Trust in the Process

So you decide to start exercising. Your reasons may range from wanting to lose weight to getting fitter, looking better, running a marathon or perhaps your last visit to your doctor didn’t go too well and you’ve been told you have to knock off the pounds, cut down on your food and so on.

With all good intentions and some trepidation you take yourself to the gym, hire a trainer, perhaps meet a dietician and get started with your newfound virtuous purpose.

You are enthusiastic initially. You want to lose that weight and get with the program. A few weeks to months down the road the initial enthusiasm starts to wane. You start skipping workouts, that diet plan is making you ‘hangry’. (a newly coined word for ‘angry’ because you are hungry!). It’s frustrating and does little for your self esteem.

The most common reasons for lack of compliance with an exercise or healthy      eating program

  • The expectation of unrealistic results and subsequent disappointment.
  • Expecting too much too soon.
  • Doing too much too soon and getting burnt out quickly.
  • Following a diet that does not complement your exercise routine or lifestyle.
  • Listening to endless advice from all quarters about how best you can lose        weight rapidly or this awesome new workout or weight loss aid.
  • Other lifestyle habits that may be hindering weight loss such as lack of sleep      and stress.

Whatever your reason for starting an exercise program, once you start; you have to – Trust in the process.

– Eat clean

– Exercise smart

– Make good choices through the day

– Address other aspects of your life

– Be patient

– Reward yourself

&

Repeat.

Most people falter in one or all the above and still expect spectacular results. The science behind weight loss is such that it simply cannot happen overnight. The body has to go through the process of changing gradually. It often plateaus; weight loss stalls and you could get discouraged. This is especially true for those inclined towards instant gratification.

Eat clean – If there were two things you should eliminate from your diet it would be sugar and processed food. Eat mainly whole foods, plenty of vegetables and fruit, including enough protein (especially plant proteins like legumes, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds) and some high quality fats.

While many fad diets abound, you have to find a healthy ‘eating plan’, not necessarily a prescribed, rigorous ‘diet’ that will suit your lifestyle. It has to be adapted to your palate, work hours, travel and recreational activities. It goes without saying that encouraging the entire family to eat clean most days of the week, (with occasional treats) goes a long way in supporting weight loss and health for everyone concerned. Women often tell me that they sorrowfully, stay away from the family dinner table to ‘avoid temptation’. That’s a hard way to live and considering this is supposed to be a lifetime commitment, it doesn’t make much sense. Of course there will be times when you eat out, eat on airplanes or at office lunches. Over time, given enough time, you will learn to eat sensibly even on these occasions. You learn to make the right choices. Eating Clean becomes a lifestyle.

Exercise Regularly – Regular exercise has to be a lifetime commitment. It also has to suit your lifestyle. Planning to workout seven days a week with an already hectic work and family schedule is bound to fail.

Your exercise routine has to include cardio, strength training and flexibility in appropriate proportions to suit your needs. It also has to be of adequate intensity that is gradually increased with time, as you get fitter. Doing the same thing, months on end will cause stagnation and boredom. If you miss a workout, or a couple of workouts, get right back on the saddle and keep going. The mistake many people make is to fall right off the saddle and stay on the floor. They give up too soon at the first signs of trouble.

Exercise smart – You have to be strategic in your exercise. Longer or harder is not always better. There is a time and place for low intensity, long duration exercise. There is also a time and place for high intensity interval training. An exercise routine that you can fit into your day may mean a quick workout on some days and longer ones on others. We have to also think about getting the best out of our investment of time.

Don’t forget the weight training to build muscle mass. If there is one thing that will help you sustain fat loss it is building muscle. I’ve elaborated on this in my book ‘Gain To Lose’.

Make good choices through the day – An hour of exercises does not entitle you to be sedentary through the rest of your day, neither does it warrant eating with abandon. Making good, conscious, mindful choices through the day goes a long way in helping you achieve your goals. Even small interventions like walking as much as you can, taking the stairs, not sitting for long periods of time, managing stress with the appropriate tools like time management, meditation, breathing and maintaining healthy, supportive relationships are important. Stay mindful through the day.

Address other aspects of your life – Sleep deprivation, uncontrolled stress, lack of authentic social relationships, loneliness, depression and presence of toxic relationships can contribute to weight gain or the prevention of weight loss. All the aspects of wellbeing need to be considered if you want long-term solutions. Of course life is never perfect but being cognizant of these things and how they may be playing into your weight and therefore your health is the first step to overcoming a weight issue. Learning to deal with our imperfect lives is more important than trying to make it perfect.

Be patient – The body has to adapt to the new lifestyle of clean eating and regular exercise. A new lifestyle takes a while getting used to not just physically but psychologically and emotionally. If you are accustomed to eating a bag of chips in front of your TV everyday, then, stopping this habit will create cravings that have to be managed with appropriate tools until they can be overcome.

