Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Science of Breaking Bad Food Habits

Change is hard. If you've ever tried to change a bad habit, you know firsthand just how difficult it can be to consistently make better choices without feeling like you're denying yourself the true pleasures in life.

Why are habits hard to break?
We're all hardwired to form habits. Habitual behaviors form very early on in order to make our lives easier, allow us to multi-task and save our mental energy for the bigger things. Without habits, every action would take deliberate thought and require your complete engagement, but thanks to our ability to form habits, we can all live productive lives.
Thousands of years ago, the habitual brain made it possible for us to survive, but today combined with the modern conveniences of the 21st century, this important life-saving adaptation can oftentimes do us more harm than good. Our propensity to prefer life on autopilot helps us to navigate our homes, use a computer, read a book and more; it's also what's responsible for our poor judgment when it comes to snacking. And marketing companies know this.
It’s important to recognize that the foods you know and love (and are addicted to) have undergone billions of dollars of research to exploit your predisposition toward habit formation; to determine which flavor combinations get you to eat more; what packaging will sell best; even where your favorite foods are located in the supermarket isn't an accident.
With both evolution and clever marketing giants both working against us, it's no wonder so many of us struggle to lose the weight and keep it off.

Identifying the Components of Habits
Many of the habits we have around food, exercise or other lifestyle behaviors are comprised of three distinct ingredients:

  • Cue
  • Behavior
  • Reward

To demonstrate, a habit surrounding food might look like this:
Cue: Hunger; however, it could also be boredom, stress, a certain time of day, the smell of food, hearing others talk about food, seeing a commercial and so on.
Behavior: eat food
Reward: Satiety, relaxation, comfort or nostalgia etc.

Sometimes we feel guilty or disgusted after we eat, but those are secondary feelings; the initial reward still exists. Furthermore, because our brains are so much more complex than a three-step system, it’s often times very difficult to differentiate reward from addiction, particularly when you pepper in clever marketing and early wiring that can occur in childhood or when you're exposed to trauma. All of these combined elements make breaking old habits challenging.

How To Break Bad Food Habits

When we think about changing our habits, it's easy to quickly become overwhelmed or discouraged. That's because when most of us think about change, we first envision the end result. When we recognize just how different the end feels from where we currently are, we imagine that it could only be through an enormous effort that such a pivot could occur. But the truth is, change is about the little things; you don't have to reinvent yourself to see change, you just have to change some of the small things you do (and think about) daily. This is where your habits are made and re-made.

One critical component of this process is to remain positive about yourself and the process. If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk or you find yourself entertaining the idea of food restriction for punishment or food rewards for behaviors you’d like to see more of, stop. These are not healthy or sustainable mindsets.
Use what you know about habits to learn how to engage in better behaviors that you can still feel good about. For example, if you know you tend to use food after you encounter a stressful situation, be mindful of this fact. Since you likely won’t be able to avoid stress for the rest of your life, begin to explore other tactics for stress relief. You don’t need to completely turn your life upside down for this; while practicing yoga, taking a run or simply enjoying a cup of tea may be very calming for some people, these stress-relieving techniques may be too far outside of the scope of what you’re used to. While they’re great long-term goals to keep in mind, if they’re too big of a leap, you’ll ultimately not get the same reward from them and feel like you’re denying yourself. This will only lead you to mental and emotional fatigue - the opposite of what we’re shooting for.

Using Diet Food to Change Habits

Later on down the road, you might find that when you’re bored, you find that bird watching is very exciting and rewarding; you might find relief from stress in yoga; you may begin to associate snack-o-clock with a time when you automatically reach for an apple instead of the cookies. But today, you’re likely in a place where these are long-term goals. So rather than finding a whole new activity that brings you relaxation, comfort or excitement, let’s simply find a better food that offers the same rewards.
This is where many people have trouble because it's very difficult to find adequate replacements for the sweet and salty snacks you crave. We already know that a stick of celery will simply never be a comparison for Cheez-Its, but it can be equally difficult to find a specialty diet food replacement that really hits the spot.

Bariatric Chocolate Chip Cookies
At Bariatric Direct, we specialize in foods that look, feel and taste like the snacks and comfort meals you're used to. Our foods are designed to address your cravings so that when you eat them, you're satisfied and not looking for more. Replacing a tasty snack with its most similar alternative is a great way to slowly move away from your old habits while losing weight and gaining confidence! With high-protein and low-calorie options, you'll ultimately consume less without having to expend a ton of additional mental energy on food preparation. That means you can focus your efforts on conjunctive weight loss tactics such as exercising more, diving deeper into that self-help book you've been wanting to crack open and simply staying positive.

