Why Diets Work…and Then Fail

Guest post by my coaching partner, Sean Flanagan

On the surface, there’s a wide variety of diets for weight loss. And they all SEEM to work – yet you’ve probably gone through multiple diets trying to find the right one for you.

Some diets say that grains, legumes, and dairy are trouble makers and you shouldn’t eat those.

While other diets say that grains and legumes are among the best foods, but dairy and ALL animal foods are the root of all evil and weight gain.

Some diets say you can’t eat after 6pm.

And then some diets say you should skip breakfast!

For every diet, there seems to be the opposite diet. Like 200 politicians in the same televised debate playing “point and counterpoint”.

And ALL of the diets seem to have success stories of fast weight loss.

So how can all these different diets work in the short term? And what makes them not as successful in the long term?

If you look at the list of 4 diet rules above, they seem pretty different.

But what do they have in common?

They take away your options. Specifically, they take away the option to do things you probably do currently.

The “No Lima Beans for 30 Days” diet will never become a best seller, as unpopular as lima beans are, because you’ve probably never consumed 500 calories or more a day from lima beans. Taking those away wouldn’t make a change.

On the other hand, you’ve probably consumed at least 700 calories a day combined from grains, legumes, and dairy many days in your life. That’d just be 3 cups of 2 percent milk, 4 slices of bread, and a half cup of beans or a handful of peanuts.

Or you’ve consumed a significant chunk of your calories from animal foods. One 6 oz rib eye and the butter on a baked potato could be around 500 calories or more in one meal alone. Hardly a daunting task for the average omnivore.

So when a diet’s rules are based on removing foods that play a prominent role in your diet, there can be an instant void of calories.

A turkey sandwich and chicken noodle soup at lunch at first becomes straight up turkey meat and chicken & vegetable soup, thus reducing calories from carbohydrates. Or that turkey sandwich and chicken noodle soup becomes 2 slices of bread and veggie and noodles soup, thus reducing calories from protein and fat.

In that initial change of removing foods that are normal to you, you can be left with a confusion of “what do I eat now?” Meanwhile, your calorie intake drastically reduces (whether you’re counting calories or not).

If you normally eat 1,000 calories from a certain list of foods, and then make that list of foods off limits, you have a reasonable chance of having some initial weight loss.

But then what happens?

You’re not going to stay in a food rut forever. You’re going to find new ways to get flavor, diversity, and yes… calories back into your diet.

You get hungry…and bored. And before you know it, you’re now adding butter to your morning coffee to replace the calories you used to get from oatmeal. Or you start eating handfuls of vegan potato chips to make up for the cheese you used to snack on.

And you’re back to square one (or worse). Your calorie intake is back to normal. Your weight has plateaued, or even gone back up. Meanwhile, you’re eating foods that are mere compromises to what you REALLY want to have.

The same thing that makes diets work short term is what makes them fail in the long term.

They take away your options of foods that you can have, so you stop having your normal foods. But then you realize there’s this whole ‘nother list of foods that you can have – and then you start eating those more to make up for the difference.

But is that really the worst of it? You didn’t eat some foods and you ate other foods instead, what’s wrong with that?

The problem is the whole time, you’ve been expending massive amounts of willpower by not including foods that you enjoy. And sooner rather than later, you’re going to reach a point where you can’t take it anymore. Instead of those 2 slices of bread every morning for breakfast every day, you’re going to now want to live on nothing but bread (and cake! And cookies! And all that stuff!)

The lack of balance you created by the restrictive diet sets the stage for further lack of balance. Now you feel like you never want to see a sweet potato or soybean ever again.

So let’s say you lose 20 lbs in 6 months on a diet and then gain it all back. That’s not so bad, right? You’re just back to where you stated…

Well certainly getting back to the same weight wouldn’t be as frustrating as gaining even more “rebound weight”, let’s also take into consideration your most precious resource – time.

The most important thing for LONG TERM weight loss is learning the skills to accomplish that.

Losing 20 lbs on a trendy diet and then gaining it all back will probably just teach you the lesson that that diet sucked and gaining the weight back on was frustrating.

What if instead, those 6 months were spent on developing the skills and habits that will enable you to be successful in the long term?

Rather than getting back to the same weight and now not knowing what to do to move forward, what if you were to lose even just a LITTLE bit of what but feel confident and clear about what you need to do to move forward?

And therein lies the key towards lasting success for fat loss – by prioritizing the process.

Weight loss (like everything) is a result of our habits. Our habits create our outcomes.

That’s why the key to lasting fat loss isn’t this diet or that diet – but by developing habits one at a time that you can maintain for good so you can keep losing and THEN maintain your success.

Rather than a long list of forbidden foods or other diet rules, you can work at ways to make the process easier and more automatic. For example, cultivating awareness of how satisfied you are from your meals are WAY more powerful than avoiding a particular food will ever be.

There are lots of habits that can be used to support your fat loss goals.

In fact, Amber and I put together a free list of 21 habits that can help you get closer to your goals of lasting fat loss and long term weight management.