Weight loss takes time. This may vary.

Initial weight loss can be quite drastic and no doubt thrilling, only to find, it stalls. This is the time to increase the intensity of your workouts, change them around, revisit your eating and keep moving.

Keys to maintaining patience & staying the course –

  • Find the motivation to keep at it. Finding a support group like a group class,     walking or running buddies is very helpful to stay on track when you start to feel discouraged.
  • Find a distraction. Stop obsessing about your weight. It will happen if you trust  in the process. Start a hobby or volunteer for a social cause to keep your mind busy and distracted from that weighing scale. I know a woman who started       glass painting to keep busy after we chatted about it. Today she has not only     lost her unwanted weight, but has a flourishing business and is truly busy with  an exciting life.

Reward yourself appropriately –The human body appreciates reward. So you have to set up a system whereby when you achieve small goals you reward yourself (not with a sweet treat, because that would be self-sabotage), on a regular basis. It has been found that by doing that you establish motivation to continue. Perhaps a massage, new workout clothes and so on.

You have to stay on course. A couple of detours are inevitable and to be expected. It does take effort and a willingness to commit to a lifetime of lifestyle change. Many people go right back to their old habits after they have lost their weight only to find it creeping back. How can you expect it not to?

All of the above may seem rather mundane. Where is the magic pill you ask? Where is that solution for an instant and permanent fix? Truth is, there isn’t one! You have to trust in the process and wait for your body to respond, which it will, if you do it right.

Dr. Sheela Nambiar MD, Obgyn

Lifestyle Medicine Physician Dip LM BSLM

Fitness Consultant NAFC

Author of – Get Size Wise, Gain To Lose & Fit After 40

 

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Mindfulness for Well-Being

This article was first published in The Rotary News in March 2019.

Most religions and spiritual practices have their own repertoire of a variety of meditative practices. Mindful meditation and mindfulness however have no religious trappings and anyone, from any walk of life can (and should) incorporate mindfulness and mindful meditation into their life for just a few minutes in a day to perceive the benefits.

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The practice of mindfulness and the corresponding meditative practices have gained scientific attention after several studies; especially from the Center For Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts have explored the benefits. S.N Goenka, a Burmese-Indian, the founder of Vipasana Meditation and more recently, John Kabat-Zinn from University of Massachusetts have been instrumental in popularizing Mindfulness.

Improvement in physical ailments through this mind-body method is now accepted as a very important complement to mainline management of disease. The improvement in psychological health, cognition, decision-making capability, social relationships and general wellbeing are recognised as some of the benefits of mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is nothing but the non-judgmental conscious and purposeful awareness of the present moment. So what’s so wonderful about that you may ask! If you think about it, there is nothing but the present moment. The past is over and the future is not yet here. Being aware of the present moment keeps us more engaged and involved with our lives as it plays out in real time.

Have you been with your kids while distracted and wishing to be elsewhere? Have you driven home reliving an argument with a co-worker, angry and resentful, unable to even recalled your drive? Have you sometimes looked back and wondered where the day had disappeared, having no memory of it? Have you sat in front of your TV and gone through an enormous bag of chips with no real recollection of having eaten it? These are all examples of mindlessness that are typical and not helpful. They rob us of the present moment and spin us into a realm that does not even currently exist.

– Anxious worrying or rumination can cause you to eat mindlessly, leading to obesity and all the subsequent repercussions.

– Lack of mindfulness can keep you disconnected from your body and the continuous signals your body sends you. So you may be unaware for instance that what you are really feeling is fatigue or thirst and not hunger and reach for food in a distracted and mindless manner.

– Lack of mindfulness can manifest as a lack of awareness of social cues, another person’s body language or even an understanding what they are really saying leading to misunderstanding and grief.

Mindfulness is also the ability to observe without judgment the present moment with its pain, suffering, joy, happiness or feelings of insecurity and recognize it for what it is. Being mindful of the situation as it is helps us firstly concede it and then, when required, make the necessary changes to improve it. So, for instance, if you are angry or disappointed with someone, observing and recognizing that emotion for what it is and then questioning oneself to reveal the source of the anger/disappointment will help us deal with it far better that just acting out on impulse, mindlessly. In fact, embracing the feeling of anxiety or pain instead of trying to escape from it can tell us much about ourselves, increasing self-awareness.

This habit of being present without judgment and being open to acknowledging what is happening in real time transforms our relationship with ourselves, creating a higher level of self-awareness that most of us lack. Our bodies and minds have an innate wisdom and capacity to, for instance, indicate to us what is truly wrong and what is going on within. The only trouble is, we don’t listen because we are too busy living life at high speed and mostly through virtual reality with photographs and social media, comparing, wishing and judging.

