If weight loss is so hard, why bother?

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If weight loss is so hard, why bother?

Hmm. Did you know that 80% of people who lose weight fail to maintain that loss? That’s a lot of folks yo-yoing down and up and down and up.  Why bother with yet another weight loss endeavor when so few people succeed in keeping the weight off? Why mess with such low odds?

Did you even wonder why eager students continue to apply to Harvard when only 5% are admitted? Harvard rejects 95% of its applicants.  So why try?

Why try? Because difficult is not the same as impossible. Five percent of applicants did gain admission to Harvard. Twenty percent of dieters do lose and maintain a life changing amount of weight. As part of that 20%, I can testify that it is worth it. So worth it.

 What do you get when you lose weight?
  • You get health! Obesity is now the leading cause of premature death worldwide. Even a modest 5% decrease in weight reduces the risk of progressive diabetes by 50%. Losing 7.5% of excess weight can stop the degeneration of knee cartilage and halt osteoarthritis. Personally, by losing about 25% of my body weight, I cured my severe gastro-esophageal reflux disease and basically eliminated my risk of dying from esophageal cancer or the side effects of my reflux medications. Now I know I am going to die, but I would like to not hasten along that process. God gave me this body to live in for now; I want to take good care of it while I’m here.
  • You get clothes! The fun of eating a cupcake lasts maybe 5 minutes, but the fun of wearing jeans in your high school size lasts all day long.  All day long. After I reached normal weight (which for me is still pretty curvy, no danger of anorexia or fashion modeling here), I kind of went nuts buying pants. After years of frustration and struggle shopping for a cute plus-size wardrobe, the novelty that ordinary sized jeans would fit and look decent delighted me.  I’ve been at my goal weight for more than two years now, and the thrill of the wardrobe has not worn off. Appearance isn’t everything, but it’s not nothing either.
  • You get achievement! The positive psychology movement identifies achievement as one component of the fulfilling life. (The other components are: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, and higher purpose.) If you have been overweight for long, weight loss is a significant accomplishment. Maintaining significant weight loss is associated with improved quality of life and an increased sense of competence. If you have kept off a bunch of weight, I applaud you. (I recently met a man on the train who had lost more than 200 pounds—he was proud of himself and deservedly so.)
  • You get more enjoyment from your food! Ironically, more controlled eating increases the pleasure of food. Overeating, particularly of hyper-palatable foods (think pizza, ice cream, cake, candy), causes your brain to turn off some of the circuitry responsible for feeling pleasure. So, the more you eat, the less fun it is. Conversely, food restriction and weight loss signals your brain to turn up your reward pathways. This process, called hedonic adaptation, protects your mind from excessive pleasure and is part of the mechanism that drives drug addiction.
  • You get the quiet pleasures of character. It’s empowering and satisfying to see the development of your own character. Working through what peace and patience and self control can look like relative to your food is gratifying. Can you imagine experiencing zero guilt and zero anxiety regarding your eating? And the confidence that comes from controlling one area of your life seems to spill over into other areas. Once you conquer your weight, who knows what’s next?

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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Teri Doughty

Women’s Weight Loss Coaching

Text me at 360.602.1815 to get started. Or click here.


Williamson, D. A., Bray, G. A., & Ryan, D. H. (2015). Is 5% weight loss a satisfactory criterion to define clinically significant weight loss? Obesity, 23(12), 2319-2320.


Wluka, A., Teichtahl, A., Tanamas, S., Wang, Y., Strauss, B., Proietto, J., . . . Cicuttini, F. (2013). THU0504 the relationship between weight loss and reduced cartilage loss in the medial knee joint is non-linear in obese people. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 72


Brantley, P. J., Stewart, D. W., Myers, V. H., Matthews-ewald, M., Ard, J. D., Coughlin, J. W., . . . Stevens, V. J. (2014). Psychosocial predictors of weight regain in the weight loss maintenance trial. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(6), 1155-68.


Kenny, P. (2011). Reward mechanisms in obesity: New insights and future directions. Neuron, 69(4), 664-79.


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What is the best weight loss plan for me?

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If your social media feed is at all like mine, you are being barraged by weight loss advertising. Additionally, multi-level marketers may be plying you with information about the magic bullet that only their company can sell you. Your friend lost 20 pounds drinking chocolate shakes. Another swears by her high profile, celebrity endorsed program. All these options, all promising quick results and easy success. How can you be wise in choosing a weight loss plan?

Be very careful.

Your next weight loss attempt should be considered very carefully. As a culture, and as individuals, we are doing a poor job of maintaining healthy weight. Given the difficulty in losing weight and the even greater difficulty in keeping it off , you should think hard about your next weight loss strategy. After all, the point of this effort is to be normal weight, not just to lose weight. In fact, weight loss is at best an intermediate goal.

 The real goal is to achieve and maintain normal weight.

Certain people should be even more cautious about weight loss, given their higher risk of regain. Those include: older adults, folks with lots of previous dieting experience, people with a high starting weight, and those with a history of binge eating.

Beware of anything that sounds easy or quick. Beware of anything that promises no suffering and no changes—those successful weight maintainers from the National Weight Loss Registry, those who maintained an average weight loss of 75 pounds for multiple years, look like they changed everything! I would beware of any plan, including the low carb plan I prefer and recommend, if no provision has been made for making the plan permanent, permanent, permanent.

