Monthly Archives: February 2019
Monthly Archives: February 2019
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In the book Sober Curious, Ruby Warrington explores her relationship with alcohol.
Allan (1:14): Ruby, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Ruby Warrington (1:17): Allan, thank you for having me.
Allan (1:20): I was really happy to be able to review your book, Sober Curious, because a little over a year ago now I did an alcohol challenge. I do like to do challenges for the listener, so I’ll go out there and say, “Let’s do this squat challenge” and I’ll get people to sign up, or, “Let’s do a sugar challenge” and people sign up. I posted for the alcohol challenge and basically the challenge was to not drink for 28 days. I got very interesting feedback from people and it put me into a lot of, I guess what you would call the “sober firsts” – all the uncomfortableness that can happen with that. So I experienced a lot of what you talk about in the book just by doing my 28 days. It was very interesting. But I think what was, I guess, the most tragic was how many people were posting they could never, ever go 28 days without drinking. Even though they knew that the health benefits would be substantial, they just couldn’t take that step. And that’s why I think your book Sober Curious is actually a very good book in the approach that it’s taking, which is very different from a lot of other models that are out there. I guess I want to start with, beyond the basic health aspects and what not, what are the positive side effects that you’ve experienced going through your journey with sober curious?
Ruby Warrington (2:54): First of all, thanks for sharing your story and for sharing the kinds of feedback that you got. I think it’s so interesting, as you pointed out, how we’re prepared to invest so much time, money and energy in looking and feeling great and putting everything into our fitness and wellness regimes, and yet when it comes to alcohol, people are so reluctant to even consider taking it out. I think that just speaks volumes to our emotional attachments to alcohol, whether or not we might perceive ourselves as having a problem with drinking. I think that the thought of 28 days out of your entire life without alcohol, which is a minute in time, I think it speaks volumes really. I guess the biggest benefits for me have been… There are so many, I’m not sure even where to start. I’d say one of the biggest benefits is feeling overall more energized. I think that’s a result of getting repeatedly night after night of properly restorative sleep. I didn’t really realize how poor my sleep quality was until I removed alcohol and began to get properly restorative sleep most nights. I wouldn’t say that that happens every night; of course there are other factors that play into the quality of my sleep, but by and large, my sleep is so much better. And that has a knock-on effect, in terms of my overall energy and vitality. But not only that – the knock-on effect of having that much more energy is I feel more confident, I feel more inspired, I feel more capable, I feel better equipped to deal with whatever my day might want to throw at me. So, better sleep leading to more energy and an overall sense of feeling more like, “I got this!”, just more confident and capable in my life. Those are some of the biggest wellbeing benefits, I suppose. Specifically speaking to fitness I guess, I’m much more inclined to actually get my workouts in. I’m not losing days or letting things slide because I’m feeling hung over or because I’m out drinking. One of my favorite Saturday activities now is to go and do a longer workout in the gym with my husband. Whereas before we might have gone and had a boozy lunch, I suppose. So it gives me more commitment in terms of my overall fitness goals as well. But then you kind of zoom out and all of these things have their own knock-on effects in other areas of my life.
Allan (5:33): Yes. I can see it as a journalist or someone who’s running a business or even just at work, you’re going to be sharper, you’re going to be able to think through things a lot better. Then the other side of it that I think a lot of people dismiss is how much alcohol dehydrates us, and all the downstream effects of being dehydrated. Your kidneys need that liquid to operate properly, so your kidney function is just not there. Obviously we know that there are some liver function issues as well if you’re drinking all the time. There’s so much out there. Now, one of the things that I thought was really important, and you brought this up in the book, was that we need to be careful as we’re going through this. I think this is with anything that we do, where we’re working to improve our health, is to not want to be that person that’s out there evangelizing. Everybody expected me to do that. We’d go out for dinner and I’d order water. Everybody kind of got squeamish about what they were ordering and how much they were drinking and thinking I was watching them. I was like, “No, you do you, I’m doing me. I’m not out here to change you unless you’re interested in joining me on this journey. But this is my 28 days and I’m not here to do anything different.” Can you talk a little bit about that impulse to want to be the evangelist, so to speak, as it comes to this?
Ruby Warrington (7:05): Even I think in traditional recovery circles, there is a phase that’s recognized that’s known as the “evangelical phase”. I think it’s like with anything, if we discover something that has a really amazing benefit to us, we naturally want to share it with the people that we love and we care about. If you discovered a new workout that you’re feeling so psyched about, you would probably…
Allan (7:28): Like the CrossFitters.
Ruby Warrington (7:29): Right. Like I used to be with Bikram Yoga: “You’ve got to try this. It feels so amazing. You’ll love it. You’ll love every minute. It’s going to change your life.” It’s a very natural urge, but I think with something that is so emotionally fraught for a lot of us and can bring up a lot of judgements, be that judgment of other people, judgment of ourselves as well – you have to tread very carefully. I talk in the book and also in my own life, I’m very careful to always talk about this within the context of my own experience, because the other thing that’s important to say is, everybody is different. The way my body processes alcohol and the negative impact that I wound up realizing it was having on me will be very different from the next person. So it’s not really my place, especially considering I’m not a fitness or a medical professional, to go around telling everyone else what they should be consuming or not. All I can really do is just, like you said, live by example, and if someone is intrigued and wants to ask me more, then great. You could also then say, “Well, you just went and wrote a book about it.” But that was largely because since being really open and discussing freely and without shame and without judgment my experience with alcohol, both the problems I realized it was causing me and the benefits I’ve experienced since not drinking, a lot of people have come to me to, not exactly confess, but to say, “Thank you for sharing. Thank you for talking about this openly, because actually now that you mention it, alcohol is not making me feel great and I don’t really feel like I’m a candidate for AA. I don’t feel like I’ve got a problem with drinking. But also it can be really difficult not to. What can we do about this?” So, the book is really for anyone who finds themselves on any level questioning their relationship to alcohol and wanting to investigate further.
Allan (9:30): I think the fact that you wrote a book is a little different than, you’re out with your friends or you’re riding on a bus or driving. I used to always, when I had something important to tell my daughter and I wanted her attention, I would just do it when we were in the car on trips, so she really didn’t have any other distraction. She just hated sometimes going on long trips with me because she knew there were going to be some lectures. But when you put out a book, it’s a little different because someone has to actually make the investment and the time to seek out that information and then go through that content. It’s not like you’re pushing this on them; you’re saying, “Here’s some information. Use it to your benefit where you see fit.”
Ruby Warrington (10:09): This is true. And there are actually very few people in my life that I have even suggested they may benefit from cutting back or stopping drinking. But at the same time, if I see someone struggling, not necessarily struggling with alcohol, but struggling with stress or struggling with a difficult transition in their life or struggling with finding their sense of purpose, I will gently offer the invitation to see what the clarity that comes from not drinking could bring to them. For example, my husband is now sober curious and doesn’t drink too, but that was not at all the case when I first stepped away from drinking or began to cut it out. But through being able to witness how much calmer and more competent and confident I felt about dealing with the problems in my life, he was like, “You know what? I’m going to try this.” Because he was going through a very stressful period at work at the time, and within a few weeks was feeling so much calmer and so much more able to deal with those stressors. So, I think it goes back to that thing, just really living by example, leading by example, which also brings it home to, if people have questions about why you’re not drinking, why you made this choice – be honest about it, be open about it. The more we make excuses or shy away from having a really honest conversation about why we’ve made this choice, the more we make it something to be ashamed of and the more we keep it as a separate experience from everybody else’s experience. But if I can openly stand up and say, “You know what? The hangovers felt really terrible. They were preventing me from feeling like I was living a life that was aligned” – that actually opens up a conversation and most of the time people I find are curious to hear more, because it sparks something within them also.
Allan (12:04): Yes. It may come off as a big surprise – I am a podcaster, but I’m probably one of the world’s biggest introverts in the world. Quite literally, if I go out with my wife to a party, I could go the whole night without speaking to anyone. I listen. I’ll sit back and just listen to people. They think I’m mad or something because I’m just sitting around not talking. But you put a couple of drinks in me and I lighten up, loosen up and I actually let out some more extrovert vibes and am a lot more comfortable in that social situation. That was one situation where I tend to have some alcohol. And another situation for me was stress. I went through a few years recently with deep, dark seated stress every single day at work as we were going through layoffs and things were just a struggle. And I found that a couple of drinks to be a part of a party was okay for me. It didn’t really push me over where I felt like I was not in control. But coupled with the stress was when to me alcohol became less than healthy. I think when people are looking at alcohol, it’s hard for them to see and it’s, “Of course I don’t have a problem.” But I think there are some things we can see in our health and our wellness that would particularly be warning signs that something’s wrong. Do you mind taking a little bit of time to talk about the relationship of your health and wellness and alcohol, and where you can start to see those chinks in the armor?
Ruby Warrington (13:46): I think the story that you just shared is actually a really great example of how alcohol can begin to have a negative impact on our overall quality of life. And I think there is a distinction to be made between using alcohol to kind of amplify fun or, like you said, make it easier to be social. And I have the same problem as you. It’s not a problem, it’s just…
Allan (14:13): It feels like a problem when you’re at the party and it’s like, “Why are you mad?” I’m like, “I’m not mad. I’m just listening.”