This free downloadable guide is called “21 Habits for Lasting Fat Loss” and you can get access by clicking HERE.

Talk soon,

P.S. from Amber: We have a few spots open for the next start date of the Habit Project, where we harness the power of community and coaching support to help you achieve better health and fat loss success one habit at a time. You can learn more and grab your spot for ½ price for your first month here: The Habit Project

Hey Dove, Where’s My Door?

A new Dove commercial presents women with a choice of two doors: Average or Beautiful.

Quite frankly, neither of those words is adequate to describe me and what I’m looking for in this life. Like the woman at 1:50 in the video, if my only two choices are Average or Beautiful, I too would turn and walk away.

My choice is Extraordinary. And Extraordinary has nothing to do with how I look. And my door, the one labeled Extraordinary, stands open for all of you.

Choose Extraordinary. Because you are.

Scientific Consensus: Most People Don’t Understand It, and That’s Why Everything is a Mess

3 terms you’ll need to recognize for this blog post:

1.) Outlier noun
– One that exists outside or at an extreme of a category, pattern, or expectation; an extreme case or exception. (source: Yahoo Dictionary)

2.) Weight of the evidence noun
the strength, value and believability of evidence presented on a factual issue by one side as compared to evidence introduced by the other side (legal definition)

3.) Scientific consensus noun
– the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study. Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity (source: Wikipedia)

Word cloud for Scientific community

I’m occasionally accused of being a ‘hypocrite’ because I promote moderation in diet, and I can also be resolute in my position that fitness and health professionals should base our advice and recommendations on evidence rather than opinion. For instance, recently one guy couldn’t understand why I would promote moderation in diet but then turn around and take a hard line on vaccines. Why am I not moderate in my opinion of vaccines like I’m moderate in my opinion on diet, he wondered?

Here’s the thing about that: I’m not moderate in my opinion on diet. My opinion on diet is based FIRMLY on the evidence. The weight of scientific evidence supports moderation as the MOST EFFECTIVE approach to long term weight management success. Most scientists agree, and most studies support this conclusion. Yeah, there are a few outliers, but like I said, the weight of the evidence supports moderation. When many scientists examine all the evidence and come to the same conclusion based on the weight of the evidence, rather than on the outliers, it’s what is known as scientific consensus. There will always be outliers, but when most of the evidence points to one conclusion, we can be reasonably assured that that conclusion is accurate. For example, scientific consensus has been reached on the topic of the relationship between the sun and the Earth. There is no debate as to whether the Earth revolves around the sun, rather than the sun around the Earth. The weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that the Earth revolves around the sun, and the vast majority of scientists agree – this is called scientific consensus.

I base my opinions on both diet and vaccines (and many other topics) on the weight of the evidence. And I’m not moderate at all in my opinion that fitness and health professionals should absolutely base their recommendations on the evidence. Not on their opinions. Not on guesses. Not on their experience. Not on their gut feelings. Not on ‘what just feels right’. Credible research. Scientific consensus. Evidence. I will discuss why at the end of this post.

A recent thread on my facebook wall regarding Google’s new proposed ranking algorithm was really enlightening for me. I suddenly recognized a big contributor to the anti-science movement, as many of the arguments used in this thread were exactly like those used in arguments made to promote anti-science rhetoric on other topics, like vaccines, GMOs, climate change and the like. But seeing them applied to a different topic than I’m used to brought the issue into better focus: lots of people really don’t understand the concept of scientific consensus. For the record, I don’t think the people making these arguments are regular readers of my page, as my regular readers have demonstrated a pretty high level of scientific literacy. I think these are people who perhaps saw my post on a friend’s timeline and this post was their first visit to my page. I’m going to synopsize the main arguments made, and explain why they’re flawed. You’ll see that these are all variations on a general theme, with nuanced differences:

1.) I don’t want scientists/doctors making decisions for me and my family! Scientists and doctors can be biased. I know what’s best for my family.

Indeed scientists can be biased, that’s why instead of drawing recommendations from one scientist, we look to the general consensus among lots of different scientists. Drawing from many different sources reduces the influence of bias. The more scientists, and the greater the level of consensus, the less chance that bias is influencing the recommendations. As far as knowing what’s best for one’s family, this isn’t always true, unfortunately. Most of us do not have the knowledge and experience level of a scientist or doctor, and have not learned how to critically evaluate scientific evidence. We are more likely than a trained scientist to confuse correlation with causation or fall victim to other forms of faulty logic. Unless you are a doctor, you really don’t know more about medicine – or physiology, or immunology, or disease – than your doctor.

2.) We can’t trust that science knows what is truth. Science has been wrong before! Just look at the recent reversal on cholesterol! And they used to believe the earth was flat!