What are the qualities of a good weight loss plan?
  • Quality 1: Sustainability. Studies have shown that virtually any weight loss plan will cause weight loss for about 6 months.  In fact, most diets can induce a 8-10% weight loss  maximum in 6 months if followed faithfully. So, if you weigh 220 pounds and you follow plan X, you could lose up to 22 pounds with six months of hard, consistent work. But after 6 months, the odds are that you will experience the dreaded regain. For many folks, all the lost weight will return and maybe more. So, the first component has got to be sustainability. You really will be doing a variation of your weight loss plan for the rest of your life. Repeat: for the rest of your life. Successful losers stay on their diets indefinitely. So figure out how to be happy with it.
  • Quality 2: Long term focus. Maybe another way to emphasize sustainability. The real goal is not weight loss, that is just the means to the real goal, which is healthy body size forever. Obesity is now classified as a chronic relapsing disease. So your plan to control your disease (or problem, if you don’t like disease talk) must be a lifetime plan. This is why I prefer low carb plans. Not only do they produce slightly greater loss initially, but also have greater compliance long term (since steak with butter is so much more satisfying than dry chicken breast with steamed broccoli).
  • Quality 3: Not health destroying. If health is actually the goal, we need to work toward that in a healthy way. Successful losers eat healthy food and move their bodies in healthy ways (Registry folks average more than an hour of walking a day). Which is why methods involving drugs, surgery, or eating chemicals (diet foods, shakes) should be considered only as a last resort. What is the point of losing weight for your health if you destroy your health in the process? Meth users usually lose weight in the process of ruining their lives, but we can all agree that drug addiction is not a healthy choice for weight loss. Remember, you will still need to develop lifetime healthy patterns to stay thin even if you get thin by a risky method.
  • Quality 4: Emphasizes behavior and emotion. Achieving and maintaining more than minimal  weight loss requires substantial behavioral efforts.  You will need to change, really change, to lose and keep off weight. The behavior changes that successful losers use include: food journaling, regular weight monitoring, portion control, avoiding fast foods and junk foods, catching slips or gains quickly, and learning to manage emotions directly. These behavioral changes do not happen automatically, when in a hopeful moment of resolve,  you buy the jumbo pack of diet bars at Costco.
  • Quality 5: Provides professional support. Studies of weight loss diets show that support from a medical professional helps enable weight loss and that regular followup after weight loss prevents regain. That professional support works partially because it encourages a long-term, behavioral approach to weight loss and creates an ongoing monitoring and accountability system. Research indicates that 2 years of careful monitoring after initial weight loss is predictive for permanent success. Because of this, I now recommend monthly followups for my own weight loss clients for 2 years after reaching goal weight.
  • Quality 6: Moves slowly. This is the most debated point. Medically, even a 5% reduction can be significant for improving health. But as I learned during my own weight loss journey, fat minus 5% is still fat. Your mirror and your friends will not be providing much encouragement at the beginning of your slow weight loss. Conversely, quick loss is energizing and it’s hard to argue with that. If you have watched a friend joyfully announcing their initial success on Facebook (I lost 5 pounds! #bestlifeever #loveit!), you can feel the excitement of quick success. But more moderate loss increases the chance of permanency. And moderate loss  is the only kind of loss you can reasonably expect. Most diet programs expect a loss of .5 to 1 pounds a week, while you are carefully following the plan. Slower loss gives you time to really change your behaviors and your heart. (Notice how your friend got silent when she fell off the wagon of her overly ambitious diet plan that left no room for her real life?)

In the end, weight loss and weight maintenance must be about your real life. Eating happens everyday, in the real, complicated, messy world. The most important two questions to ask yourself about a weight loss plan are: “Can I follow it?” and “Can I follow it forever?”

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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Teri Doughty, Women’s Weight Loss Coaching. Text me at 360.602.1815 to get started.



Johnston, PhD Bradley C. “Weight Loss Among Named Diet Programs.” JAMA, American Medical Association, 3 Sept. 2014. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1900510

Ulen, Christina Garcia, et al. “Weight Regain Prevention.” Clinical Diabetes, American Diabetes Association, 1 July 2008. http://clinical.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/3/100.full


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The Possibility of Weight Loss

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Weight loss, can you do it? 

Over the last couple years, I have seen a veritable epidemic of articles  discussing the futility of weight loss efforts and dieting. I read that The Biggest Loser contestants have mostly gained back all their lost weight. I learned that a famous cookbook author, while successful in publishing beautiful and tasty recipes, personally gained 60 pounds in one year, all the while touting the glories of a ketogenic diet. Various body awareness movements, like “Healthy at every size” have emerged, suggesting that weight loss may not be necessary or desirable. I have watched my friends expand and contract, only to expand and contract again. And I have experienced this pattern myself.

Is it even possible to become normal weight after being fat?

Many factors conspire to keep us fat. Some factors are unchangeable: increasing age, history of obesity, genetics. Some factors are environmental: the eating patterns of your family, the pressures of a busy lifestyle, the availability of fast food, the temptations of engineered hyper-palatable snacks, the giant serving portions at restaurants. And still other factors are personal: your food preferences and habits, how you deal with emotions.