Ruby Warrington (14:20): Exactly. I mentioned Susan Cain’s brilliant book on the power of introverts in Sober Curious and talk about how in America particularly there is this sort of extrovert ideal. We’re taught that to be extroverted is to be loved and to be social is to be great. And if you’re not those things, then there’s something wrong with you. Actually no. Many of us I think are probably more introverted than we are allowed to be or than is appreciated. Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with us or that we’re weird, we have two heads. But I think a lot of people use alcohol for that same reason, as a way to kind of loosen up a little in social situations and make it easier to engage in the kind of small talk that’s not necessarily that interesting to us. That was certainly one of the things that I used it for. But then when we start using it as a way to mask or numb out or press “Pause” on more negative feelings that we’re experiencing – stress, overwork, overwhelm, fear, these sorts of things – is I think when it can very quickly become more of a partner than just a friend, something that we feel like we need and are relying on to feel good or to feel relaxed. Then there’s more of a likelihood that we’ll become negatively attached to it, I suppose. Not to say that we can’t form an emotional attachment with alcohol when we’re using it for, quote unquote, “positive drinking situations” also. This is speaking purely anecdotally, for me and for many people I know, if I’m drinking to suppress negative emotions, when the alcohol wears off and the hangover sets in, it all comes back feeling 10 times more overwhelming. I often say unprocessed feelings never die; they just come back like zombie feelings that want to eat our brains. And I think anyone who’s woken up the morning after a night of drinking to commiserate or to ease a pain or stress will be familiar with that feeling of the crushing disappointment and distress and all of the stress still being there the morning after. Whereas on the flip side, having had a night out with a few drinks where you’ve had a really celebratory and uplifting time, the next morning, even if you’re hung over, can feel kind of lighthearted still.
So I think ultimately thinking about how we’re using alcohol, whether it’s to amplify fun or to cancel out stress or to numb stress, can have a very different impact on how it actually impacts us. Having said that, I have come to believe that even somebody who’s using alcohol to increase their experience of joy and relaxation and connection, ultimately using a substance for those things is always going to have some kind of a negative physical payoff, versus finding ways to cultivate those things from within. Ultimately, alcohol is a toxin. It creates a very heavy toxic load in our system when it’s metabolized by the body. People are always thinking about and talking about, what’s the best hangover cure? There honestly isn’t one, because it’s the substances that are produced when our liver processes alcohol that cause all of the icky feelings of a hangover. So if you’re drinking alcohol, you’re going to have some kind of a hangover. In terms of my wellbeing and our wellbeing as a society also, I just don’t feel like I have that much time to waste on processing unnecessary toxins out of my system. But going back to the socializing thing, it means that I do a lot more of my socializing during the day now, I do a lot more of my socializing one-on-one, I go to a lot less parties. So, a part of my workaround this has been getting okay with my inner introvert, loving her, and giving her what she needs to have a vibrant social life and good connections with people, which doesn’t necessarily look like the kind of social life that everybody else says I should be having, if that makes sense.
Allan (18:45): It does. The interesting thing was, I met my wife at a bar. And so for the first several years of our relationship, that’s where we would typically want to spend our weekends. And what I find is – in the book you went into it as “emotional intelligence” – I think as we’ve gotten a little more mature, that’s less of something we need when we can just actually spent some time together. We don’t have to be at the bar and we don’t have to be drinking. Having a nice dinner at home sans alcohol is a perfect evening for us now. As you’re looking at emotional intelligence and making better life choices, can you talk about how those are related? You said a little bit earlier when you don’t drink, you wake up the next day more energized, with better thought processes. That kind of snowballs, right?
Ruby Warrington (19:48): This thing about emotional intelligence, there’s a whole chapter on this in the book. We don’t get taught in school how to listen and respond to our emotions, and then in the wider society, some emotional and feeling states are celebrated and others are to be avoided at all costs. When ultimately all of our feelings are there to help guide us towards the right decisions for us, whether to guide us towards more of what’s good for us or whether to guide us away from things that are maybe not so much in alignment. And when we’re manipulating our feeling states, whether it’s to feel more good feelings or feel less bad feelings, we become disconnected from what’s giving rise to those feelings in the first place. So this idea of emotional intelligence is really about learning how to be with any of our feelings as and when they’re arising, so that we can really understand what’s giving rise to those feelings, and then begin to make decisions for ourselves and our lives based on how we feel about what’s happening. Maybe that sounds quite simple, and it can be. If it’s not something we’ve been taught how to do and we’re not used to even having that kind of inner dialogue with ourselves, it can feel a little confusing or overwhelming at first, but it is absolutely natural. And taking alcohol out of the equation really allows us to touch base deeply with how we’re feeling.
A little bit about what you said, in terms of not feeling like you need alcohol in your relationship anymore. I don’t know if you experienced this at all, but for myself, I’ve always had a fantastic relationship with my husband, so it’s been very easy and we’ve always felt very connected to each other, I suppose. And similarly with many of my close friendships. But actually removing alcohol from those relationships, both with my partner and with other friends, I’ve experienced an even deeper level of emotional intimacy, I suppose, that I don’t think I could have experienced if we’d continued drinking together. It can be as simple as telling my husband or hearing from him some stressful things that have been going on in our lives, sober. We really feel the impact of that and we really feel the impact of each other being able to empathize with one another, and it’s a very holistic conversation. If we’d been having the same conversation in a bar over a couple of drinks, there’s always a slight disconnect, because there’s always a lens between you and the actual physical experience of being in that conversation. Again, I hope that makes sense.
Allan (22:32): It does.
Ruby Warrington (22:34): There’s a nakedness almost when you’re communicating and communing with people when there’s no alcohol, if you can muster the courage.
Allan (22:47): The way I think about it is, you’re talking more in the first person when you’re sober than when you’re drinking. When you’re drinking, all those bad thoughts, all those things are almost as if you’re telling someone else’s story.
Ruby Warrington (23:01): Yes.
Allan (23:01): Because you’re not really experiencing them in the moment.
Ruby Warrington (23:04): It’s a really good way of putting it. Yes, exactly. And that for me has been another revelation, really. I’ve had that situation with family members as well. I feel so much more connected to my brother now, and to my mother – both my parents actually – just as a result of being fully present in all of our communications.
Allan (23:24): Absolutely. Now, you go with the concept of sober curious, so I want to circle back around to that, because you have a definition – you call it “sober curious”, and then you have “sober sober”. I think there are people who are really good at moderation and there are people who are not. You had to go through this experience to figure this out, and that’s what kind of led you to the concept of “sober curious”. The way I pull that all together was with that simple question that you ask: Would my life be better without alcohol?
Ruby Warrington (24:02): It sounds so simple.
Allan (24:03): It does sound simple, but that’s where the depth of this book came from. It was not, “Sober Curious: Alcohol’s bad for you. Don’t drink anymore. The end.” Your book was a lot deeper because it really talked about these concepts of abstinence versus saying you’re going to allow yourself the intelligent decision when and how you’re going to use alcohol. And actually that’s led you to use alcohol much less.
Ruby Warrington (24:35): Absolutely. For me, this feels like a very sustainable approach to changing my drinking habits in the long term. Ultimately I had got to a point where I realized that needed to happen through repeated attempts at moderation. And by that I mean saying I’ll only ever drink two glasses of wine, or I’ll only ever drink at the weekend, or I’ll only ever drink on vacation. Invariably that would lead to me drinking as much as I had been before, which in my case I was probably drinking four nights a week, moderately to heavily, I suppose – heavily at the weekends and a few glasses of wine maybe during the week. So, this idea of being sober curious is really about allowing yourself the space rather than… I’ll backtrack a little bit. So the moderation didn’t work for me. The idea of complete abstinence for me was almost like putting alcohol on this pedestal of dangerous, unacceptable, but also still special. This is so pleasurable that as soon as I drank it again, I’m not going to be able to resist and I’ll be back where I was before. It almost kept it in that kind of vibe for me. Whereas I have taken alcohol off the pedestal, just put it on the ground in front of me, I’ve been like, “I’m going to look at you, I’m going to examine you. I’m going to be really, really honest with myself in this questioning of my relationship to alcohol.” And as a result of that, completely allow alcohol to become something different in my life, almost recategorize alcohol in my life. So, the sober curious questioning really means to ask a question any time there’s an impulse, an invitation or an expectation to drink, whether it’s an expectation on your part or in the eyes of others. And they may be questions like, “How is this drink really going to make me feel now, in an hour, by the end of the night, tomorrow? Why is there so much pressure for me to drink? Why do I feel the need to drink in this situation, rather than just showing up as myself? What’s going to be the longer term impact if I continue drinking regularly, socially, on my life?” And like I said, being really honest with your answers to those questions. For me it’s led me to a point where I now have almost recategorized alcohol as a Class A substance, to be treated with extreme caution. It’s just off the table for me, but not in a way that it’s prohibited; in a way that I have no need for that in my life, in the same way that I have no need for heroin in my life.
Allan (27:18): Absolutely. I was thinking about this concept in relation to my lifestyle and the things that I’m doing. One of the things that I enjoy is I will go through what I call periods of feast and periods of famine. I’m down here in the South and I love college football. Unfortunately, or fortunately maybe, we’ve moved to Panama, and being in Panama, I’m not going to have a real football season this year. I’m not going to be able to go to tailgating and do those things, which was one of those moments where I felt pressured to drink, because I wanted to be an extrovert, I wanted to have a lot more fun, I wanted to have all those different feelings and expressions and things that would go on, and watch a great football game, and then probably have a few drinks after the game. I thought in terms of, I’m using football as my excuse to drink. And now I’m not going to go to as many football games so I’m not going to have that in my life. Part of this is, what are the types of situations where you would drink and then deciding, “I’m just not going to drink at those.” The other side of it is saying, “How much would I miss not doing that if it really came down to me deciding I wanted to have less alcohol in my life because I want to feel sharp or be smarter, have more energy and not be damaging my health?” I’ll round it up for me to say I probably need to have fewer drinking events in my life.