Indeed, scientific knowledge is ever-evolving, as we make new discoveries and learn more about the world around us. This is science’s STRENGTH, not it’s weakness. Science is the exploration and examination of evidence, and we are continually gathering new evidence. Again, this is a reason to look to the evidence, and the scientific community, as a whole, and not focus on any single study or scientist. As for the cholesterol reversal, people are confusing policy with science. What we are observing is a policy reversal, not a scientific consensus reversal. There was not a strong scientific consensus that dietary cholesterol contributed to high blood cholesterol, policy was based on weak evidence. And it was never scientists that believed the Earth was flat, it was a cultural belief. It was early explorers and astronomers that proved it was round, as they experimented to determine if their hypothesis was correct. It was cultural belief that held the earth was flat, and scientific inquiry that showed it was round.

3.) How can we ever know anything is true? For every study that shows one thing, there’s another that shows the opposite! And for every scientist that makes one claim, there’s another scientist that makes the opposite claim!

Actually this isn’t true for most scientific theories for which there is general scientific consensus, such as vaccines, GMOs, climate change, evolution, the Earth’s rotation around the sun, etc. In all those cases, most scientists, and most studies, support the same conclusion. And a few outlying studies and rogue scientists make other claims. The problem is that our media tends to give equal air time to both ‘sides’ of the ‘debate’,  giving the impression that the debate is equally weighted (or that there is a debate at all), when in reality, the VAST majority of science and scientists agree and only a small handful make outlying claims. The reality is, that for most of these topics, there are hundreds or even thousands of studies that support the generally accepted conclusion, with a small small handful of studies making an outlying claim (or even only one, like the SINGLE rat study that gets trotted out over and over and over as ‘evidence’ for sugar addiction). It is not one for one by any stretch of the imagination.

4.) What if new evidence emerges? Do scientists expect us to bury our heads and just accept their word and never question consensus?

Actually, no. The scientists themselves question consensus. That’s what science is. The questioning of our understanding, they search for new information, the examination of new and old evidence. Consensus is reached when evidence becomes undeniably compelling, but it is never set in stone. Science would revise it’s stance on the earth’s relationship with the sun if compelling new evidence emerged to challenge our current understanding. That is the very nature of science. It is the opposite of blind faith. It is the eternal pursuit of truth. You’re thinking of emotional investment in a belief, ie ‘faith‘, when you talk of burying your head and never questioning an assertion. Not science.

5.) Science doesn’t have all the answers.

No, indeed. Science doesn’t have all the answers. Science DOES have more – and better – answers than guessing does, though.

You can tell from a lot of these arguments that people really just don’t understand what scientific consensus is. That they don’t understand the difference between fact and opinion. That they don’t know how to tell good science from bad science, and don’t know what outliers are. It’s not their fault – these things aren’t always taught in school, and logic isn’t natural to our human brains. Once we’ve formed a belief, we have a hard time changing it even when confronted with evidence that it’s not true. Our perceptions are influenced by our subconscious prejudices. We look for patterns and aren’t good at telling correlation from causation. These are skills that require training and practice.

Now, I mentioned that I’d discuss why I hold firmly that we, as fitness and health professionals, are obligated to act and provide recommendations based on evidence rather than opinion. It is exactly because humans are so bad at the things I just mentioned. Because our opinions may be flawed, informed by emotion rather than fact. Because we may be mistaking correlation with causation. And when we give advice from these flawed sets of beliefs, we are in essence guessing, and it is irresponsible to give people health advice based on guesses. Because it could affect their health and even their lives. It could kill them if we are wrong. And we are more likely to be wrong if we are basing our advice on anything other than scientific consensus based on the weight of the evidence.

We owe the people who come to us for help the respect of basing our advice on facts and evidence, not on our own opinions and (potentially flawed) perceptions. Basing our advice on our opinions is profoundly egotistical and self centered.

What if you are wrong?

My recommendations are firmly evidence based because I am not so arrogant as to believe I know better than the entire scientific community.

And I am critical of so many in the fitness, fad diet and alternative health industries because they ARE so arrogant as to believe they know better than the entire scientific community, and their opinion-based (and frequently magical-thinking based) recommendations put their clients’ health – and lives – in danger.


The Habit Project

Sean Flanagan and I have been at it again, thinking up new ways to foster behavior change. We’ve created a new program, and it’s a new kind of program. Probably different than any program you’ve participated in before.

We wanted to do something different from our Four Month Fat Loss Program. Not that there’s anything wrong with our Fat Loss Program! It’s actually awesome, and it’s not going anywhere! But we wanted to give you guys another option, because we know our Fat Loss program isn’t right for everyone.

Enter: the Habit Project.

The Habit Project is focused specifically – and solely – on the small, day to day habits that impact our bodies and our health. Within the Habit Project, each small team supports one another in the systematic implementation of new behaviors, focusing on one habit for two weeks, before moving onto the next.

Unlike our Fat Loss Program, there are no meal or workout plans. In fact, it’s up to you, with the support of your coaches and teammates, to decide the specific ways you are going to modify the habits to work with your life and schedule.

Which Program is Right for You?