Statistics are also against successful weight loss. About eighty percent of individuals seeking to lose weight fail to lose or fail to keep it lost. We can see the outworking of this failure dynamic in celebrities who have a permanent place as the face of weight loss because they always need to lose weight. If weight loss were easy, said celebrity would just lose all her fat, become a thin person and get on with her healthier life.

When diet shakes and weight loss programs add the little disclaimer at the bottom of their ads: “results not typical,” that is when they are telling the truth. Most people do not have success in weight loss.


“What one man can do, another man can do.” This is a line from The Edge, a grim, and in my mind, otherwise forgettable movie. In the movie, this mantra spurs on group of desperate men stranded in the wilderness to kill a bear without any hunting gear. I’ve never needed to face down a bear, but this encouraging little bit of truth has stuck with me.

A task may be difficult, but if one person can do it, another person can do it.

Are there people out there who have lost weight and kept it off? Yes! Were they that different from you? No!

You probably know a few of them. I do too. The National Weight Loss Registry keeps records of over 10,000 individuals who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year.  Their average registrant has lost 73 pounds and kept it off for 5 years.

The registry tracks and queries weight-loss winners, searching for patterns of success. What have they learned? While these folks have lost weight using a variety of methods, some common themes have emerged: regular meals, frequent weight monitoring, lots of movement (76% walked for 1 hour a day), sticking with their meal plan everyday including weekends and holidays.

And these people continued the same behaviors into maintenance, which makes a ton of sense. The activities and habits that got you thin will be the same activities and habits that will keep you thin. And if you can maintain your weight loss for 2 years, your chances of continuing as a slim person greatly increase.

So, can you lose weight and keep it off? Yes! What one woman can do another woman can do. Weight loss is not a special ability or gifting, but it does take time and hard work.

Next up: “What makes a good weight loss plan?”

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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Are you overweight?

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Are you overweight?

A simple question. But one that provokes a complex answer.

Why even ask? Shouldn’t we all know if we are overweight, just like we know how tall we are? Maybe not.

We fool ourselves. The Bible says the heart is deceitful, and that we can look at ourselves in the mirror, turn away and immediately forget what we are like. I think this applies to weight as well as spiritual matters. Judging by the amazing increase in fatness and obesity in our country, we may all be fooling ourselves.

The gradual nature of weight gain encourages this self deception. That slow scale creep may not register as significant. Our clothes might get tighter, but maybe those clothes just shrunk in the wash. Maybe we threw out the scale in a righteous fit of body acceptance, and we imagine our weight hasn’t changed. Maybe we switched to leggings and tunics. Maybe we just got used to our bigger selves.

The increasing size of those around us serves to deceive us as well. Our bigger bottom and rounded tummy fits right in with our friends and family. We feel reasonable, normal, maybe a bit plump, but certainly not obese or in any danger.

Does it even matter if we are overweight, or even obese?

In my obese days, I really didn’t consider the health consequences of my weight, but only worried about my size in terms of appearance (and even that concern was suppressed by an incredibly accepting spouse). Ironically, as a health care worker I should have appreciated the link between weight and health. But my passion as a midwife was natural childbirth for all, and my vigorously defense of the right of all sized women to have a natural delivery blinded me to the health risks of obesity.

But weight really is a health issue, not just an image or ego issue.

Excess fat contributes to every major chronic disease and most of the top ten causes of death in the US.

Including cancer. (The possible exception being lower respiratory diseases, which are linked to smoking.) In fact, obesity has replaced smoking as the number one preventable cause of death worldwide.

Additionally, newer studies show that the extra roll around our collective waistlines functions as an active organ, not just inert baggage.  It secretes hormones that mess with our metabolisms and moves the body chemistry towards increasing chronic inflammation.  Inflammation, in turn, fuels the fire and disorder of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

How can we define overweight?

When I was a teenager, I though I knew what overweight was. Anything over 120 pounds. That was it—a simple line separating thin from thick. Ridiculous, yes, but many of us have not changed our thinking beyond that High School obsession with a particular number. One number cannot possibly define normal for all people, and completely ignores other factors like height and build. (I probably exceeded that magic number around sixth grade, and then commenced upon lifetime career as an on-and-off dieter. Thankfully, I finally found a better way to achieve and maintain normal weight.)

There are better measures of fatness than my magic number. We will look at two of them.

BMI-Body Mass Index

One way to account for the reality that people are different heights is to use the body mass index, BMI, which is a simple mathematical formula comparing weight to height. You divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters (kg/m²). This number can then be compared to all other people your height. Ranges for underweight, healthy weight, overweight, and obese have been established for each height.

In one way, BMI is very accurate for determining obesity. If your BMI is over 30, the incredible likelihood is that you are obese and your health is in serious danger from your fatness. Between the 25-30 range, the overweight range, BMI is less accurate. Many individuals in this range are also clinically obese, while others are actually not overfat, but just extra muscular.

Part of the problem with BMI is that your weight is a combination of muscle, bone, fat and water. Athletic people may have higher BMI’s and not be fat, and sedentary folks with smaller muscles may not weigh as much but still be fat.