Ruby Warrington (28:55): I guess that is one way to think about it. And I like the fact that you identified, “I was using this football experience as an excuse to drink.” If you try moderating by saying, “I’m only going to drink on special occasions” – is the occasion or the drink that’s special? Would you still want to participate in this thing if there wasn’t any alcohol? Would it still be a special occasion for you? That’s, again, something to question. Why is the alcohol so special to you? Why is it so hard to relax in those situations? Why is it so hard to bond and feel the comradery that you want to experience without alcohol? And that’s when we get into some of the deeper questions. I also will say there’s no shame at any point in this questioning process to seek professional help if you reach a point where you’re like, “I don’t understand or I don’t like what I’m discovering about myself and my experience.” I don’t attend AA and I’m not in 12-step recovery and I’m not abstinent. I’m not teetotal even. But I do think that for someone who is having difficulty in answering these questions, the community aspect of an organization like AA is amazing, because it really offers unlimited free peer-to-peer support, which we experience in very few areas in life, particularly in health and wellness. I think that those questions can get kind of deep. But the simple answer might be, “I prefer watching football at home on the TV. That’s actually a more relaxing and enjoyable experience for me. And in fact, if there are three guys out of that group who I really want to hang out with, then I can meet one of them and we’ll do a workout together and we’ll have a great bonding session that way.”
Allan (30:40): When I get an opportunity, if I’m in the country, I will go and watch a football game. I’m now much more aware because I was going through your book and saying, “These are things I’m doing and these are the reasons I’m doing them.” I had not really thought about it before. I’ll probably still try to go to a football game if I can get back in the country for one, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse that I have to drink. It’s going to be, “There’s an event and I’m there. I don’t need to necessarily stop by the liquor store on the way in. Just go to the game, enjoy the game, enjoy my time with my friends and make that what the event’s about.” So it really was an association, but now that I’m much more cognizant of that, have that self-awareness to say that, it’s probably going to change my behavior when I do those things.
Ruby Warrington (31:30): Absolutely. And that’s the thing – it brings us back around to the concept you mentioned earlier of “sober firsts”, which is recognizing what those situations are and then going, “I’m obviously going to go to my best friend’s wedding. I’m not just going to not go because I’m not going to be drinking. Okay, I’m just going to go and show up and see what happens.” Basically this freaks our brains out. I started associating drinking with being comfortable in social situations probably around age 14 or 15, which is when alcohol first started to infiltrate, I suppose. And if I been teaching my brain for 25+ years that I need alcohol in those situations, and then I choose not to have alcohol in those situations – that’s some pretty deeply ingrained neural pathways that I’m choosing to go against. I’m literally going against the grain. So, your brain is going to be going, “What are you doing?” But then you show up and these experiences can be so empowering, which is why I say do not ever shy away from the sober firsts. You need to go, you need to experience how much fun and connection you can have without alcohol. And slowly over time you’ll realize that you don’t need alcohol in any of these situations and that you can actually have just as much fun and feel just as connected without it. You may end up going home a little bit earlier. That’s often what happens with me – I get tired faster without the numbing of alcohol. And then the other thing to say is that if you’re not drinking and everyone else around you is drinking heavily, after a few hours, there’s going to start to be a disconnect in conversation and things like that. And again, nothing wrong with that on either side of the fence, and no shame at all in taking yourself home early and saying, “That was great, I had fun. And that’s going to be the end of the night for me.”
Allan (33:24): Yes. I’m going to have, I guess I’ll call it a sober first. I’ve done this before. One of the interesting things was when I was 16, because I wanted to really focus on football and I saw that alcohol was not helping me be better at football – it wasn’t helping anyone I knew be better at football – I stopped drinking. And as soon as I finished football, I was into college and I was like, “I’m majoring in physics. I can’t do this. I’ve got to study and make good grades. And I’m working all the time to pay my way through.” And then it was like, “Now I’m in the army. I have to be alert. They’re going to call me up at any moment. I could be in a combat situation. I don’t want to have that in the way.” And then I was back in college and then building a family and all those different things. And it wasn’t until I felt like I’ve accomplished the things that I set out to accomplish in my life. I was 32; I had at that point a good job. I was going through a pretty stressful period of time, and I said, “I’ll have a drink.” And that drink became me becoming a regular drinker. It’s not something I ever envisioned myself being. And now I’m on the other side of this saying, “What would my life be like? Would it be better if I took that step back?” One of the interesting things that’s going on as we record this – tonight, as soon as I get through here, I’m going to take a shower, get ready, and then we’re headed over to one of my friend’s houses for a party. The thing is though, she lives in hour away. So, to be sober driving back, I’m just not going to drink tonight. I made that decision, I’ll be the designated driver. I’m going to have to be social, but I know I’ll probably be a little bit more of the introvert of the party. But it’s one of those experiments and a sober first where I’m going to go through this process of figuring out how to have those conversations, to have that fun, to express myself without having to use the liquid courage.
Ruby Warrington (35:27): So what are your tactics going to be?
Allan (35:30): Lots of water.
Ruby Warrington (35:31): Lots of water. This is controversial in recovery circles, but I’m not in recovery so it’s fine for me to talk about it. If you’ve ever been a beer drinker, I really enjoy alcohol-free beer. I guess it has a placebo effect – it feels like drinking a beer and it kind of looks like drinking a beer.
Allan (35:47): And you feel comfortable. When I did the 28-day challenge, I did try it. I sampled various versions. I did find that the British versions were better, by the way.
Ruby Warrington (35:56): Yes. Europe is miles ahead when it comes to alcohol-free beer. Yes, indeed.
Allan (36:02): Yes, they are. We won’t name any names, but I did enjoy particularly the British versions that I was able to get here. It was fun to experiment with, and it does feel better. You’re holding something in your hands that makes you feel like you’re part of everything and it makes others feel more comfortable around you too. Probably not going to do that tonight though. I’m just going to do straight water and go with it that way.
Ruby Warrington (36:26): Good for you. And I think as well in social situations, beginning the conversations with questions, having a bunch of questions for people in your back pocket that aren’t necessarily like, “What do you do?” or, “Where do you live?”, but feeling safe to ask some more intimate or more intriguing questions. I suppose it helps to take the focus off “How awkward am I feeling? What’s my experience?”, and really open your focus up to, “Who’s everyone? Who are these people? What can I learn here tonight?”
Allan (36:59): Yes. I want to close off with one last question, and it doesn’t have to be related to the book or alcohol at all. I define “wellness” as being the healthiest, fittest and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?
Ruby Warrington (37:19): For me, it’s slightly related to the book, but just in general, prioritizing my sleep is an absolute must. The knock-on effect of not getting proper sleep is something I feel physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It’s really profound for me. So prioritizing sleep is definitely a big one, and that for me means having a really regimented, is the right word, but it sounds really strict and not fun. Just a really regular sleep routine, I suppose. I’m generally in bed by 9:30, so I can have half an hour with no screens to read a novel, to be putting my head on the pillow before 10:30. And I find that staying in that routine every night, weeknights and weekend really helps me stay in a great sleep cycle that generally helps me feel in optimal wellness all the time. A couple of other things. I stopped eating meat in 2010. That had a really huge impact as well on my overall sense of wellbeing. And the thing I didn’t mention about another one of the huge benefits for me of cutting out alcohol is that I had previously suffered from quite persistent, if not dramatic, IBS symptoms. That lessened dramatically after I stopped eating meat, but when I cut out alcohol it completely went away and I don’t have any gut issues anymore. Anyone who’s experienced IBS or digestive problems, it can really have a detrimental effect overall on your sense of wellbeing. So I guess those things – looking after my gut, getting really good sleep are probably at the core. It almost goes without saying, but I do some kind of movement practice every day and I meditate every day. Those are the other things, but I’d say with the sleep and the gut health, I could probably be pretty good with those.
Ruby Warrington (39:31): I recently reinstated my personal Instagram account, which is @rubywarrington, and that has most of the information. I’ll be posting about all the events, readings, etcetera, about the book that are coming up. I’ll be hosting a couple of retreats in the U.S. this spring and summer – one on the West Coast in May and one on the East Coast in July. And my website is The-Numinous.com, which is a whole other conversation, but a part of what I do is I have a spiritual wellness website called The Numinous. So yeah, you can find me there or @rubywarrington on Instagram.
Allan (40:08): Okay. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/370 and I’ll be sure to have the links there. Ruby, again, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
Ruby Warrington (40:19): Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun.
Allan (40:25): Ruby certainly gives us some food for thought as it comes to alcohol and alcohol consumption. So I hope you take this to heart and that this episode was able to help you. And if you do find what I’m doing here – the podcast, the book and all of that valuable, I really would appreciate if you would give us a vote on the Author Academy Awards. I’m really, really interested in becoming a finalist for this award so I can go up there and be a part of the community. So if you can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA, you can go ahead and vote. We’re in category for “Health”, and right now that’s on something like page 7 of 16, so you have to scroll through a bit before you find it. Find the cover for The Wellness Roadmap, and go ahead and click on that and give us a vote. They’ll let you vote one time, so please do go out and do that. Go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA and vote for The Wellness Roadmap today. Thank you.
Kathleen Trotter returns to the 40+ Fitness Podcast to talk about her new book, Your Fittest Future Self.
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Allan (1:06): Kathleen, welcome to 40+ Fitness again.
Kathleen Trotter (1:10): I’m so excited to be back. I feel like you’re like my brother or something. Our messages totally overlap, so it’s great. Wonderful podcast. We have a similar vision in health and fitness.
Allan (1:23): I was reading through your book, I found so many parallels to the way that we think about health and fitness. I love particularly that you, probably more than most that I’ve talked to, understand the value of happiness and the value of the taking this journey and how we have to put this all together.