So, you’ve decided you want to invest in one of our coaching programs – now the task of figuring out which one! I’ve put together a short quiz that will help you make that determination. Just answer the following questions honestly, and use your answers to help steer you toward the program that makes the most sense for you.

1. How does the prospect of following a meal plan make you feel?
a. Bored and rebellious.
b. Relieved!

2. Do you feel like you’ve got a pretty good exercise routine going?
a. Yes, maybe just needs a few tweaks.
b. No. Help me!

3. How do you do your best work?
a. I like to work collaboratively with others!
b. Everyone needs to leave me alone so I can focus!

4. How do you feel about calorie tracking?
a. Never again as long as I live.
b. I dig it! Or at least tolerate it.

If you answered mostly As, The Habit Project may be a better fit for you. Mostly Bs, and you should check out the Fat Loss Program. If you’re still not sure, feel free to ask for guidance! In both programs, our focus is long term behavior change. The Habit Project takes a longer view, moves at your individual pace and allows you to call the shots. The Fat Loss Program is more structured (at least in the beginning) and works in a shorter time frame. The end result – behavior change – is the same, just different approaches.

Click here to check out the Habit Project.

Click here to check out the Fat Loss Program.

Sean and I are looking forward to working with you!


Cindy Crawford’s Unretouched Photo Was Leaked Without Her Permission: Here’s Mine Instead

Early this week, an unretouched photo of Cindy Crawford was released. The initial claim was that it was from a spread in Marie Claire magazine, and that Crawford had consented to her photos being published without any retouching. As new information emerged, that claim was shown to be false, and I’ve taken down my posts about it.

The picture sparked an important discussion, though. And I want to continue that discussion. Peggy Drexler, in a commentary on CNN.com, referred to the photo as ‘Cindy Crawford’s cellulite photo’. Can we talk about that for a minute? It was actually a picture of Crawford’s whole body, not her cellulite. Is that what women are now? Cellulite? Why is Crawford’s humanity completely dismissed and her entire existence, in this photo at least,  boiled down to one physical trait? Her face was in the photo. Her arms and legs and torso. Her whole body was in the photo. ‘Cellulite photo’? Really?

Drexler then went on to say Crawford “doesn’t look all that amazing”, and that “what we’re celebrating as “real” are her flaws”.


Nope nope nope.

Cellulite is not a flaw. It is a normal function of the way women’s bodies store fat. It is normal. Virtually every one of us has it (a few don’t, but the vast majority of women do, and some men as well). Again, cellulite is not a flaw. It is normal, it is how our bodies are built. Not. A. Flaw.

Also, Crawford definitely looked amazing in the photo.

Finally, Drexler says:

“We don’t like Crawford’s image because it’s “real.” We like it because it’s a little startling and a little unattractive, and therefore makes us feel better about ourselves. “

Again, no.

1. It’s not startling. She looks like a normal healthy woman. We ALL know that the models in magazines are photoshopped. We don’t like it. We know what NORMAL women look like, so seeing one is not startling.

2. It’s not unattractive. It’s normal. She looks like a normal healthy woman. A spectacularly beautiful normal healthy woman, actually.

3. I can’t speak for Drexler, but seeing Crawford unretouched doesn’t make me feel better about myself. Because I already feel good about myself. Because I know I am a normal healthy woman. And I’m awesome. So no, seeing Crawford unretouched doesn’t make me feel better about myself. And I think most of my readers agree, as most of my readers are normal healthy women who don’t need to tear down other women to feel better about themselves.

And besides, it would be pretty shitty to tear down another woman for having cellulite, since it’s NORMAL. And virtually all of us have it. It would be like tearing down another woman for having hair. Or skin. Or toenails. It. Is. Normal.

The reason I appreciated the photo, when I thought it was from a spread in Marie Claire, is that I was really psyched to have such an iconic woman standing up for all of our daughters. Standing up and saying ‘THIS IS NORMAL. This is what women’s bodies look like. We won’t be told our normal healthy bodies are flawed any longer.’

That’s what I wanted the picture to mean. And I’m disappointed that it doesn’t mean that. I’m disappointed not to have that role model for my daughters, and all our daughters.

So you know what? I’m going to do it. I’m going to be the role model. I’m going to be the one standing up and saying:

THIS IS NORMAL. This is what women’s bodies look like. We won’t be told our normal healthy bodies are flawed any longer.

I am a strong, fit, healthy, NORMAL woman, and I have cellulite. Just like virtually every woman reading this. I have always had cellulite. I had it when my body fat was in the low teens (you can see these pictures I posted here on my blog three years ago, during my leanest period – as you’ll see, I had cellulite, loose skin and stretch marks – because I am normal). I am currently around 20% body fat – still quite lean by most standards – and I still have cellulite. I have a normal, healthy body. It is not flawed. Neither is any other woman’s NORMAL healthy body. I’m putting my ‘cellulite’ photo’ next to a full body photo so you can see that I am, in fact, fit, healthy and lean. I am a human being, not a collection of flaws.