Check out our additional tips for breaking habits and weight loss in our recent New Years blog.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Benefits of the Bariatric Weight Loss App & Tracker

There's nothing like seeing progress unfolding. The first time it became more natural to reach for a healthy snack instead of an unhealthy one, another pound off the scale or a finished workout are all incomparable feelings fueled by your own achievements.
As you're ramping up your weight loss journey, you'll benefit from incorporating a few valuable tools into your everyday life. Among these might be a food journal or calorie counting app, a step counter or fitness tracker, a scale that can calculate some essential metrics including BMI, and any other management apps or methods that'll help you stay on track, motivated and accountable.

The Bariatric Health & Wellness app features a set of integrated tools designed with you in mind. The app works in conjunction with a range of trackers and scales to help you keep score of your progress by monitoring your food and water intake, exercise and weight loss.

Benefits of a Fitness Tracker

There's nothing like having an accountabilibuddy by your side; working together with a close friend provides motivation when you need it most and offers feedback in real time. However, busy lives and demanding schedules make it difficult to coordinate workouts and jam sessions among friends, which can lead to slowed progress and stagnation. Eventually without proper accountability, you'll stop meeting your goals and take more and more shortcuts through your exercise routines and meal planning.
A tracker takes many of the benefits of having a friend right by your side and makes them accessible at any time, anywhere.  The Bariatric Health & Wellness tracker is designed to help you increase your physical activity, record your steps and active time, and achieve the results you're looking for.

Count Steps & Active Time

New research shows that developing an active lifestyle is paramount to your health. Regular physical activity improves circulation, flexibility and strength, and promotes a healthier weight. People who can maintain a healthy weight and waist circumference significantly reduce their risks for a variety of debilitating illnesses including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and several types of cancer.
To keep with the American Heart Association's recommendation, you'll need to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week. That may sound like a lot, but it breaks down to just 30 minutes per day, five times a week, and a fitness tracker will help you to reach and maintain that goal. Whether you're into walking, gardening, swimming, dancing, hiking or yoga, every step and activity counts toward meeting your goal.

Get Results

A tracker that integrates with an app makes recording valuable data seamless. Having your daily exercise data on hand ensures you have access to all of your progress, since day one of your journey. Dive into granular data week over week or get a broader overview by checking your calorie deficits month over month or even year over year. You'll be able to take pride in knowing you've reached your goals, and find reassurance in easy-to-understand visual data that breaks down steps, movement and calories burned.
The Bariatric Health & Wellness app works in real-time so you'll never have to track your movement separately or enter it manually. In combination with the weight loss scale, which additionally records your weight, BMI and your lean body mass in real time, you'll be able to get the most complete and well-rounded picture of your daily progress.

Patients who use the app report improved motivation & continue their weight loss program longer and that's no surprise. With so many integrated features including access to a coach when you need that additional boost of motivation, it's easier to stay on track longer and replace old habits with better, healthier ones.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

3 Absolutely Essential Tips for 2020 Weight Loss

Welcome to January 2020. "New Year New You", as the popular saying goes, and this year is no different. In fact, because we're now entering the start of a new decade, you may be more determined than ever before to meet your goals by the end of this year. We're here to help.
Whether this is the first year truly you've been inspired to change or you've been on this path before, we know that the road to success can be a bumpy one. Because this is all new, it can be very easy to become overwhelmed, discouraged or burned out and give up on the idea of being a new you. To set yourself up for success, follow these three essentials for weight loss in 2020.

Start Anytime

OK, so the new year is a great time to get into the mentality of starting something new, but there's absolutely never a wrong time to start. You can start in March, you can start in the middle of a month, you can start on a Wednesday and you can start at 6pm, if you're so inspired. Waiting to start can feel like you're ramping up toward success, but the truth is, if you wait to start you're only limiting the number of opportunities you're allowing yourself. Additionally, when you wait to get started, the pressure you've put on yourself to succeed is oftentimes too much, so when you fail - and we all fail sometimes - it can be very hard to gain the momentum you'll need to get started again.
Instead of thinking of your weight loss journey as having a starting and an ending point, get into the habit of seeing the individual moments of your life as opportunities. Forget what you're doing on Monday, instead pay attention to your morning routine, your everyday, your evenings and your bedtime habits. By noticing and appreciating the segments that make up your daily life, you'll find that even if your morning didn't pan out as planned, you'll still have the mental energy to tackle the rest of the day without feeling like you've failed.

Be Positive

Many of our attempts to change are cultivated in a very negative headspace; we don't like the way we look, we hate the way we feel and we regret letting it get this far. While it's only human to let pessimism get the best of us at times, we promise it'll be to your greatest benefit to cut out the negative self-talk once and for all.
While negative emotions can feel like a great kickstarter, living every day in anger or regret simply isn't healthy or sustainable. When we let negative emotions dictate our choices, we end up with knee-jerk reactions that'll help us alleviate our anxiety as quickly as possible. What we don't get are sustainable changes.
You may initially find it hard to shift your focus from negative to positive, and that's OK. Here are some tips:

  • Practice gratitude
  • Be compassionate
  • Set intentions
  • Be curious
  • Push the bad out with the good

Practicing gratitude will let you reflect upon your life positively. It'll provide you with sustainable strength to tackle your day, rather than simply kicking your survival gear into overdrive. Each morning, try to think of two or three things you can be truly grateful for. Marinade in these for 15-20 minutes, giving attention to the feeling itself without any negative commentary or judgment.