Kathleen Trotter (1:48): What’s the point of being active and thin if you hate every single moment of it? It’s supposed to enrich your life, not detract from your life. I think about my parents a lot with this, because my dad is 77 now. He plays hockey four days a week, he rides his bike all around Montreal, which is super hilly. He farms potatoes, and it’s because he’s so active. And he’s so joyful. Every day I call him the farm and he’s like, “I just picked potatoes, and I was out for a walk.” He just has this quality of life. Same thing with my mom – she walks the dog, she gardens. I can’t imagine them if they weren’t active. They never wake up in the morning and think, “Ugh, I have to go for a walk, or have to walk the dog.” It’s a privilege to move in that way for them, and that really helped me and why I move. If I’m in a bad mood, I get to go for a walk and put me in a better mood. I get to see my friends and go to a fitness class. It’s a joyful thing.
Allan (2:45): Yes. I think that’s one of the missing points so many people have out there. There’s that, and then I think the other one is that so many people – and I’m partially at fault for this because I kind of view things as a journey as well – is that we’re going to get there, that there’s some form of destination.
Kathleen Trotter (3:03): Yeah, there is no end point.
Allan (3:04): In the book you came up with the Kathleen Cycle. Can you go through that Kathleen Cycle a little bit, because I think that pretty much articulates the way you see this?
Kathleen Trotter (3:16): The cycle is, you act and you learn from that act, and then you take that learning and then you act again. I’ll break it down a little bit. I was a really unfit, unhappy, unhealthy teenager. I think one of the reasons why I was so unhappy for a long time is that I felt I had to be perfect tomorrow, and that if I had a cookie, that was the end of it and I might as well just crawl into my bed again. And the thing about a growth mindset, which is that cycle of you acting and reflecting, is every experience is an opportunity to reflect and act and learn. So, you get out of that shame cycle, like, “I’m this terrible person, I might as well quit now.” And instead you’re like, “Oh, interesting. I had a cookie. Okay. Am I happy that I had that cookie? Is this something that I loved and savored? And if so, fine. But did I have a cookie because I was crabby at 3:00 in the afternoon and had low blood sugar? Did I have a cookie because I didn’t eat a good lunch? Or was I sad or depressed or angry? And if that’s the case, how do I learn from this experience and how do I go forward from there?” So if you had the cookie at 3:00 because you didn’t have a good enough lunch, maybe you skipped lunch altogether, then tomorrow you have to get a better lunch. It allows you to sort of step back and objectively look at all your choices and instead of shame spiraling into more bad choices, you can learn from it and make better choices tomorrow. I also think that it makes your history seem like a good thing. A lot of people think, “I’ve been unfit for 30 years”, or 20 years or 40 years or whatever, “And I’ve never managed to change the tides before. So why should I even start?” And what I say to people is that as soon as you use that Kathleen Cycle, as soon as you have a growth mindset, that everything you’ve done in the past is not a negative; it’s just taking you to this part in your process. So, if when you were in high school you loved playing hockey, then maybe what you need is to play hockey. Or if you loved running, or the only time you’ve ever been healthy and fit is when you worked out with a friend, then maybe you need to get a fitness buddy. You can look back at your history and say, “When have I been successful and how can I replicate those things? And when have I not been as successful and how can I not do that?” If it’s your birthday and you’re like, “This year I’m going to get fit” – look at the last 20 years and think when you have best been on the health course. And then go with those things. It’s more optimistic, it’s positive, but it’s also extremely helpful if you could learn from your experiences versus beating yourself up about them.
Allan (6:00): Yes. My favorite part of that is the act, because even a small step forward can be a huge momentum booster for your wellness. And when you are acting, at least you’re doing something positive for yourself. So I really like that aspect of the way your cycle works.
Kathleen Trotter (6:20): I love that. Acting is really key because we often put off for tomorrow what we can do today. I love what you just said – any small step. If you think about the final coin that makes you a millionaire – yes, it’s that final coin, but it’s all the coins that came before. Or that final step up the mountain. But you have to start at the bottom of the mountain. So, all of those little steps seem like nothing at the time, but eventually they accumulate and then you have your health drops all add up and your health bucket is overflowing. But if you never act, you never get that final step where you feel good about yourself. You have more energy, you’re sleeping better. And small things are so much more accomplishable. If you say, “Tomorrow I have to be down 20 pounds” – you’ll never start. But if you say, “Today I’m going to drink a little bit more water and get a few more steps” – you can do that in the next five minutes.
Allan (7:19): Yes. I think that’s where the disconnect for a lot of folks is. They look forward and say, “I’ve got this big distance to go.” And when they slip or anything goes wrong, they’re so tied up in that, that they won’t take the moment to look back and say, “Look how far up the mountain I’ve actually gone.” And they can do that for themselves based on the good things that they’ve done. I’m not a big fan of self-comparisons, but you can actually look at it and say, “I’ve done a lot of good things for my health and I haven’t done a lot of these bad things that I know that other people have done.” And use those for the moments to say, “I’m on a ledge. I’m not on a plateau, I’m on a ledge; and if I keep moving across this ledge, I’m going to be able to work my way up the mountain again soon. I just have to keep taking those little steps.”
Kathleen Trotter (8:16): Yeah, the next positive step forward, no matter how small you need to take. I think part of it is that people look at somebody like you or me, who’s written a health book and they think, “Those people never fall, they never deviate.”
Allan (8:29): You haven’t read my book yet, but I share…
Kathleen Trotter (8:35): If you haven’t read my book, I talk about that in the book as well. What I mean is when they look at us on image, on social media or even just the stereotype of that fit person, a lot of people think, “They’re perfect. They found motivation on the side of the road.” My point is that failing or falling or deviating off course, having those wobbles – that’s an inherent part of any process. So as soon as you think you have to be perfect, you might as well never start. It’s so disheartening. But as soon as you realize that it’s not about not falling, it’s about falling slightly less far, slightly less hard, slightly less intensely, and course-correcting really quickly, and then learning from the experience. Ten years ago, maybe my, quote unquote, “fall” would have been a couple of days I would’ve deviated off course. Maybe 15 years ago, I would’ve deviated for three or four days. And now it’s like if I have some chocolate at dinner, the next day I wake up and I go for a walk or go for a run or whatever. I still sort of deviate or have moments when I compare myself unproductive with other people, or I don’t have the best internal dialogue, or I skip a workout, or whatever it is. But my falls are slightly less intense and I definitely course-correct faster. I think that’s the trick. I think everybody listening has to know that falling and getting up is an inherent part of life. That’s not a deviation from the process. That is the process of getting healthier and learning which situations you’re more likely to fall in, so you can plan in advance not to do that. I love chocolate for example, so I don’t have it in my house, because I know that if I have it in my house I will eventually eat it. I don’t particularly love chips, so if my partner James wants to have chips in the house, that doesn’t really matter to me because I won’t eat them. We have sort of a rule where he doesn’t bring chocolate in house because he knows that is my weakness. So if I want chocolate, I go to my mom’s house. I have a nice beautiful little piece of chocolate, I savor it with her. Or James and I go on a date and we get some beautiful, high quality chocolate ice cream, and walk around. And we make it more special.
Allan (10:51): Absolutely, yes. In the book you share what you call the “13 goals for your fittest future self”. Do you mind sharing those goals and briefly going through each one?
Kathleen Trotter (11:02): Absolutely. I think the first one we’ve really talked about. It’s the learning through falling and knowing that falling is not a bad thing; it’s part of the process. I think the trick with that is that if you know you eventually are going to fall, when that happens… And when I say “fall”, let’s take a cookie. So, people who think that a wobble is the end of the road, think, “I already had one; I might as well have five.” But if you know you’re going to make mistakes, then you can say, “I’ve had one cookie, but one cookie is not the same as five cookie.” Or one glass of wine is not the same as five glasses. Portions do count. Another example would be, let’s say you have to miss a workout for some work event. Something gets called and you were going to go to the gym after work. Instead of being like, “Oh crap, I missed my workout so I might as well have some cookies at the office party” or whatever event you’re going to, have some fried food and continue down the shame spiral; you say to yourself, “Okay, I missed the workout, but that’s okay. I don’t also have to have a glass of wine. I don’t also have to have dessert. And maybe while I’m going to the work party, I walk there, as opposed to taking a cab or the subway or something like that.” So, it’s about understanding that if you do veer off of your plan, always have a Plan B, a Plan C, and then learn from it.
The second one is really connected, which is awareness. I always say that awareness brings choice. I think a big part of our health conundrum is that most of us aren’t aware of what we do. We’re not aware of what we eat, we’re not aware of our movement, we’re not aware of our sleep patterns, how much water we drink. So, it’s really worth keeping a journal for a couple of weeks and seeing what you’re eating, what you’re feeling. That’s a big thing. A lot of us eat when we’re angry or sad or tired. So, if you could connect, “I’m always eating sugar on days that I don’t get enough sleep”, then that might motivate you to sleep. In general, being more aware will help you take what I called a “pause”. A lot of people say to me, “I ate a cookie and had a glass of wine and then some ice cream. But it wasn’t until after I ate it that I realized what I’d done.” So I say to people, before you eat anything, just take a moment and pause and say, “Will my future self be happy if I eat this? Do I want this? Will this make me happier? Do I just want to phone a friend? Am I seeking comfort?” And that’s really connected to living as if you love yourself, which is tip number three. I often say to my clients that you have to learn to parent yourself. It’s amazing how many parents will say to me, “Kathleen, I had to eat that chocolate bar because I was out doing errands and I was starving.” And I’ll say to them, “Interesting. Were you with your kids? Were they with you?” And they’re like, “Oh yeah.” And I ask, “What did you feed them?” The parent will be like, “I had some almonds in my purse for them” or, “I made sure they’d had a healthy lunch.” So, a lot of us are able to parent others or they’re able to parent their parents or a loved one, and we fall short on ourselves. Sometimes it’s just giving yourself as much love and attention and awareness as we give to others. They’re all connected.