Waist Circumference

A different way to measure fatness is with waist circumference. Studies of this measurement show increased waist circumference to be associated with negative health. This measurement is at least accurate as BMI, maybe more so, for predicting health outcomes like cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Because waist circumference measures at the spot where visceral fat accumulates, this measurement may also help distinguish between more harmful fat (around your abdominal organs) and less harmful fat (on your thighs and behind).

Some debate exists about how to measure the waist, but there is reasonable evidence for using the spot halfway between your lowest ribs and the top of your hipbone (at the side). Then all you need is a tape measure, or even a piece of string and a ruler. For women, waist circumferences less than 31.5 inches are associated with good health, 31.5-35 inches with some increased risk, and over 35 inches with greatly increased health risk.

Are you overweight?

A simple beginning to that question would be to step on a scale and then compare your weight and height to a BMI chart. If you BMI is 30 or more, you can confidently assume you are obese and at serious risk for all the bad diseases. And really in a position to die from fatness. BMI numbers between 25-30 (the definition of overweight) indicate a more moderate risk.

If the BMI doesn’t convince you, measure your waist. A number of  about 35 inches or more means you should definitely take action about your weight for the sake of your health. Waist measurements between 31.5-35 inches indicate more moderate risk.

What’s the point of knowing this? Well, it is certainly not to make you feel bad about yourself, or worse about yourself. This is a reality check. A health check. Body fat, despite, our early childhood indoctrination, is not primarily an issue of appearance, but an issue of health.

Thinking about your weight as a health metric instead of a measure of beauty, helps create better motivation for achieving normal weight. While I was thinking of my fatness in terms of appearance, I could never quite muster up the motivation I needed to change. In fact, I thought excessive focus on my weight was just vanity. But when I realized that my fat was a real health issue leading me to an early death, I found strength to persist in getting thinner and healthier.

BMI chart  here.

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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The Very Best Cauliflower Mash-Smooth as Silk, Firm enough to Stand up to Gravy

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Here’s my confession. I did not want to like cauliflower mash. In general, I am resolutely against pretend foods. You know, desserts concocted from artificial sweeteners, breads baked with mystical “no net carb” ingredients, Tofurky. If you are working to develop a taste for nutritious foods, the last thing you need is the lame taste of fake food in your mouth, reminding you of what you are giving up.

So I resisted cauliflower mash. Because I thought it was a fake food, pretending to be mashed potatoes. (And I have nothing against mashed potatoes, for those who can handle the carbs.)

Then I tasted a heavenly smudge of cauliflower mash at an upscale restaurant in San Jose. It was the snotty sort of eatery that taunts you with dribbles and drops of luscious sauce that never lasts through your entree. Beneath my tiny, artful piece of fish, was the thinnest layer of cauliflower. And it was delicious.

Back home I determined to replicate that heavenly mash. My early attempts were just too. Too wet, too runny, too cauliflowery.

But this recipe, born from a fair bit of tinkering, and the memory of that heavenly smudge, is sublime, like a poem on your tongue. Clearly not mashed potatoes, this cauliflower mash is no pretender, but its own lovely deliciousness. You should make some!

Let’s make cauliflower mash.


one head cauliflower, separated into florets

1/2 cup coarsely cut onion

1 clove garlic

1 chopped parsnip (about a cup) or 1 chopped carrot (about 1/2 a cup)

1/2 cup salted butter

1 egg yolk


Place veggies in steamer. I have this huge pot with a steamer insert, but you could use one of those collapsible steamer insert thingies, or the steam function on your Instapot.

Steam veggies until completely tender. Definitely check the carrots or parsnips to make sure they are soft.

Remove veggies from heat to drain and cool off a bit. I just prop my steamer insert up on the edge of my pot.

Remove veggies to a clean kitchen towel draped over a bowl.

Now put on some clean gloves (the veggies are hot), wrap the towel up tight and squeeze the heck out of your cooked veggies.

You will be amazed at how much water squishes out.

Empty your squeezed out veggies into a food processor fitted with the wicked sharp blade.

Blend until totally smooth. Do not settle for sort of lumpy.

Whirl an egg yolk into the mash. If you are worried about undercooked eggs, just leave it out. This is the least important ingredient.

Add butter. In this version I melted the butter. On other occasions I have used clarified butter to accommodate the lactose averse. The last few times I didn’t bother with melting at all, just threw the whole chunk in. Whirl until butter is totally incorporated. If you use unsalted, you will need to add salt to taste. But Kerrygold salted works perfectly.

Revel in the glory you have just created.

With parsnip


With carrot

Serve as a side dish.

Or under a meaty, gravy thing.

Or in a bowl with an extra little pat of butter as a decadent snack.

Or use it to top shepherd’s pie.

This recipe doubles easily. Just squeeze the veggies in two batches. We always make double now because we eat it up so, so fast.

Here’s a printable version. Cauliflower Mash

Really, you should make this. It’s wonderful.

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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A Mindful Dinner Out–Enjoying a Restaurant Meal without Regrets

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Last night my husband and I went out to dinner as a pre-Valentine’s Day date. In general we are super practical. We never go out on Valentine’s Day, to avoid crowds. Or for that matter, we never celebrate  our anniversary at a restaurant, since it falls on Saint Patrick’s Day. So we weren’t planning a meal out.