Being mindful is a habit. The thoughts in our head can actually cause or aggravate disease or precipitate emotion; our thoughts matter.

Being aware of what they are therefore is critical to our wellbeing. Research from the University of Massachusetts Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR program have shown the benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness-based practices for a variety of medical conditions such as anxiety (Otner 2007), pain (Zeidan 2016) and even skin conditions like psoriasis (Kabat-Zinn 1998). The improvement in such conditions, using mindful meditation appears to be the result of the deepening awareness of our own thought processes related to the disease or pain we suffer. Thinking in a particular manner about our pain or disease can actually increase that pain or alter the course of the disease. Being aware of just how we react to or think about/view our pain or disease will help us modify those thoughts when required thereby altering the pain or disease. Being conscious when we start to ruminate about a negative outcome or recognizing that our pain in the back is aggravated when we are stressed (not necessarily physically) is helpful to alter the course of the physical condition.  Mindfulness also has several benefits for our emotional and thinking brain –

    • Mindfulness calms the brain by quieting the parts of the brain (the Amygdyla) responsible for the fight-or-flight response (Lutz, Davidson et al 2008)
    • It aids in stress reduction (Goldin et al 2010)
    • It helps regulating emotions to improve emotional intelligence (Chiesa et al 2010)
    • Improves attention and focus (Baijal et al 2011)
  • Reduction in depression (Napoli et al 2005)

Steps to being more mindful –

    • Pay attention to simple things – it could be something as simple as taking a shower. Be conscious of the water, the temperature, the sound and feel of the experience. It does not matter if you are enjoying it or otherwise. Just be conscious of the sensations and moment. Make it a habit
    • Breathe – Sounds so simple. Rarely are we conscious of our breathing. Make it a habit to become aware of your breath at frequent intervals through the day. It could be every time you move from one project to another, or one client to another or when you walk down a corridor or get yourself a glass of water; stop and breathe.
  • Listen to your body – Sometimes we are aware that there is some vague pain or discomfort in our bodies. We may not however really pay attention to how the body moves or how we sit, stand, eat or engage.

How do we position our hips, feet, back, arms? Is there tension in some part of the body? Is it aggravated by the way we move or sit? Do we favor one side more than the other? Is one side weaker? Is our core engaged? These are not always aspects of ourselves we pay attention to. Doing so will bring a deeper awareness of our own bodies. This in turn keeps us tuned into our bodies, working with it instead of against it. Doing things to keep it well.

    • Be aware of your thoughts –recognize your thoughts as they play out in your head. Don’t judge or be upset by them. Just be aware of them.
    • Use all your senses – try to use all your senses from time to time. When you go for a walk outside for instance be conscious of the sights, smells and sounds. When you are cooking, be conscious of the color of the vegetables, the feel of them as the knife goes through them, the changing smells when you cook and so on. Even cutting vegetables can be a mindfully meditative process!
    • Engage fully – This is especially important when you interact with people. Engaging with them fully allows not only for better understanding and relationship but also makes them feel valued when you are present and completely involved. In our fast paced world we tend to skim through interactions without much thought leaving everyone concerned feeling inconsequential and the whole interaction quite superficial.
    • Practice – Mindfulness based meditative practices may last for as short as ten minutes. You can source many of them online on YouTube. You could try the courses offered ones by Kabat-Zinn or Vipasana meditation by Goenka..
  • Do yoga – Yoga practices linking movement and the breath are great to help us become more mindful.

How does meditating for ten minutes help you may ask! Practicing this form of meditation for even ten minutes every day will allow the habit of mindfulness to seep into the rest of your day. The practice may be anything from Breath meditation to Body Scans or an actual Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – MBSR session.  Create a regular practice that you commit to every day, preferably at the same time of the day. Over time, this becomes your way of ‘being’ not just ‘doing’.

Mindfulness has a wide range of benefits from disease management to a general improved sense of wellbeing and increased productivity. Do you wonder sometimes why you are not able to get things done? Why you can’t focus your attention when needed? Why you find it difficult to express yourself properly as your thoughts careen from one thing to another? Why you overeat when you know you shouldn’t or why you can’t sleep with those thoughts spinning around in your head in an endless loop of melodrama? Mindful meditation and a continued practice of mindfulness on a consistent basis may be the answer to calming the mind and creating a more peaceful focused and meaningful life experience.  

Dr. Sheela Nambiar MD ObGyn

Lifestyle Medicine Physician DipLM BSLM

Fitness Consultant NAFC

Author of – Get Size Wise, Gain To Lose & Fit After 40.

www.drsheelanambiar.com