Number four is being your non-judgmental best friend. I think a lot of us have these really evil roommates living in our heads. We’re telling ourselves we’re not good enough and speaking to ourselves so meanly. People will often repeat their inner dialogue to me, and I’ll say, “If you lived with that person – if that was your husband or your wife, or your roommate, you could just tell them to get out the door, right? You wouldn’t put up with that.” But for some reason we put up with things in our own heads – that just doesn’t make any sense to me. So again, it circles back to loving yourself enough to be aware of your dialogue, maybe journal, see what you’re thinking and break it down. Stop using this sort of belittling self-talk, because the belittling self-talk often can lead to forms of self-sabotage. So that’s tip number five, is getting out of the ways that we all self-sabotage. And one of the big ones is this negative brain propaganda: “I’m going to mess up. I might as well not even try. I failed so many times in the past. This meal doesn’t count, I’ll be better tomorrow. I deserve…” A big one in the self-sabotage is this “I deserve” mentality: “I deserve this cookie, I’ve worked so hard today.” And I’m not arguing don’t eat the cookie. Again, I love what I call my “love it” rule, which is, have moderate amounts of food you love, but don’t do it because you, quote unquote, “deserve” it. That’s a way of letting yourself off the hook. Decide you want it because you love it, but do you deserve to be putting bad food in your body? No, what you deserve for your health is go for a walk or have some water. We justify really bad behaviors with our internal dialogue.
And a lot of it is connected to number six, which is being curious about who you are and what you like. A lot of people fall into this, “I’m not the type of person who does X.” So I’ll say to them, “Maybe you should have a little bit of extra protein at breakfast.” And they’ll go, “I don’t eat protein at breakfast. I have cereal.” Or I’ll say, “Why don’t you consider going to the gym with a friend?” “No, I don’t want to go with a friend.” Whatever it is, there’s always an excuse for every solution. So I always tease my clients that you’ve got to be somebody who finds solutions versus excuses. And be curious, because the worst that happens is you try something and you don’t like it, and then you don’t have to do it again. Just because you try a workout doesn’t mean you have to do it. A great example for me is yoga. For years I’m like, “I’m not a person who does yoga. Yoga is not my jam.” And then a couple of months ago I was thinking I needed something, and I said I’m going to do a 21-day yoga challenge, because something was wrong. Not wrong with my body, but I just felt like I needed something a little bit different. And by the end of the 21 days, I really enjoyed yoga. Now, I will never be somebody who does two hours of yoga a day, but I now do 10 to 15 minutes at the end of all my runs and I feel so much better. And I’m 35, not 25, so I think that’s part of it. What you need changes as you get older, but being curious is so, so important. And worst case is you don’t like it. My mom once came to a spin class with me; I was teaching it. We finished the spin class and she got off the bike and she looked at me and said, “Kathleen, I love you, and I will never do that again.” She literally hated it. She looked like she was going to vomit. But she loves yoga and she loves walking her dog. So she has found her fit in those things, but I really appreciate that she was willing to come try it. And then she didn’t like it, so she let it go.
Number seven is that your body’s not a garbage can, so don’t put crap into it; don’t treat it like one. Again, have small amounts of treats that you love. And rest is really important. So I’m not arguing that you should never watch a movie and I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t take downtime. I love my meditation, I love my sleep, but I also am very aware of the quality of meats that I put into my food, the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables, the amount of water, and everything in moderation. And if I do decide to have chocolate, I try to make it better quality. I think of what my body needs, and the fuel that it needs, so good quality of food that’s going to fill me with energy and allow me to do all the things I want to do. Tip number eight is the idea of always eating from the top tiers of the cake, which is a visual that I love. If you think of a wedding cake, the top tier would maybe be one treat. So for me, one or two Lindt chocolates. The second tier might be three or four Lindt chocolates. Each of the tiers gets more, and by the time you get down to the bottom end of the cake, it’s like 3,000-4,000 calories. That’s where you have spiraled out of control and it’s, “I already had two pieces of chocolate so I might as well have four, and then I might as well have some wine, and then I might as well have a beer.” The problem is that it’s really hard to come back from the bottom tier of the cake. A lot of people will go out and go on this binge and eat 3,000 or 4,000 calories, and then they’ll say to me, “Kathleen, I’m going to be really good and I’m going to get back on track”. Then they’re really good for a couple of days, which is great, but that doesn’t really bring them back to where they started. So if you continually go to tier 10 and continually are only good for two or three days, it’s this negative spiral. If you only ever go the top two tiers of the cake, you stay relatively healthy and you can always go for a walk, go for a run. You can be healthy for a week or so and get back to your normal. That’s hard around the holidays, but it’s really important around holidays or your birthday or any of the big celebrations, because it’s easy to sort of let a birthday go for an entire month, and every celebration you eat tier 8, and then by the end of the month you’re like, “Oh my God, I feel terrible.” But if at every celebration you said instead, “I’m going to pick the one thing I love and do that, and then I’m also going to go for a walk.”
Connected to that is number nine, which is demanding more of yourself, and connected to that is having compassion for yourself, but having compassion and demanding more because you love yourself, not because you hate yourself. It’s holding yourself to a higher standard because you want to have energy and you want to be the fittest self that you can be. That’s connected to tip number 10, which is thriving in your own lane. So, don’t compare yourself to others. You’re what your version of fit is. Work within your genetics. My dad always says, “Take your genetics and hit them out in the park.” You don’t need to look like your favorite celebrity. Doesn’t matter what the best workout for them is. It only matters what works for you and what’s best for you. It doesn’t matter what somebody else’s version of fit is, it doesn’t matter if they want to go to CrossFit. I think you mentioned that in our pre-talk. If CrossFit is not your jam, if that’s not your version of fit, that’s fine. My mom’s walking the dog and doing yoga – that’s great. Just know you, do you, and demand enough of yourself to be the best version of you that you can be. That’s connected to this idea that health is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You can’t change all of your unhealthy habits all in one day. This is really connected to what you were talking about earlier – taking small steps, at every moment being like, “What’s the one small little thing I can do better?” If you’re looking at a plate of food, maybe you have a little bit more vegetables and a little bit less of the unhealthy white carbs, or maybe you have a little bit more water. Or instead of having two glasses of wine, maybe you have two glasses of white wine spritzer. It’s the little choices that you make, and understanding that however long it took you to create an unhealthy habit, it takes a long time for a newer, healthier habit. That’s that marathon idea, a marathon without a final end date. It just keeps going and the process continues.
Then the last two are very connected and they’re: learning to have greater inner stability, and deal with stress. I think that the inner stability is really connected to knowing that you are going to wobble, but you have to have the mechanisms ready for when you do wobble. You have to know your triggers. You have to know that life is going to be stressful, so how are you going to deal with that? Instead of thinking, “When my stressful time in life is done, then I’ll get healthy”, you have to think, “Life is always some level of stress. So the health has to start now, and I have to put steps together today that are going to help me in future maybe more stressful times.” I know for example the more stressed I am, the more important it is for me to take moments to meditate and to sleep and to go for walks. Those things really calm me down. And if you can create the healthy habits in slightly lesser times of stress, then when you’re actually in stress hopefully you’ll be able to maintain them. It’s about doing you and knowing you. I find team sports extremely stressful and anxiety-producing. So for me, if I am already stressed, going out and playing a team sport is not going to make me feel better. It’s going to make it worse. But for example, my dad loves hockey, or my boyfriend James loves baseball. Those things really de-stress him. If he’s really stressed at work, he knows he wants to go play golf with a bunch of his friends. So, it’s about knowing you and setting up systems that save yourself from your future self.
Allan (24:22): Each of those are wonderful in their own right. I think it’s good for someone to take some time to go through each of those.
Kathleen Trotter (24:30): That’s a lot. I just gave a lot of information.
Allan (24:31): It is a lot. I don’t want everyone to get overwhelmed and think they have to do all of those things. You can look at each of them and say, “Where do I stand on this one thing?” Where you’re talking about the top of the wedding cake for example – I know I’m more of an “all or nothing” type of person, so I’m actually going to skip on the snacks, because I know if I start the snacks, it’s going to start me on that same spiral that you were talking about. So, that self-awareness is looking at that and saying, “Am I a moderation type person or not?” Demand more out of yourself. This is not about you being a drill sergeant. The way I look at it is, if I told my wife I was going to pick her up at the airport at 5:00 a.m., I would be at the airport at 5:00 a.m. If I tell myself I’m going to go to the gym at 5:00 a.m., I’m going to the gym at 5:00 a.m.
Kathleen Trotter (25:32): Absolutely. It’s connected to the “living like you love yourself”. Parenting yourself or treating yourself like you would your spouse – I love that. I think your wife is very lucky to have you.
Allan (25:43): No, I’m very lucky to have her. And if I didn’t pick her up I’d be sleeping on the couch. But I think each of those, as you go through, take some time to do some self-awareness meditation, for a lack of a better word, where you just take the time and say, “Is this an area where I can get a big movement? Is this going to move the needle for me if I really focus on this one right now?” And you’re going to find one or two, or maybe even three, four, five or six of those that are going to give you a push in the right direction. It’s much the same when I talk about the GPS and I say we’ve got to look for those things in our psyche, in our head, in our mind and in our body that are going to work for us, and those things that won’t work for us. And those ones that are, that’s where the need of this is. That’s where you’re going to get that big movement. So these 13 are a really good primer for you to go through that thought process to understand where you’re going to be able to focus first and get the most results early.