Stand up with me. Push back against those who would distill our entire existence down to a physical trait, who would shame us for a trait that is perfectly normal.

We are not flawed.

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Is Obesity a Life Sentence?

Last week, commentary published in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology made the media rounds, filling consumers with dread and hopelessness that obesity is incurable and we’re all doomed. Well ok, maybe I’m being a little hyperbolic. But the discussion in my facebook group belied an uneasiness that maybe we’re doing all this work to change our habits in vain.

First off, it’s important to understand that this paper was not a study. It’s a commentary, the purpose of which is to educate healthcare providers about the mechanisms of obesity and provide recommendations for treating it. The media made it out to be a statement that ‘obesity is incurable! eat less move more doesn’t work! OMG WE’RE ALL DOOMED’, but the authors made several very reasonable recommendations for the treatment of obesity and the support of a healthy (or at least healthier) body weight once it is achieved.

The paper is short and readable, you can access it for free by registering at the site I linked above. The authors outline some research that suggests that weight loss produces metabolic adaptations that prime the body for regain (but we already knew that), and the fairly dismal statistics on weight loss and maintenance (short story: most people regain the weight they lose). They discuss the treatment options we currently have available, their strengths and limitations.

Then they lay out some recommendations for healthcare providers. These recommendations include:

– encourage patients with obesity to consider treatment
– consider biological treatments like surgery and medication in addition to lifestyle interventions
– create a treatment plan that uses multiple interventions if necessary
– recommend bariatric surgery if appropriate
– monitor progress and adjust treatment when necessary
– educate patients about the realities of weight loss and it’s metabolic effects – namely that they may need to eat roughly 300 less calories (or burn 300 more) per day than someone their height and weight without a history of obesity

All in all it was actually a pretty boring paper, with little in the way of new information or groundbreaking interventions. We already knew most of this stuff. This paper simply put the information together and provided some evidence based recommendations for healthcare providers.

We know that it is possible to lose weight and keep it off. Check out the National Weight Control Registry. It isn’t easy. No one has ever claimed it is easy. And sometimes it requires more than ‘eat less and move more’ – I’d argue that one of the recommendations missing from this paper is treatment for those struggling with binge eating disorder and other forms of disordered eating.

Lasting weight loss requires a permanent change in behavior. Sometimes it also requires medication, or therapy, or surgery (or all of those things!). Every obese patient will need a personalized treatment plan, and a compassionate and knowledgeable treatment team. This paper is a good step in the right direction by providing recommendations for health care professionals who might not understand all the biological issues a patient may present with.

More research, and better treatment options are necessary. I hope that more and more health care professionals begin to recognize the psychological issues at play, and the need for any treatment plan to address a patient’s mental and emotional health as well as their physical health. When we address all these aspects of health, we’ll see progress.

Sorry this post is so boring. This is the reality of the paper in question. It’s pretty boring. But you’ll notice how the media hyped it up into something it really isn’t (OMG WE’RE DOOMED FEAR FEAR FEAR). That’s what the media is best at.

Where I’ve Been

I posted on Instagram the other night that I’ve had a rough year. While I haven’t ‘disappeared’, many of you have noticed that I withdrew a little. My posts have been less personal and more detached. I’ve posted less often. In my facebook group, I’ve relied on my moderators a lot to keep things running smoothly (and they’ve done an amazing job). I’ve been dealing with stuff, and you guys have noticed.

See, I wasn’t prepared for internet ‘celebrity’, it was never what I set out to create. I didn’t create my blog as a brand, and I didn’t have a plan for it. It grew organically. But it grew, and that growth took me by surprise. I wasn’t prepared for the hate (which is a normal outgrowth of having a public persona), and to be honest I wasn’t prepared for the love either. The hate has been hard for me to deal with, but the amount of hate I’ve received pales in comparison to the love – which I am awed and humbled by. I’ve grappled with both, the love and the hate. The love has been enormous, and I value it and recognize it and try every day to deserve it. :)

Last spring I think I unlocked some new level of recognition, and began to experience what others in the public eye have since told me is pretty common – the phenomenon of the ‘fan turned hater’. The fact that I talk about subjects that are very emotionally charged (eating disorders, belief systems, ideologies) probably explains the even higher degree of vitriol some of these people express compared to ‘normal haters’. The first couple of times it took me by surprise and really knocked the wind out of me – people who I’d considered friends would turn on me unexpectedly and viciously, kind and supportive one day and spreading horrible (and untrue!) rumors about me the next. I’ve read some really awful things about myself. In one case, it became clear that the person in question had been stalking me for months, gathering personal information and pictures, all the while pretending to be a supportive and trustworthy friend. I’m sure each one of them thinks they are “different” or “smarter” than the others, their “knowledge” of the “true Go Kaleo” is more real than the others. But in reality, they all follow pretty much the same script. Most of the time, I didn’t know what had turned these people against me so suddenly and thoroughly, and I still don’t. Others in the spotlight have said there’s no rhyme or reason, these are people who have certain expectations of you and the minute you don’t live up to those expectations, they turn on you. So I’ve been dealing with some profound feelings of betrayal, as well as the realization that people I’d thought were friends never were – it was the idea of me they had in their head that they loved, not me as a person. They didn’t even really know me. I’ve been mocked, ridiculed, called names, caricatured, threatened, accused and lied about – by people I trusted and cared about. Like I said, I know now that this is normal, typical stuff. But it took me by surprise. And it hurt, and and made me very anxious about trusting.