The previous day I had traveled to Salem for an overnight adventure. Before leaving my husband for one whole night, I had prepped days worth of food and it was all sitting in readiness in the fridge. Sausage with spaghetti squash and Mexican pork stew. So Kirk had plenty to eat while I was gone and we had no pressure to cook when I returned.

But I had just driven 4 hours home from Salem and was in a glorious mood. The sun was out, the snow was gone. On the way home I had listened to the radio and simultaneously outlined in my head a book about the intersection of healthy living and gospel thinking. Not sure why, but life was feeling pretty much perfect.

My husband, who is always glad to see me, greeted me with, “I know there is lots of good food in the fridge, but…” and we said together, “let’s go out.”

We chose Brix 25 in Gig Harbor for several reasons. Mostly because the food is great. And partly because I wanted to wear a dress. In particular, my black sweater dress from Talbots that works well with a brown leather belt and tall boots. For a formerly overweight person, wearing a waist defining belt feels like a bit of a deal. And I’m always looking for ways to enjoy my new trim body. And wear more of my new clothes.

So, I dressed up and we took off.

After losing about 50 pounds, I think about all my food choices. I have no illusions that I am healed of my heart’s tendency to want to overeat or my body’s tendency to gain weight easily.  In the car I assessed my current condition. (In my head, ok. I chatted charmingly about other stuff with my dear husband, who has heard enough about diets to last two lifetimes.)

I hadn’t eaten for about 8 hours. After breakfasting with my daughter in Salem, (bacon and eggs), I drove and shopped my way home. (Shopping was entirely at Penzey’s Spice shop in Clackamas. Pure delight to buy new seasonings and imagine the great dinners they will become.)

So two obvious warnings for my healthy living plan. First, going out to eat itself. Restaurants are an obvious setup for overindulgence. The plates are huge. We usually order wine. Which lowers my inhibitions. And second, I was empty, no food onboard.

Oh, and a third potentially pitfall. It was a holiday. Valentine’s Day. The day before, but still. Not on my list of occasions worth going off my eating plan for, but I was concerned I might think so in the moment. I particularly wondered about dessert. After 2 glasses of wine, I could persuade myself that dessert was an excellent idea. I made a deal with myself in the car that the only acceptable dessert would be a small portion of strawberries and chocolate.

The first concern, just going to any restaurant, was partially addressed by choosing a fine dining restaurant. In general, the better the restaurant, the less food they serve.

The smartest thing to do about the second concern, empty stomach, would have been to pre-eat before we left. I didn’t do that, but I was on high alert.

The dessert issue I left unresolved.

Once seated, I perused the oh-so-yummy menu and decided on two strategies that I had employed previously. I stuck with seafood, which is light (if you don’t pick fried or breaded), and I ordered two appetizers instead of a dinner (avoiding the carbs that usually accompany full meals).

Next potential hurdle, the bread basket. My rule of thumb is to only eat bread at restaurants, and then only if it is exceptional. Hmm. This bread was pretty fine and came with two compound butters. I settled on one small piece, torn slowly into even smaller bites. I made a game of making that little piece of bread last until the main course was presented.

Dinner time. The first dish was a tiny handful of scallops decorated with smidges of various flavorings—preserved lemon, watercress, tomatillo salsa. And maybe a single drip of super fine olive oil. Delicate, subtle, and definitely not a large portion.

The second dish was cucumber tartare with king crab. Lovely and tiny, with artful drops and smudges of wasabi.

Ok, no problem with overeating this food. My husband had a gorgeous steak with blue cheese, potatoes and asparagus. Much more food. Much more. If I wasn’t careful, my petite meal would be gone before his second bite of steak.

Eating slowly is a strategy I have used many times. Savoring each bite makes the experience more memorable and extends the fun. Slow eating gives your stomach time to register that you have had enough. And, when you’re with other people, taking your time prevents you from finding your plate empty before your companions are finished.

So I ate slow. Small bites. Fork down and hands in lap between bites. Lots of talking. Lots of listening. Kirk finished first, and by the time I was done (and I ate every scrap of that precious little meal), I was satisfied.

No strawberries on the dessert menu, so I just skipped dessert. Back at home, we each had a square of dark chocolate. A fine evening, with no regrets.

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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What I Do Instead of Cheat Days-Planned Indulgences

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in foods, gentle change, habits, weight loss

Now that you are on a healthy eating plan, what will happen to all your old favorite foods? Do you have to say goodbye forever? This thought rises up for many of my clients and seriously hinders commitment to weight loss goals.

One way dieters have attempted to cope with this problem is to schedule cheat days. Last time we looked at why cheat days are a bad idea. Read here. But cheat days are not the only option possible for having your cake and eating it too (occasionally).

What I do instead of cheat days
Planned indulgences.

This is your chance to eat your favorite foods that are off plan. I never consider this cheating because it’s built into my eating guidelines. Besides, cheating is silly. Who are you cheating? Yourself? The invisible diet police?

How I do planned indulgences.

