a struggle, it’s not because of HMR. It’s because the real world is full of choices and I am battling between the person I was and the person I have become.
I am healthier. I am stronger. But there is still a part of me that wants to override the healthy choice machine and pick the worst item on the menu. So every meal is an internal struggle. But in reality, it has always been that way. Now the healthier side is winning more of those battles and the unhealthy side is protesting.
I will continue to attend the HMR Phase Two classes for at least 17 more months. They hold me accountable. They offer me support. And they continue to teach me valuable lessons about myself and about the world around me. Last night I tried to talk myself out of attending this “Total Athletic Conditioning” class. I needed sleep. I have been incredibly run down as I have not had a day off without teaching, coaching, or traveling with students since the first weekend of October. But then I remembered how I have empowered myself. How amazing I feel after getting in a workout. And how I wanted to celebrate life and not make excuses.
So I woke up and went to this 6am class described as combining “athletic sports drills, weight training and other techniques that are specifically designed to improve your speed, agility, quickness, balance and muscle definition. Start with a cardio warmup – progress into active stretching – move into strength and endurance – then some speed and agility – balance and core and added PLYO… You will enhance your cardio anaerobic threshold.”
Scary description right?
I was scared.
I remember running out of that studio. I remember hiding in the bathroom. I remember crying.
I looked in the mirror and began to follow the instructor’s direction. I felt strong. I felt empowered. I felt alive.
After the class, one of the regulars (who had been there when I ran out last year) approached me and complimented me on how well I kept up for my first class.
I mentioned I had tried it once before over a year ago. But I didn’t mention running out. I didn’t mention the tears. I just ended by saying I planned on coming back.
And I do.
Processing Phase Two: An Academic Exploration of Life Outside “The Box” and the Creation of a “New Box”
I lived inside of a bubble for almost a whole year.
It wasn’t a real bubble. That would be a little bit strange. But it was a world where I had protection in the form of a very strict diet called HMR Decision Free. For those who have been reading for awhile, you probably already figured that out. But it still amazes me that for a whole nine months, I lived in such a confined world of food choices and after so long inside my bubble, I think I had forgotten what existed outside of that world.
As I transition from my bubble world to the real world, I have found that a lot of academic texts that were shared with us in health class have become much more salient for me. I wanted to use my journal (blog) today as an opportunity to explore my transition while linking some of these texts as well as next texts to help me connect my personal experiences with broader research. Because I have learned a lot in the last several months but it helps me know that I am not alone in this world full of food that we call “The Gap.”
Cornell researchers Brian Wansink & Jeffery Sobal found that we make more than 200 decisions about food every day. While we learned about this study in our HMR health classes, I dismissed it at the time, because those were not choices I needed to make at that moment. My choices were much more limited. Did I meet my daily minimum of shakes and entrees? Which of the limited selection was I eating next? Since everything was tasty and nutritionally calculated, it was rare I really felt compelled to make a clear decision.
When I transitioned to Healthy Solutions, the number of decisions increased. Suddenly I needed to decide how to get my fruits and veggies in. I needed to go into grocery stores to acquire said produce. I needed to prepare them and write them down and it became more complicated that just jotting down the same several items in my journal each day.
And because I thought I missed variety, I quickly delved into produce diversification. However, perhaps I should have stuck with buying only what I needed each day to minimize choice and over-consumption. Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink found, in the Journal of Marketing Research, that stockpiling food leads to over-consumption. And so while I thought I was saving money and time in buying in bulk, I have since realized that I consumed even more produce just because it was there, not because I was hungry.
Fruits and vegetables are not the worst things in the world to overeat. However, the habits created could possibly transfer to other items. And so by discovering this in Healthy Solutions, I was able to minimize the total amount of food in the house and as I transitioned to Phase Two, I had to keep this in mind. Because even frozen dinners, that would soon supplement my HMR meal replacements, could be abused.