Kathleen Trotter (26:55): I love it, and it’s so important to have this understanding that you are a unique being and what will work for somebody else won’t work for you. I think a great, slightly funny example is, one of my key Kathleenisms for myself is, the worst my mood, the more important my workout. For me, working out is really about my mood. If I’m in a bad mood, that’s when I know I have to go for a walk or for a run. I was speaking to one of my clients the other day and she said, “Kathleen, I tried to use your motto of ‘the worst my mood, the more important my workout.’ But then I said to myself I’m really not in a very bad mood. I’m in a better mood than I thought I was, so I definitely don’t have to work out.” So we just laughed. It’s a great example of how that motto doesn’t work for her, but for me it’s so powerful. All of my book is about exactly what you said – read it and if it works for you, use it, and if it doesn’t, move on to what does. As you said about knowing if you come from moderation and if you can have a few snacks or not. I love the idea of red foods, yellow foods and green foods. So for me, I am not very good at moderation with a few foods like chocolate, but I’m very good at moderation with most other foods. I know that my red foods are my no-go foods; they’re my foods that if I start, I can’t stop. So, I can’t have them in the house. That could be a helpful thing for people out there. But again, it goes back to understanding who you are. Maybe you’re a moderate person in some situations and not others. My mom is amazing. She literally will have a bite of a shortbread cookie, which is her “love it” food, and then put that shortbread cookie away. But I couldn’t do that if it was in the house. So, it’s all about knowing you and using what works for you. Knowing that the end result, the end goal is to be a fitter, happier version of you, and anything that’s going to get you there, that’s what you have to embrace.
Allan (28:59): I like that you brought up that we’re all genuinely unique in the way we need to approach our nutrition, our fitness and our mindset. You like putting together programs, I guess, or thinking about how you’re going to improve yourself. You look at it from a form of making mixes, like the mixed tapes we used to make when we were kids. Can you talk about the concept of mixes and how they would apply to nutrition, fitness and mindset?
Kathleen Trotter (29:34): It came about from a conversation I was having with my best friend Emily. We’ve been friends since grade 10. We were sitting having pedicures, and she always likes to ask me these questions. I think that day was about intermittent fasting, but in general, she’ll say, “What do you think of this workout?” or, “What do you think of this nutrition program or diet?” or whatever. And I will always say something like, “These are the pros and these are the cons. If you’re this type of person, these pros will work for you. If you’re this type of person, this wouldn’t work for you.” She’s great at marketing and PR, and she turns to me and she goes, “That’s your next book!” I was like, “What?” And she goes, “The next book is that it’s not about finding a program out there that’s already created. It’s about creating a mix that works for you – curating your own health. Taking the pros of all the different stuff out there, being an educated mix maker and figuring out what works for you.” And I was like, “Yeah, that is my philosophy!” So, that’s really what the book is. There are a couple of chapters on workouts where I break down all the different workouts and the pros and the cons. There are a couple of chapters on nutrition, and I break down everything from intermittent fasting to the Mediterranean diet to Paleo. And then there are a couple of chapters on mindset. I really believe that it’s about creating a mix that will work for you. The mix will change based on your age. And understand that you need all the remixes. Most of us know what healthy food is. It’s not rocket science to know we should eat more vegetables and move a little bit more, but knowing and doing are two very different things. I actually don’t believe that just having the knowledge of the workout and the nutrition mix is enough. The mindset mix is key because it’s what allows you to connect the dots between wanting to do something and actually doing it. I think that that’s actually where most of the nutrition and fitness information out there breaks down – that coaching aspect of, how do you actually make yourself do it? How do you make yourself move? And that’s what the book outlines, that you need all three mixes, and that’s what I take you through. It’s about creating what’s unique to you and then knowing that if you create a mix and it doesn’t work, you can reformat it; or if it does work, but then in five years it no longer works – that’s great, that’s okay. You’re changing, you’re evolving, and you create a new mix.
Allan (32:04): Excellent. Now, you brought up this concept in the book that you call “finding your kiwis”. Could you go through that with us?
Kathleen Trotter (32:15): Again, it came from a conversation, this time with one of my amazing clients, and we were talking about nutrition. She’s a mother of four and she was talking about how she’s constantly making food for other people and she’s making this dinner for this child and this dinner for that child. She was feeling very overwhelmed about what she should eat. I said to her, “What do you like?” And she was like, “What do you mean?” I was like, “You’re talking about all the food you make for other people and you’re talking about all the food that you’re not allowed to eat.” She was like, “I can’t have this, I can’t have that.” She was focusing a lot on others and what she was not allowed, which was making her feel super overwhelmed and kind of depressed. And I said, “Forget about what other people like and forget about what you’re not allowed to eat. Tell me what is a healthy food that you love? What do you actually enjoy eating?” She’s like, “I don’t know, I really don’t know. My son likes Brussels sprouts.” I was like, “No, forget about your son. What do you like?” Anyway, the first thing that she could think that she actually enjoyed was a kiwi. So I started to talk with all my clients about “finding your kiwis”. And a kiwi could be a food that you love, it could also be a form of exercise that you love. One of my favorite things to do is to put in a good podcast and go for a walk. It calms me, it centers me, it makes me feel like I’m learning and getting outside. So that for me is a huge key. I love raspberries; it’s a huge kiwi. So, kiwis are just healthy choices that you genuinely like; choices that you feel like you’re being pulled towards that choice versus something that you’re making yourself do. I think the more kiwis you can have in your mixes, the more likely you’re actually going to stick to the mix. We can all make ourselves do things and behave for a limited time. That’s the problem with big, unrealistic goals. You can make yourself go to CrossFit or go running or whatever for a limited time, but if you genuinely hate those things, you’re not going to stick with it long-term. I really believe that consistency matters. It’s much more important what you will do on a consistent basis for the rest of your life than what you will do once a month or once a year for an hour.
Allan (34:39): I think the reason that I really liked that concept was, it pretty much gets you focused on the positive things that you’re doing in your life and it gives you these little go-to’s. So let’s say that today might be your hit training session and you’re just dreading it. The other day I was talking with one of my clients; he said he gets so much anxiety on leg day that he almost doesn’t want to go. Then he goes and he feels great about it, but he’s just so afraid that he’s going to have a bad workout because they’re so hard. And I told him there are going to be days you don’t feel it. You know it’s not your body that’s broken down, but you’re just not feeling it. Or it might be that maybe you’re planning to go to a buffet dinner and you know that there are going to be bad things. But if you have these kiwis, these ideas of things that you would rather do, or really enjoy doing… So, maybe today isn’t the day for you to do the hit training. Maybe today is the day for you to go ahead and find a good podcast, get the headphones on and go for a walk. Or maybe today you say, “What are some of my kiwis that I know are healthy? Well, I really like Brussels sprouts.” And you happen to see on the buffet they’ve got Brussels sprouts. So, you skip the bread, which would be one of my kryptonites, and I would say immediately I’ve got to put Brussel sprouts on my plate first. So, I see that as a way you can have this inventory of these that can be there to help you and to motivate you, because they’re going to be there all the time and very easy for you to do and feel good about.
Kathleen Trotter (36:22): Again, it circles back to what we’ve talked about a couple of times – this idea of the GPS of health. I think in my mind that the non-negotiable is that I am working towards a fitter, happier, healthier and more joyful Kathleen. If that’s my non-negotiable, then I work backwards and I figure out how I’m going to make that happen. And kiwis are often a way that I can make that happen. Another way to do it is, I talk in the book about this idea of a “plug-and-play list”. So again, if your non-negotiable is that you move and you have as many healthy foods as you can in your day, if you have a plug-and-play list already created, then it takes away some of the cognitive energy. And the list is exercise you can do in five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes; healthy food, kiwis you can make in five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etcetera. If you think, “Now I just found 10 minutes. What can I do? I can dance around my house for 10 minutes. I can go for a quick walk. I can do some squats. I could make this salad because I’ve already prepared all the veggies.” I think a lot of the time with health, it can feel so overwhelming, discouraging and really joyless. And the combination of the kiwis and being prepared with lists of kiwis and lists of things that make it easy and convenient, it can take the weight off our shoulders. Who wants to be healthy if it feels like this thing is squashing you, right? If you constantly feel like the weight is on your shoulders, it’s just too much.
Allan (37:59): Yes. So Kathleen, following on that, I define “wellness” as being the healthiest, fittest and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?
Kathleen Trotter (38:13): I love that question. First, I’m going to talk about my recipe. And everybody listening will know already that this is mine, so if it doesn’t work for you, let it go. I know that daily motion is key for me. That I consider a non-negotiable and it 100% will make me feel better. So, in a day, I want to try to fit in some type of motion. That could be running, it could be walking and listening to podcasts, it could be Pilates, it could be going to a fitness class with friends. I want to fit in some type of journaling or a reflecting process. That could be going to see my therapist, but if I’m in between therapy sessions, it could be writing in my journal for five minutes. It could even just be talking to a friend through an issue. And then I want some type of meaningful social interaction. And again, it could be just a phone call. I’m giving away my trade secrets of my relationship, but with my partner James every night we do a “best and worst” of the day, and a gratitude moment. Those three things are my grounding for a healthier, happier, fitter version of Kathleen – motion, journaling, and reflection of some sort with a significant other. So, that’s me. But I think it’s being aware enough of who I am and who I want to be, so I can be curious enough to continue. I keep going back to this curiosity being a really key thing. I think that 20 years ago if you’d asked me what would make me happy, I would’ve said chocolate and cheese and pasta. And if I had said I’m just not the type of person who likes to exercise, then I would never be where I am today. So much of it is being curious and knowing that that recipe I just talked about will hopefully change as I get older. So that would be my first one, is find your recipe, find what grounds you.