So I pulled back. I was hurt, and I knew there were people who were stalking my page looking for anything they could twist around to create ugly rumors with. I shared less of myself publicly, and focused more on facts and concepts in my writing, less on the subjective experience of being a woman in this culture.

There were also health consequences of the anxiety of feeling betrayed and the grief of losing what I had believed were friendships. Losing a friend is hard – realizing they weren’t actually a friend in the first place makes it sting just a little more. I have been dealing with chronic pain for years, but it began to grow and take over my life. I’ve talked about the pain on my page numerous times over the last year and wrote about it on my blog, here. The pain began to spread from my knees to the rest of my body. It became less the pain of arthritis, and more a vague ache that crept into every corner of my consciousness. I felt foggy.  I couldn’t write, which made things worse because writing is the way I organize my thoughts and process my feelings. Exercise became harder because of the pain, which meant I exercised less, which made the pain worse, which made it harder to exercise. Essentially, a feedback loop developed: the pain made it harder to do the things that help me deal with the pain, which made the pain worse, which made it harder to do the things that help me deal with the pain. And so on and so forth.

I worked with my doctors to modify the pain management treatment protocol that had been working for several years. You can read about that protocol in the blog post I linked above – it involved several mind-body modalities, both traditional and ‘alternative’. It was frustrating. Nothing seemed to help. Months went on and the pain remained.

And then, a couple months ago, we (my doctors and I) decided to try a new direction. I started taking an SSRI that is used to treat chronic pain disorders. And the pain began to recede. And my thinking became clearer, and the anxiety and grief began to fade.

Our physical and emotional lives are so intertwined. Did the pain cause my grief and anxiety? Or did the grief and anxiety cause my pain? It’s more likely they both fed into each other. And grew, eventually becoming more than the sum of their parts. Although I could see what was happening, I didn’t have the ability to ‘snap myself out of it’. There is a lot of fascinating research into this going on right now. We are only beginning to understand it all.

So here I am. I have struggled through pain and grief over the last year, and am coming out the other side. It has given me more perspective. It has given me new insights about humanity. It has hardened me a little in some ways, but softened me in others. It has made me so very, very grateful for all of you who have remained supportive, who’s friendship has proven true, who have laughed with me at the things people think up to accuse me of, who have heard the gossip and rumors and recognized them for what they were, who have allowed me to be a human being with faults, who have remained my friends even when I didn’t do and say things the exact way you wanted me to. Thank you.

I have asked you guys to carry the load a little over the last year, but I am back, my shoulders are strong and ready to bear the weight again.

Lets do this, you guys.

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How I Got Started

“When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.”
― Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol: In His Own Words

I’ve talked before about why I got started on my lifestyle change, but I haven’t really laid out the nitty gritty of HOW I got started, and I’ve had several requests for that lately. My diet and workout style has evolved a lot over the last 6 years as I’ve learned more about what works and doesn’t work, and my fitness and nutrition knowledge have increased. So what I would recommend now to someone just starting out on a lifestyle change would be quite a bit different from what I actually did…which I think ultimately just illustrates my overarching message: there is no one right way. There are many good ways, though. So what I’m going to do here is briefly go over the steps I took to change my lifestyle and habits, and then I’ll give you some generic suggestions that should work forthe general population (obviously if you have special considerations like a medical condition, these recommendations may not apply to you, and working with a medical professional is advised). Finally, I’ll tell you what I would do now knowing what I’ve learned over the last few years.

2008 was a pivotal year for me. I was 35, I had two young daughters who needed a good role model, and I was obese and sick. I was primed for a lifestyle change. I knew I couldn’t go on the way I had been. Three coinciding events early that year completely changed my direction.

First, I met a woman only 2 years older than me who’d recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She shared with me some of the factors she felt had contributed to her disease, namely a diet heavy in meat, dairy and processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle. She was on a mission not only to change her own habits, but to inspire other women to do so as well. She suggested I read The China Study (note: I no longer consider The China Study a particularly good resource and don’t recommend it when people ask for book recommendations. It’s significance for me is that it got me thinking about where my food was coming from and how it may be affecting my health). More importantly, she really emphasized the importance of exercise. Aside from a stint on the local swim team as a young teen, I’d never included regular exercise in my life and, to be honest, I hated it.

Next, I happened to catch a few minutes of the Olympic swim trials on TV. I wasn’t looking for them, they just happened to be on when I turned the TV on! There was 41 year old Dara Torres kicking ass and taking names! I was so incredibly inspired, I vowed right then to get back in the pool.