First I made a list of my top 12 eating events. (This could also be a list of favorite foods and the occasions when you most want to eat them.) Twelve because I figured I could go off plan about once a month and still meet my weight and health goals. Here’s my list:

  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • Easter Day
  • My birthday
  • My wedding anniversary
  • Meals out at super special restaurants x3
  • Meals out on vacation (in a special restaurant) x4

These top 12 events are times when it really feels worth it to me to eat differently. They are all high quality times spent with loved ones. And I do use these events to eat old favorites. For example, on Christmas Eve we make homemade lumpia (Philippine eggrolls). My eating plan can handle fried food once a year, just not every day or every week. Last year I ordered tiramisu on my birthday, after a romantic dinner with my husband. I won’t regain my lost weight having cake once a year. But I might if I have cake every week. I feel satisfied knowing I can eat anything I want, just not very often. And surprisingly, after months of clean eating, those treats haven’t even tasted quite as good as I remembered.

I plan indulgences for special times with loved ones.

I also made a list of times when I could fool myself into thinking I was having a “special enough” event to warrant an indulgence. My brain can be quite sly and con me into foods I didn’t plan on. Don’t believe everything your mind tells you. Before you know it you will talk yourself into treats everyday!

My “Don’t Be Fooled” list included:

  • Anything that reoccurs every week—like donuts on Sunday at church. Why? It’s not special if it happens every week.
  • Food at ordinary/local/everyday type places like the coffee shop or breakfast place or fast food joint. Why? Opportunities happen too many times a year, possibly multiple times a week if you are busy or social.
  • Indulgent food at home, except for the previously listed holidays. Why? Have you ever eaten all the rest of the brownies when no one was watching? I have, and I need the accountability for my eating behaviors that other people provide. The portions at a restaurant are often huge, but at least they don’t bring you seconds. Or offer you a bowl of frosting. Or let you stand in the kitchen by yourself, browsing the fridge.
  • Foods on my trigger list. Why? Trigger foods are like drugs; the best policy is abstinence. More about trigger foods here.
  • Anything that looks like a buffet or potluck. Why? Too much food variety leads to overeating, and when you can go back for more it’s hard to keep track of portions.

Of course, this is my list of special occasions and my list of “don’t be fooled” occasions. Your list will be different. And your list will take time and effort to refine.

Does that mean I don’t go to church, or the coffee shop, or potlucks? No, of course I do. But I remind myself that this is not a special occasion and that I will remain true to the eating guidelines I have committed myself to.

And when those special occasions really do come up? They are super fun, and they’re not cheating.

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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Why Cheat Days are a Bad Idea

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in foods, habits, Uncategorized, weight loss

Here’s a short bit about cheat days. Notice the pictures of super ripped, super thin men. If you look like this, go for it. You probably could use a cheat day.

Here’s another look at cheat days and carb refeeds. Notice the female abdomen at the bottom of the page. If your belly button is flat like hers, with no place you could poke you finger into, maybe cheat days will work for you.

Now back to reality.

I am not a super ripped, super fit, 25 year old male. Or a female fitness model. In fact, I have never seen the bottom of my navel. Actually I am a middle aged, previously overweight, working on my health kind of lady. Should I be having cheat days?

This is me with my husband. I really don’t need a cheat day.






First, what is a cheat day?

Basically it’s a day off from your regularly scheduled diet plan. A day to eat whatever you want. Pancakes? Syrup? Cake? Pizza? More pizza! Sure! Anything goes on cheat days. In theory, a cheat day can revive a slowing metabolism and reset your leptin (feeling full) hormone levels. Body builders are into cheat days. And cheat days may be a good idea for them. But probably not for us ordinary folks.

Five things a cheat day really does to you:
Reminds you that you hate your diet.

Diets really do work. The real reason for the abysmal statistics on the failure of diets and prevalence of weight regain is that people don’t stick with their diets. Why don’t they stick with their diets? Because they hate them and feel deprived. The whole time they were losing weight they were dreaming of the day they could eat what they really wanted and get back to their real life.

Reality check here. For most “been heavy a while” people, the diet is going to have to be permanent. Like marriage. No point in flirting around with the guys you didn’t pick once you’re married. And no point in flirting around with the foods you aren’t eating once you have made a commitment to a better eating plan.

It’s worth it to find a diet plan you can really embrace for a lifetime. That doesn’t make you feel like “cheating.” That’s why I’m skeptical of any scheme involving special shakes or bars. Are you really going to eat/drink that nasty stuff long term?

For me, a whole foods, low carb plan works best. I still have to control what I’m eating, but all my food is delicious, filling, and made of real ingredients. For you, maybe a different plan matches your lifestyle and inclinations better. But whatever your plan is, it needs to be for a lifetime. Not a temporary, horrible deprivation that you dream about cheating on.

Reinforces using food as a reward.

Food is a crappy reward for a dieter. And an ironic one. Like if you finally got your garage all cleaned out (thank you magical Japanese tidy up lady!) and then invited the neighbors to store their junk in your space. Or if, as a former smoker, you celebrated your quit-day anniversary by lighting up.

Get better rewards. My favorite treat for sticking with my eating plan is buying new clothes. And trying on my cute, smaller clothes. And accessorizing my fun, fresh wardrobe. Clothes are a natural reward for working on your healthy shape. And unlike chocolate cake, which provides pleasure for about 5 minutes, those skinny jeans are fun all day long. Maybe you’re not into clothes (but you might be once you lose weight). Practice other kinds of rewards. Take time to read novels, or visit friends. Binge watch trashy medical dramas. Paint your nails. Do craft projects. Whatever you reward yourself with, make sure it isn’t food!