The second one would be always believing that there is a solution. I credit my mom for this, because I hated being active when I was a kid. I was overweight, I wasn’t happy. And my mom said to me, “Kathleen, you don’t like being active, but there has to be a solution.” So she got me a membership to the YMCAS and she said, “Maybe why you don’t like being active is because being with kids your own age is really intimidating. Maybe you’d be more comfortable with adults.” So, we got a membership and I started walking on a treadmill for a couple of minutes and I took those really small steps forward, as you spoke about earlier. And walking on the treadmill led to doing weights, which led to doing fitness classes, which led to me teaching fitness classes, which led to me deciding to do exercise science in university. And so I got where I am today. So that would be it.
And then I think my final thing, just to quote Anne Lamott, or paraphrase anyway: “Don’t compare your messy insides to other people’s makeup face”, meaning comparison is the thief of joy. I think that social media can be wonderful if you use it in the right way. I love following people that I respect on Twitter and Instagram and it’s a great way to get new podcasts and new information. But it can be really, really dangerous if you compare how you feel on the inside about yourself to how other people look on social media. I think that so much of health and fitness is getting out of this shame-based “I hate myself”, belittling self-talk, “Look at all those other people who have it all together”, and realizing that we’re all human. None of us have it really together and we’re all just doing the best we can. We could be grateful for the fact that we can move and that movement is a privilege, and to go from there with a generous spirit and knowing that we’re all doing the best we can.
Allan (42:36): Those were wonderful. I appreciate that. I want to thank you also, because you did put this podcast in the “Resources” section of the book, which I really can’t say enough. I appreciate that so much. And there are a lot of other great resources back there.
Kathleen Trotter (42:51): It goes with my curiosity mindset. I think that learning from other people is so important, especially people that inspire you. On days that I feel really low, and honestly, I’ve suffered with depression my entire life – exercise and wonderful podcasts and learning from other people really helped me stay on my happy, healthy horse. I can’t tell people enough who are listening – growth mindset, Carol Dweck is amazing. Brene Brown, Gretchen Rubin, your book, your podcast. Just find people who motivate you, listen to them, be inspired by them. If you’re trying to figure out what to do, often what’s really useful is to look at somebody not in a comparison way, but think, “Okay, interesting. They’ve done these things. What can I learn from them? What can I learn from their journey for my own self?”
Allan (43:46): Absolutely. Now, you’re going to do a little contest thing for us. I’d like for you to talk about that, and after you do that, if you could tell us where people can learn more about you and learn more about the book, Your Fittest Future Self, please do.
Kathleen Trotter (44:05): Okay. The contest will be I think for anybody who comments on this podcast. They will get to win my new book, Your Fittest Future Self, signed, and my first book which is called Finding Your Fit. They kind of work both together. And also resistance bands, so you can get started doing some of the workouts that are in the book. You just have to comment on the post and then I will mail you the books. And if you have any questions, you can always get a hold of me on my website, KathleenTrotter.com. I’m KTrotterFitness on Twitter, kathleentrotterfitness on Instagram, and just Kathleen Trotter on Facebook. And I love chatting with people, I love answering questions, so get a hold of me if you have any.
Allan (44:49): Okay. This post is going to be at 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/369. Leave a comment on the post and you’ll be eligible to win that wonderful prize, because they’re both wonderful books. Kathleen’s been on the podcast before, so I can tell you the other book is great too. And she’s giving you the resistance bands as well – that’s one of my favorite tools to share with my clients. So, thank you, Kathleen for that. And thank you for being a part of 40+ Fitness again.
Kathleen Trotter (45:25): It’s absolutely my pleasure. I love your philosophy and you’re wonderful to chat with. I’m going to use some of your tips that you gave me with my people.
Allan (45:34): Awesome. Thank you.
Well, today is the day. As this episode goes live, my wife Tammy and I are on an airplane headed down to Bocas del Toro, Panama. We are looking to relocate there and spend some of our retirement time on the islands of Bocas del Toro. We haven’t really decided where we’re going to live there yet, so we’re going to rent a place for a couple of months on the island, then we’re going to head mainland, spend some time in Panama City, Boquete, David, and probably Coronado. So we’re going to check out the country.
If you’re in Panama and want to meet up for coffee or something, please do reach out. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to connect with you. Or you can hit me up on Facebook at the 40+ Fitness podcast Facebook group. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Group and connect there. Maybe we can do a meetup of some sort – just let me know. I want to get to know Panama and if you can help me on that journey, I’d really appreciate it.
Also, if you want to do something to help the podcast, there is something really, really big that you can do that’s not going to be big from a pocket book perspective. Would you consider being a patron for the podcast? There are some awards and things that you can get by being a patron. You could go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Patreon, and that will take you to our Patreon page. By being a patron, you’re helping to support the podcast. There is an expense to running a podcast like this, so you’ll help me cover those expenses. And then I do have some nice giveaways if you are part of the Patreon program. You can check that out, again, at 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Patreon. And I want to thank the folks that are already a patron of the show and have been helping me out so far. I really do appreciate each and every one of you. Thank you so much for that. It really is a relief to see that I’ve got fans out there that are helping and want to support keep the podcast going. So thank you for that. If you aren’t, then you can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Patreon.
And then finally, I did want to remind you again that The Wellness Roadmap is up for an Author Academy Award. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA, scroll to the bottom of that page – there’s a voting link there. Find us on page 7 in the “Health” category. It’s The Wellness Roadmap book by me, Allan Misner, and you can get to it, again, with a direct link from our website: 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA and help us win an Author Academy Award. Thank you.
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I've seen many clients self-sabotage their wellness journey by telling themselves lies. On this episode I discuss the lies we tell ourselves.
Before I get into today’s topic, I did want to ask you for one quick favor. My book, The Wellness Roadmap, is up for an Author Academy Award. If you would go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA, that’s going to take you to the Author Academy Awards page. Scroll down to the bottom. You’ll see a place where you can vote. Don’t do the “Submit”, but go down to where you can vote. It’s going to be on page 6 – that’s the “Health” category. Find The Wellness Roadmap, the book cover. Click on that and you’ll be voting for The Wellness Roadmap. I really appreciate that. Again, that’s 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA. It’d really help me out a lot. Thank you so much for that. So now we’ll go ahead and get on with the show.
For today’s topic, it’s going to be a solo episode where I wanted to go into something that a lot of us don’t talk about a whole lot, but it is something that’s real in many of our minds. We lie to ourselves. We lie to ourselves all the time, and it can be something that can keep you from reaching the wellness that you want to have. As a recap, I define “wellness” as being the healthiest, fittest and happiest you can be, and you do have to focus on all three. And these lies that I’m going to cover today are part of your journey. If you’re telling yourself these lies, you’ve got to stop. I’ll get into some strategies about that towards the end.
I broke this into three different sections, the first being “Getting Started”, and then we’ll talk about “On The Journey”, and finally we’ll talk about “Success”. And I’ve got several lies in each of these categories that we tend to tell ourselves. So as we go through this, I really want you to do some deep thinking. This is part of the self-awareness aspects as you go through your Wellness GPS. If you’ve gotten The Wellness Roadmap, you know what that is, but basically we have to get to this point of self-awareness where we know what we’re doing and what we’re saying to ourselves, because if we don’t get there, we’re not going to make this journey. We’re going to struggle. And that struggle is going to keep you from getting where you could be getting.
So the first one that I hear a lot is, “I’ll get started tomorrow.” And that might be at the beginning of the month, at the beginning of the week, but in a general sense, it’s starting your plan any time other than right now. There is no better time than right now. So if you find yourself saying, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow. I’ll start my exercise program tomorrow” – you’re already lying to yourself. You’re putting off something that you probably could start today.
The next one is, “My genetics are keeping me from losing weight” or, “My genetics are keeping me fat.” You may also hear this termed “big boned”. It’s not always genetics. Yes, some of us are designed to carry more body fat than others. That’s just a natural part of genetics. But none of us are genetically inclined to be obese; none of us are genetically inclined to be morbidly obese. That’s not the case. Now, there are genetic issues with some people and there are illnesses that will cause you to gain weight. There are medications that you might be taking that can cause you to gain weight. Those are real. Those are things you have to deal with. If your thyroid’s not functioning right, you’re going to be bigger. That’s not your genetics. That’s not your genetic potential. We all have the genetic potential to be healthy, fit and happy; we just have to make sure we’re doing the right things based on who we are. So your genetics are not what’s keeping you where you are. You have the capacity to do better.
The next is, “I don’t lift because I’ll get bulky.” This is mostly things that women will say. They’ll say, “I don’t want to get bulky. I actually want to get smaller, so I don’t want to lift weights because I’ll get big.” And the reality is, one, you’re female, so to get big, short of performance-enhancing drugs, it’s not really going to happen. Two, you are never going to work hard enough to put on a whole lot of muscle the way body builders tend to. And third, finally, we’re all over 40, so our genetic potential, our opportunity potential to put on muscle is much lower than it was in our 20s and 30s. So straight off the bat, you’re not going to work hard enough, you’re not going to be taking performance-enhancing drugs, more than likely, and you’re old enough that you’re not going to put on significant muscle. But you should lift weights to maintain muscle mass, to maintain bone density and to maintain strength. All of those are very core to you being healthy, fit and happy.