Finally, gas prices. Remember? I had never in my whole life considered how far food had to travel to reach my plate, but rising food prices (a result of rising energy prices) suddenly brought the issue into brilliant focus. Michael Pollan had recently published “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and it somehow found it’s way into my hands. I began to realize that my food choices affected not just me, but the people around me, and the environment. The concept of ‘sustainability’ entered my consciousness. I realized the lifestyle I was leading wasn’t sustainable. It was making me sick, and it was supporting a social and economic model that wasn’t in line with my values. I needed to change.

The very first thing I did was spend a lot of time thinking about and identifying the habits I had that led me to the place I was. I wrote them down. Then I identified new habits I wanted to create to take the place of those bad habits. And I made a plan.

There were two main areas I wanted to make changes in, my diet and my (lack of) exercise. But simply determining to ‘eat better and exercise more’ wasn’t specific enough – I’d tried that hundreds of times before and not succeeded. I had to set very specific long term goals, and then create short term goals that would set me on the path toward achieving those long term goals. So I thought about what I wanted my habits to look like in 2-3 years (I wasn’t sure how long it would take to reach my goals, so I gave myself a generous window): I wanted to be eating a healthy diet that supported my goals and values, and I wanted to be physically active every day, and I wanted to be modeling a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body image for my daughters. That life looked a LOT different than the one I was living, so I gave myself the gift of not pressuring myself to change everything right away. I decided to focus on one small change a month, giving myself time to create a new habit before moving on to another.

The first month I focused on making time to exercise regularly. At first it was only 3 times a week, although I knew I wanted to eventually be active every day. Some days all I could do was make it to the gym and sit in the jacuzzi. WHAT I was doing during that time wasn’t as important as creating the habit of making time for exercise. These days when people ask me how I find time for exercise, I respond that I don’t find time. I make the time. I schedule it into my day along with eating and working and picking the kids up from school, because I made a habit of making time. It’s not an afterthought, it is part of my routine. I no longer hate exercise, by the way. By trying lots of different things, I’ve discovered activities I really enjoy.

The second month I started focusing on my diet. Until then, my cooking had been very typically American. I chose a main dish (some kind of meat) and, if I had time and inclination, came up with a side dish. Most of our meals looked like a big slab of animal protein with a grain based side dish, and if we were really lucky a vegetable (that no one ate). I wanted vegetables to be the focus of our meals, so I bought some vegetarian and vegan cookbooks and found some cooking blogs and websites, and set about relearning how to cook. I started basing my meal plans around vegetables. Rather starting with meat and figuring out what to put with it, I picked out 2-3 different vegetables at the market and built a meal around them. Protein, while still important, played more of a supporting role than the headliner. I didn’t change everything right away, what shifted was my focus, away from meat as the base of our diet toward vegetables as the base of our diet. I learned how to make delicious soups, stews, stir fries, curries and salads that featured lots of different vegetables, accented with herbs, spices and protein (legumes, fish, eggs and occasionally meat). Over time I moved more and more toward a plant heavy diet because it’s what made me feel physically the best and what I enjoyed. In the years since, we’ve gone through phases where we increase the amount of animal foods in our diet, but we always seem to trend back to a more vegetarian palette. Will this work for you? I have no idea. That’s something you’ll need to discover for yourself.

Over the next 18 months I gradually increased my family’s intake of fruits and vegetables, started tracking my diet daily to make sure I was getting all my nutrients and to determine my true calorie needs, added running, cycling and weight lifting into my exercise routine, planted a garden, cut way down on my driving by focusing more on walking and riding my bike, and so much more. The key is that I changed my lifestyle, and I didn’t do it all at once. This wasn’t a diet. It wasn’t a temporary measure. I created a healthier lifestyle, and that led to a healthier body. I slowly lost weight, gained strength and stamina, my migraines, blood sugar swings and panic attacks subsided and eventually stopped. Again: creating a healthier lifestyle led to a healthier body. This is so important. Take the focus off your body and put it on your lifestyle. Your body will follow.

So there you go, a brief history of my lifestyle change. If I were to distill it down to a few key points they would be:

1. find a physical activity you enjoy and do it most days
2. eat more fruits and vegetables
3. get enough sleep

If I were to get more specific, based on what I’ve learned, here’s what I would do now:
1. EXERCISE: focus on finding what you enjoy. Don’t be afraid of weights, they are a very effective tool, and the quickest path to a stronger body. (Ladies: don’t worry about bulking up. I know that I am more bulky than a lot of women wish to be, but I PROMISE you that it isn’t lifting weights that made me this way. It is a combination of eating (LOTS of food, lots of protein), and lifting WITH THE INTENT of building muscle mass, over the course of several years, that made me this way. I don’t look like I do by accident, and you will not look the way I do without trying to look like I do. Simply lifting barbells will make you strong, but not bulky). Squat so you can go to the bathroom on your own when you’re 90.