Destroys your will power for regular days.

A cheat day is one bad choice after another. A practice day for how to not recover from minor dieting deviations. In real life, slight dieting errors happen. A bite of cookie, a taste of ice cream (or maybe a whole cookie or a bowl of ice cream). Ok, no big deal. The calm, rational eater then says to themselves, “That was fine, now I’m back to my regular plan.” A cheat day is the opposite, a training ground for uncontrolled, irrational eating. The kind of eating that says, “Well I ate the nachos, so now that the day is ruined, I might as well gorge on lava cakes.” Will power is a limited resource to be guarded and encouraged. Your probably don’t have as much as you think. Don’t sabotage your will power by cheating.

Deranges your glucose metabolism

If you have been following a carb controlled eating plan, over time your body has adjusted to using protein and fat as its primary fuel. You have reaped the benefits of steady blood sugar and fewer food cravings. My clients have noticed that after just a day of high carb eating (like at holiday time), their hunger has increased. Not just for that day, but for many days afterward. That cheat day, full of empty carbs you are no longer accustomed to eating, might just set your “fat adapted” metabolism back a week.

Undoes your week’s worth of clean eating.

Here is a common pattern for hopeful dieters. Eat really carefully for five week days, even noticing a change in the scale. Yes! So exciting! Then relax and party over the weekend and gain back the weight you just barely lost. Freshly lost weight is a fragile, tentative thing. Like still damp butterfly wings. Or a giant soap bubble. You just can’t mess with new weight loss or it will be wrecked.

Next time, what I do instead of cheat days.

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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Winter Update-Some Thoughts on Healthy Changes

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in gentle change, health coaching, Uncategorized, weight loss

Welcome to winter! I’ve got plenty of wood in my shed and some cozy wool socks on my feet.

I thought it would be a good time to update you all on my coaching practice.

First, a big thank you to my coaching clients! You have provided me with great joy in assisting you. I am impressed by your honesty, strength, and courage. Positive change is hard and you are doing it!

Weight loss thoughts

I have been thinking a lot about weight loss, weight gain, and weight regain. Weight management is a major focus of my practice and close to my own heart, having worked hard to achieve normal weight myself.

Articles, books, and programs for weight loss make promises. If only you eat slowly, you will lose weight fast. Just drink this shake, take this pill, say these magic words.

Here’s some miscellaneous dieting advice:
  • Eat whole foods.
  • Eat raw foods.
  • Eat the foods on a special list.
  • Don’t eat food on the naughty list.
  • Using smaller plates.
  • Chew slowly.
  • Drink coffee.
  • Drink champagne.
  • Drink gallons of water.
  • Eat many small meals.
  • Eat a few big meals.
  • Don’t eat after dinner.
  • Don’t eat until lunch.

And each article, book, or special offer may have some truth in it. Even drinking champagne.

But following a single diet, using a particular supplement, mastering a single “trick,” is like having a single dumbbell to work out with–and then only using it for right sided bicep curls. (Yes, I’m thinking of the guy from Lady in the Water.)

Yes–you will gain muscle, but you will be unbalanced. And eventually the rest of your body will need attention too.

The same principle applies to easy weight loss plans. Most only address part of the complexity of permanent weight loss. Some focus on what to eat, while neglecting social factors and emotional issues. Others are merely a collection of behavior hacks, addressing neither food quality nor heart issues. And a third category work entirely on emotional issues and assume nutritional concerns will resolve on their own.

And this imbalance shows up eventually–perhaps when the diet stalls out, or the weight comes back, or life stresses you into a whole mess of comfort eating.

And no single plan (that I have found) addresses the reality that weight loss and longterm weight maintenance is a lifetime issue, requiring a major overhaul of nutritional, behavioral, and emotional patterns.

Successful weight loss is about nutrition, behavior, and emotion. All three. Keeping weight off is about nutrition, behavior, and emotion. All three.

This type of major life overhaul is where health coaching really shines.

Weight loss coaching (at least in my practice) is not a quick fix, bandaid approach. Sometimes I laugh at my “anti-marketing” approach.

“Come to me and lose weight slowly, hopefully forever.”

Not very flashy, but honest and realistic, and aimed at women who are really ready to do whatever it takes to get their weight under control.

What makes the coaching process different?

Three things really. Coaching is personal, action oriented, and holistic.


Because coaching is personal, you and I work through your life changes in a way custom tailored to your unique situation and challenges. No book or online program understands you as well as you do. With weight loss, this means starting where you are at and building new patterns and habits from there.

Action oriented

Because coaching is action oriented, we move forward together, working on your better, healthier future–not stuck dwelling on past behaviors. Each week of coaching involves specific action steps designed to propel you toward your goal.


Because coaching is holistic, we explore all related life areas, noticing the interconnectedness. You are not a random assembly of body parts; and your weight issues are not separate from your life issues.  For example, how you handle stress at work may determine how well you can stick with your eating plan.

What’s weight loss coaching like?

A typical weight loss coaching session begins with a review of the previous week or two. How is life going? What challenges are you facing now? How did your plans and intentions work out? This analysis is critical. Diets, strategies, healthy eating hacks, and action steps are worthless if they don’t pan out in the context of your real life. For instance, if you are embarking on an extended road trip next month, you will need specific resources and plans for managing healthy eating away from home (a behavioral challenge).