If you have negative thoughts, whether while you're practicing gratitude or at any other point throughout the day, remember to be compassionate with yourself. We're all only human, and much of our daily drive originates deep within our genes; you are not "too [this]" or "not enough of [that]".

Setting intentions is a powerful tool because it allows us to visualize our success. Visualization has been used for decades by some of the most successful athletes alive because your brain can't tell the difference between something you vividly imagine and something you actually did or saw.

We all have bad habits, and many of us have been taught to believe that in order to break a habit, we must give it up for [insert the magical number of days here]. But the truth us, whether you quit smoking for 30 days or for six months, there's simply no proven timeline for when you're no longer susceptible to falling back into old habits.
Habits are the automatic things we do every day. Our habits are our brain's way of expending the least amount of energy and still get stuff done; the way you park your car, the shampoo you like and the foods you eat when you're bored, sad or hungry are all based on habits. Why do we establish certain habits but not others?
Habits are based on just a couple of things: a trigger or cue and the reward. The cue occurs before you engage in a habit. The reward is WHY you engage in the habit.

Getting curious about what triggers you to get into the habit loop is a great place to start when you're trying to break established habits. Start by writing down the event or thought or emotion that cued you to want a certain food or lose interest in going to the gym. Next, make a note of the habit you engaged in once the cue occurred. Finally, write down the reward you got from engaging in the habit.

Your journal entry might look something like this:

gym feels too overwhelming --> stayed home, watched TV and snacked instead --> felt much less anxious

The secret to changing patterns like this isn't to try and power through or to beat yourself up and subsequently canceling your Netflix membership. These are negative feedback patterns and your brain is going to do whatever it can to avoid them. That's why after 30 days of forcing yourself into the gym or limiting yourself to two hours of TV per week, you get burned out and scrap the whole mission.

The secret to changing your bad habits is to replace them with good habits. The second part of that secret is that you don't have to replace all the bad, you just have to start by pushing some of the stuff you don't want out with some of the stuff you do.

Because your triggers and subconscious cues are difficult to change (maybe someday, but don't start there), you need to learn how to establish new habits that still yield the same rewards. In the example above, the reward was that you felt much less anxious. Feeling less anxious is a "must" in this scenario, so anything we do once we're triggered by "gym feels too overwhelming" still has to lead us there.

Therefore, a new and much more sustainable habit change could be:

gym feels too overwhelming --> stayed home and watched TV while using resistance bands --> felt much less anxious

gym feels too overwhelming --> stayed home and planned a healthy dinner while talking to a friend --> felt much less anxious

gym feels too overwhelming --> went for a walk around the block listening to my favorite podcast --> felt much less anxious

gym feels too overwhelming --> stayed home and read a book I've been wanting to start, then took a nap with the cat --> felt much less anxious

By pushing out the bad habit of snacking while watching TV (and then ultimately feeling guilty) with a new habit that gives us a very similar reward, you'll be able to create new sustainable patterns that look much more like the life you want and less of the life you're looking to leave behind.

Take Baby Steps

  • Do you want to lose 75 pounds?
  • Do you wish you could run a marathon?
  • Ready to buy that size 8 bikini?

These are all admirable and realistic long-term goals, however, it's enormous goal-setting such as this that'll lead to a fast and ungraceful burnout by month three of your fantastic voyage.
There is no doubt that you are strong, willful and dedicated, and we understand just how important it is for you to prove that to your friends, your family and yourself. But ask yourself: What's the advice I'd give to my best friend in this situation? Or: How would I approach this if my current self could speak to my younger self right now? Chances are, you'd be much quicker to advocate small and realistic goals because you know that these are worth noticing, celebrating and striving for.

For the sake of your own success, both immediate and longterm, it'll be important to take those goals and break them into smaller attainable pieces. If your goal is to lose weight, consider all of the ways you might be able to measure that. Weight loss can be measured by marks on the scale, but also in how far you can easily walk, in how lose your shirts are getting or by the comments you're getting from others. Consider that any weight lost is a step in the right direction and that given a long enough timeline, your new habits will take you to that 75-pound mark.

There's no achievement too small when it comes to changing your life. Give yourself the credit you deserve, set realistic goals, be positive in your endeavors and feel free to start or start over at any time.
With time, patience and practice, you can achieve anything.