As I have transitioned to Phase Two, I have worked hard to keep my home environment and work environment as clean as possible. But I have learned a lot in the transition.
I learned quickly that I couldn’t be trusted to just show up in the school cafeteria to select a meal on the fly. The temptations of everything around me would add up. And even if I grabbed small portions of lots of healthier options, it would still add up to way more calories than I needed in a meal. And because I was now socializing at lunch instead of eating in my classroom, I found that I consume far more despite the fact I could have done with less. And I am not alone. According to John M. De Castro, a professor at Georgia State University, in the British Journal of Nutrition, “Simply eating with one other person increases the average amount ingested in meals by 44% and with more people present the average meal size grows even larger.” And so I either have a shake about an hour beforehand and strategically plan which stations I will go to and which I will avoid, or I bring my own meal and bypass the cafeteria entirely.
The social pressures to consume “normal food” have led me to stray from guidelines we are encouraged to follow in Phase Two of HMR. While traveling, I worked to fill my plate with mostly vegetables. I used shakes and produce and entrees to offset hunger, and I walked when I could. But eventually, I found myself caving to the pressure to consume the “special homemade meals” that were offered near where we were sitting. The food was free and the families were so eager to share. And it was delicious. But I have struggled to pull myself back into real life day to day living. It is so easy to justify everything as something special. And yet I lived for nine months where nothing was special enough to eat and I had a few events that probably were once in a lifetime events where I resisted!
I know it is easy to justify my choices. Not just because I teach debate, but also because in the Gap we are handed justifications to make bad food choices every day. However, although I may have had trouble with defining my life after Phase One, I am able to bring myself full circle. Brian Wansink writes in Physiology & Behavior:
“This Laboratory of Life experience – trying to change mindless eating in the real world – brings lessons of both discouragement and encouragement for those of us interested in helping change eating behaviors. On one hand, some results are discouraging because they show how some of our most robust academic findings are often not implemented by people because they do not recognize their relevance, they lack the motivation to make them work, or they lack the step-by- step encouragement and direction they might need. If we fear we are often talking only to other academics, perhaps we initially are.”
While I had some trouble with motivation during some of my initial weeks in Phase Two, I think my health educator helped me assess what a bigger problem was for me. I still hadn’t figured out what my new box was. I had done so much work to stay in the HMR defined box, and now that I “could have” things, I was having them because there wasn’t a box I had clearly laid out.
In the past few weeks, I have figured out my triggers. I also know that severely limiting myself forever won’t work, and I do need to eventually allow for life events to happen. But I also need to write out a box for myself that I can stick with day to day.
I am writing out my Phase Two box here. In published form. To hold myself accountable. While I know that eventually it may change, this is how it need to be for the moment. In order to continue my weight loss efforts and prevent the Gap from consuming me.
I will continue to allow shakes and entrees be a part of my life. The definition of a meal replacement being 300 or fewer calories with more than ten grams of protein. I will allow myself one bar a day but bars must be under 200 calories with at least ten grams of protein and cannot be consumed in my house (in other words, bars should be used as portable meal replacements when necessary, not a daily requirement). I will continue to enjoy fruits and vegetables as these are important for my nutritional health but also to practice “more is better” with. And I will limit myself to no more than one serving of lean protein outside of prepared meal replacements each day. Finally, I will allow myself no more than 200 “other” calories. This might be popcorn. It might be a small cookies. It doesn’t have to be limited in scope (variety) but it does have to be limited in magnitude (calories) and I must ask myself “is this worth it? will it keep me full? if it won’t, why am I eating it?” and if I am satisfied with the answers, I can have it.
I was asked as I transitioned where I saw myself in five years. What is my five year plan. And the truth is, I am still thinking about it. But I know I don’t want to regress. I want to move forward. To better understand and support my health with healthy behaviors. And I will continue to contemplate this as I learn to live inside the box again. The white board has returned. And I look forward to building up those numbers because I am #HMRStrong!