After review, we are ready to proceed to a new area. This might be a topic that occurred to you while your were working on your previous action steps. Or I might suggest the next step based on your progress to date. For instance, as you were working to decrease your sugar intake (a nutritional goal), you noticed how often you turn to sweet snacks in times of stress (an emotional concern). Having new clarity about the connection between stress and emotional eating in your life, we might consider focusing on ways to handle stress.

Over time, better habits are established. And healthy ways of living, ways that once felt impossible, become reality.

Are you ready for a healthy change? I’m here to help you.

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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Saying No to Food

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in foods, habits, weight loss


Kids know how to say “no” to food

One of the most important skills for anyone looking to achieve positive change in their eating habits is learning to say “no.” We would all much rather just say “yes.” Yes is so happy, sort of a smiling kind of word. “Yes, I want seconds; yes I want cookies; yes I need another basket of chips.”

No seems grim, frowny, mean. It sounds like sadness, deprivation. It’s hard to smile while you are saying “no.”(I tried it and felt a little psycho.)

No doesn’t sound like a positive word, but no is powerful. And may be the beginning of some very positive changes.

What “No” can do
  • Keep those extra carbs out of your mouth: “No thank you, I don’t want a pastry with that.”
  • Prevent binge eating by not getting started: “No, let’s not drive to Safeway for Chunky Monkey.”
  • Keep second helpings off your plate: “No, I’m full now.”
  • Remind yourself of what you think: “No, I don’t eat sugar.”
  • Change social dynamics: “No, I don’t want to come to your dessert party. Maybe we could go walking next week.”
How to say no to food
Get ready-Rehearse tempting situations ahead of time.

What’s on your docket for today? Will there be food temptations? (If you leave your house during the holiday season, there certainly will!) Imagine yourself in the tempting situation. What will you say? What will you do?

Practice your “lines” ahead. “I don’t eat …..” is a great line, so much better than “I can’t.”” I don’t” is controlled, dignified (like when Julia Andrews refuses to scoot over in the back of the car in Princess Diaries, saying, “I never slide.” “I don’t” invites acceptance. When someone tells you “I don’t drink alcohol,” you respect and accept their position. And unless you are a complete jerk, you don’t try to change their mind.

“I can’t” engenders the opposite response. You, and who ever you are with, start feeling sorry for you, and thinking of reasons why this particular circumstance is an exception to that horrible, heartless rule. Poor baby, you can’t eat this yummy Christmas cookie? Are you sure?

I have the smallest of moral quibbles about saying “I don’t.” Because sometimes I do. I don’t eat sugar, except on my birthday and certain holidays and sometimes in salad dressing. I don’t eat fried foods, except lumpia on Christmas Eve. When you announce “I don’t”, it sounds like an absolute, when really it’s more of a guideline (like The Code of Pirates). So now I have confessed, and you can call me on it if you want. But I figure most people don’t want that much information about my dietary minutiae anyway, so I will stick with “I don’t”.

Get some conviction.

It’s hard to say no when your heart isn’t convinced. So encourage your positive feelings about the changes you are making. Write your goals down. The journal I have been experimenting with has you write down your goals every day at the top of the planner. At first I thought this was overkill, but seeing my four big goals written out in my own hand every day has created strong reinforcement about what is important to me.

Get some information.

Know in your head why your food changes matter to your health. “It’s on the naughty list” probably won’t carry you far when faced with chocolate peppermint bark at the company Christmas party. In fact, knowing that a particular item is forbidden can bring out the rebellious child in you and lead to all kinds of overeating. So learn why you are changing; become an expert (or relative expert) on you healthy diet plan. Sugar really is bad for you. Learn why so you have some rationale reason to refuse cake.

Get food off of a pedestal.

How can you say “no” to the most important thing in your life? And if you are constantly obsessing about food, constantly seeking food, constantly thinking of food, constantly saying “yes” to foods you have just sworn off, maybe food holds a more important position in your life than it deserves. Just how important are those fish and chips? As important as Love? Beauty? Peace? Friendship? As important as living a long healthy life (Lord willing)?

Are there values and goals in your life that are more important than Crispy Cremes? Of course there are! Focus on those.

Get some perspective.

There is some survival value in prioritizing food, but if you are figuring out how to say “no” to food, you are likely not underfed. And most of us have ample opportunities to taste great food. Ask yourself, “ Is this the only time in my life I will get to eat pizza, or cookies, or ice cream?” A few years ago I traveled to New Orleans and walked to Café Du Monde. Did I have their specialty, a beignet (totally just a fried donut) and café au lait? I sure did, and that was fun (but not as good as I expected). I will probably never go back, so that was actually a “once in a lifetime” event. But Safeway donuts? I could always get one if I wanted, so I can say “no” to them today.

Get some strength.

Saying “no” takes energy and presence of mind. How will you say no to drive-through if you left the house without breakfast? You won’t. Your survival brain will scream “starving!!” at you until you say “yes, give me all the food.” So say “yes” to some nourishing, wholesome food (maybe some bacon and eggs) while you are still in your right mind so you can be strong enough to say “no” later to the foods you really don’t want to be eating anyway.

Wishing you great success as you gently improve your health.

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