2. DIET: protein and vegetables are GREAT and you should try to get lots, but eat fat and carbs too! Carbs are not the devil, and fruits, vegetables and whole grains are a great source of this awesome fuel source. Fat is your friend, it fills you up and makes food taste good, and your body needs it for proper nutrient absorption and hormonal function. If you want to change your weight, make a habit of tracking your diet on a website like caloriecount.com, sparkpeople.com or fitday.com (there are many others as well). It’s not just about calories, regular tracking will help you learn to meet your energy requirements with foods that also provide the vitamins, minerals and adequate amounts of fat and protein to support good health and weight management. It can be a pain at first, but over time it helps build good eating habits and gives you control over your weight and health. And no, you won’t have to track for the rest of your life! Long enough to build good habits, yes, and then you can rely on those habits. Calories DO matter, but most of us can eat a lot more than we think we can. Tracking calories is NOT about restriction, and reaching/maintaining a healthy weight is NOT about being hungry and denying ourselves proper nutrition. Quite the contrary, it is about feeding ourselves adequate amounts of (mostly) nutritious foods that support health, energy and vitality. Here is a tool that will help you determine how many calories your body needs to function properly. Many of you will be surprised at how high the number is. Mine is as much as 3000 a day when I am active. Hardly restrictive. Aim for .5 – 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight a day, the more active you are the more protein you’ll need. Fat should make up at roughly 20-35% of your calories (some people do well on lower or higher fat percentages, but 20-35% is a healthy range for most of us, and is the recommendation of public health agencies). The rest of your calories can come from whatever macronutrient you prefer (macronutrients = protein, fat and carbs). If you’re doing a lot of endurance exercise, go for more carb dense foods. So after all this, I come back to: eat mostly whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, but don’t obsess.

3. Get enough sleep. I can’t really elaborate on that, it really is that simple.

So there you go. Identify your goal. Make a plan. Make one change at a time. Don’t expect instant results, although you will probably FEEL better almost immediately once you start making changes. Focus on small and measurable successes: how much further you can run week to week, or how many pounds you can lift, or how many more servings of vegetables you are getting, rather than on how far you still have to go. Keep at it and be patient. Don’t let one bad day (or even a bad week or a bad month) derail you. You are building a healthier life and that takes time: you don’t have to be perfect every day, or punish yourself when you feel like you’ve failed. You’re still alive? Then you haven’t failed. Progress is progress, no matter how small or slight it may seem at the moment. Focus on THAT: progress is progress. Keep making it.


Sean and I created our Habit Project following these simple recommendations: change one small thing at a time. I am passionate about it because I know it works. I know it works because I lived it. Come join our supportive community and change your life, one habit at a time.



Originally posted 11/13/2011

7 Habit Project Spots Available

Hey Kids! Sean and I have 7 spots in our Habit Project Group Tiger available. If you sign up today, you can save 50% off your first month – just use coupon code “Save50″ when you register.

Check out Elisa’s video about her experience with the group:



See more testimonials and sign up here: The Habit Project




Moderation: the Alcoholism Argument

When I talk about moderation, very frequently I get the argument ‘would you tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation?’.

Here’s the thing about that argument. Alcoholism is a medical condition. As I said in my blog post yesterday, we are so accustomed to giving and receiving medical advice on the internet that we don’t even recognize it when we see it. No, I wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to ‘just drink in moderation’. Because that would be telling them how to treat their medical condition. I would refer them to a professional. People seem to think that telling an alcoholic how to treat their alcoholism is normal – it isn’t. No one should be telling an alcoholic how to treat their condition but THAT PERSON’S DOCTOR OR THERAPIST.

Likewise, if a person isn’t capable of eating in moderation, it indicates they have some disordered eating going on. Disordered eating has been so normalized in our diet culture that we think  binging is normal, but it is not. It is a sign of disordered eating. If a person can’t eat in moderation, if they are eating in excess of their body’s calorie requirement on a regular basis, if eating one thing triggers eating ALL THE THINGS, there is a problem. And it needs to be addressed by the proper professional – an eating disorder therapist, a dietician, their physician.

No, one hopefully wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation, one hopefully would be responsible and refer them to a professional for treatment. And one wouldn’t tell someone with disordered eating to just eat in moderation, one would refer them to a professional for treatment.

Moderation isn’t a switch you turn on and off. It is a skill. It is a goal. It can take some work to get there. For some people, it will take more work than they can do on their own, and they will need the help of an eating disorder professional. The answer isn’t to tell those people to ‘just eat in moderation’, NOR is the answer to tell them to ‘NEVER EAT THE THING’. The answer is to refer them to the proper professional for evaluation and treatment. That is the ONLY responsible answer there is. Just as referring an alcoholic to a professional is the ONLY responsible answer.

The ‘would you tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation’ argument is flawed, because telling an alcoholic how to treat their alcoholism is unethical and irresponsible. Yet we don’t recognize it as such, because we’ve normalized getting and giving medical advice over the internet.

Here are some eating disorder and alcoholism resources if you feel you are dealing with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or food (or both):




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