The next one is, “I have a bad knee”, or a bad hip, or some other injury that basically you can’t work out. And this is almost never the case. I seldom see people who have an injury that they can’t work around, that they can’t do something with. If your knees hurt or you’re getting a knee replacement and the doctor says, “No leg workouts” – that’s fine. Can you walk? Can you use the elliptical? Can you use the bicycle? Can you lift with your upper body? There are still things that you can do with that injury to work towards the fitness level that you want to have. It just takes some forethought and planning, so that you can get the work done without injuring yourself further. But very few injuries that I found will prevent you from being able to work out at some level. A lot of times we’re telling ourselves these lies because we don’t want to work out. It’s not that we can’t, we just don’t want to. So, don’t let the injury stop you from doing some form of training. You can work on your mobility, you can work on your balance, you can work on your endurance. There are things that you can do; you just have to figure those things out.
And the final item in the “Getting Started” section that I want to talk about is, “I have to work out to lose weight.” One of the early interviews I did was with a gentleman named Todd, and I also profile Todd in the book. Todd lost over 323 pounds without doing any workouts at all. In fact, he couldn’t work out because of some physical conditions he had. As a function of being so heavy for so long, he literally would bleed through his calves if he sat down in a chair. He couldn’t physically do the workout. So what did Todd do? Todd took control of his life. He made a commitment and he changed the things he could change, which was his food. Now, Todd did go low carb. You don’t have to go low carb. You can find a way of eating that will help you lose weight if that’s what your goal is, but you do not have to train to lose weight. Training helps the weight loss process, so training as a side effect will often include some weight loss, but that’s a side effect of the working out, just as weight loss is a side effect of eating better. So, working out can enhance your weight loss, but it’s very unlikely that working out is going to be all you have to do to lose weight. Calories of energy output is very, very expensive for our bodies, relative to how easy it is to eat those calories back. You’ll see those little diagrams all the time of, this is how much exercise you’ll have to do if you eat that Snickers bar, this is how much exercise you’ll have to do if you eat that McDonald’s meal. You can tell the amount of exercise is insane for the effort and time it’s going to take for you to eat those calories back. You’re never going to out exercise a bad diet, so don’t think that you will. Don’t tell yourself that you’re not working out. You’ve got to focus on the food first.
So those are the “Getting Started” lies: “I’ll start tomorrow. My genetics are keeping me fat. I don’t want to lift because I’ll get bulky. My bad knee or other injury won’t let me work out. I have to work out to lose weight.” All those are not really good reasons; they’re lies. So, stop telling yourself those lies if you’re having difficulty getting started.
Next, “On The Journey”. A lot of us will say, “This time is different.” But you didn’t really change anything. Last time, what did you do? You went gung-ho for five days and then you had a cheat meal, and it turned into a cheat day and it turned into a cheat weekend, and then you didn’t start back on Monday. So, what is different this time than the times you did this before? I can tell you, for me the main difference, the one time, was when I made the commitment. If you haven’t made the commitment and you’re not making some substantive changes to your lifestyle, you’re not going to get what you want. This time is different if you make it different, but going at it the same way you did before is just insanity, so don’t do that.
And then another one is, “Damn it, since I had that cookie, the day is blown.” You go in in the morning and they have donuts in the office, and suddenly donuts in the office becomes a crappy lunch at a restaurant, and then it becomes after work Happy Hour with some coworkers, and that turns into a whole terrible weekend of things. Each event is independent, each decision is independent. The cookies have absolutely nothing to do with the martinis after work. Each of them were decisions that you made at that point in time. So don’t think that one decision blows your whole day and therefore you just blow it out. Don’t let those other decisions become components of the decision that you make. They’re independent decisions and you need to treat them that way.
“I earned a treat.” So, you go into the gym – and I won’t name the name of the chain – but there’s one that they leave Tootsie Rolls and cookies at the front desk. So you go do your workout, and then, “Here’s your treat”, as a way of you congratulating yourself. Or you went and you did a good workout in the morning. You showed up and your trainer maybe trained you very, very well. You felt like you had a really good workout, so that entitles you to have your favorite treat after dinner that night to treat yourself for that hard workout. That’s not gaining you any ground; that’s actually pushing you backwards. You might not feel that way when you’re doing it, but it is in fact doing it. So, don’t let a victory celebration become a bad decision.
“I can’t afford good quality food.” I hear this all the time – they say, “I can’t afford organic.” I’ll admit, organic food costs a little more in the grocery store; it does. It takes more time and effort to grow. They get smaller production because they’re not able to use the hormones. All those different things that are happening are going to make the food a little bit more expensive, based on that volume of food. But what I have found is the difference in quality. If you eat slow and you let your body’s hormones do their thing – the leptin and the ghrelin do their thing – they’ll tell you you’re full when you’ve had enough. When you’ve gotten what your body needs, they’ll turn off your hunger sensation and it won’t turn it back on as early. If you can get your body to listen to those things, eating higher quality food is going to give you the nutrition that your body deserves. I can tell you that higher quality food is going to be a lot cheaper for you in the long run, particularly when you start thinking about the expenditures and the things that you’ve got to go through, the pain and suffering if you end up with diabetes and some of the complications that come along with that. You don’t want that in your life. You don’t want to be obese. You don’t want to have all those other problems and the medical issues and everything else. The quality of the food does matter and it’s an investment that you should be making.
Finally on the journey: “Since my family won’t support me, I’m doomed.” The family wants to have cookies in the house or whatnot. I can tell you right now as I’m recording this, my wife went out and bought some M&M’s. I thought they were the peanut M&M’s when I first saw them. She said they’re the caramel ones. She loves them, which is great, but they’re not what I plan to eat. But I have a very hard time saying “No” to M&M’s. I actually do. I know that’s a problem for me, but my wife wants them – I’m going to let her have them. If I’m cooking for myself and my wife doesn’t want to eat the way I’m going to eat, then I just have to be a little bit more into my plan. Typically what I found is, there are foods that you can eat that they will eat, and then there are foods they’ll eat that you won’t eat. So, if you fix a protein, you fix plenty of different vegetables, and then you go ahead and fix them the starch and you make them the desert, but you just stay away from the starch and the desert, you can fill your plate with the kinds of food that you want to have and you can meet your goals. If you’re really into this, if you’re really committed, you’ll come up with a strategy, with a plan to work around what your family’s needs are. Segregate their snacks to a different pantry or to a different cabinet so you’re not in them and seeing them all the time, and that might help. Fixing your meals in a way that is modular, so that you can add the things that they want and you can avoid those things. Fixing the plates in the kitchen and bringing them to the table will make that even easier for you. So that’s the “On The Journey”: “This time is different”, when you haven’t really changed anything, “Damn it, since I had that cookie, the day is blown. I earned a treat. I can’t afford better quality food.” And finally for “On The Journey”: “Since my family won’t support me, I’m doomed.” All of those are lies. Stop telling yourself that. If you’re really committed to this, you can get through these things.
And then the final section is “Success”. The first one in “Success” is, “If I lose X more pounds, I’ll be happy.” So for some people that might be five pounds, others 10, and for some it might be 25 or 30. Whatever that is, “If I lose X more pounds, I’ll be happy.” Weight loss is not going to make you happy. If you get yourself healthy and you get yourself fit, it’s a lot easier to be happy. But happy in and of itself is its own component of wellness. And yes, they’re all intertwined. A fitter person tends to be more healthy and happy. A healthy person tends to be more fit and happy. A happy person tends to be more fit and healthy. Those are general components of the three and how they interact, but one does not drive the other in a straight line capacity that way. You need to find things that bring you joy, and that will bring you the happiness. That happiness will help you feel better so you’ll be putting more effort into your fitness. And as you notice the investments you’re making on your fitness, you’ll start paying a lot more attention to the foods you’re eating, the sleep you’re getting, and your stress levels. All of that will work out to making you a much weller person.
The second one in “Success” is, “I’m a failure.” People will say this even when they’ve made significant success. I’ve talked to people that wanted to lose 60-70 pounds and they’ve lost about 35 pounds, but they’ve still got that 25 to lose and they feel like they’re a complete failure because they didn’t reach a predetermined goal. And sometimes those goals were based on things that were happening at the early part of their journey. So, they needed to lose 70 pounds or wanted to lose 70 pounds, and the first week they last four, and then they lost three, and then they lost two, and now each week they’re noticing maybe half a pound, and one week it goes up. They’re so fixated on the fact that the scale isn’t moving as much as it did before, they feel like they’re stuck. There are things they can do to get off of this plateau. You’re not a failure. You climb the mountain and you found yourself on a ridge, and now you have to walk across that ridge before you can start climbing again. That’s just a normal aspect of going up this mountain, and it’s something to expect. Plateaus are a normal, natural thing in our wellness journey. If you find yourself on a plateau, you’ve got to keep doing what’s been working for you and you’re going to start seeing results again. You can start working a little bit harder at certain things, get a little bit more restrictive on some things and see if that helps spur some movement in the direction that you want to. But you are not a failure on the basis that your momentum stopped. You’re not a failure until you quit. If you quit this climb and start going back down the mountain, then yes, you can call yourself a failure, but you’re not a failure because you didn’t get all the way where you wanted to go. You are a success by making it as far up the mountain as you have, and you just have to keep working.
And then the final lie that we tell ourselves as a part of the “Success” section: “I’ve met my goal, my journey is over.” A lot of people will do this. They’ll go on a diet and their goal was to maybe lose 10-15 pounds. They lose that 10-15 pounds, and then they go right back to eating the way they did before. And guess what happens? They layer that fat right back on, and in some cases faster and even more than they did before. That’s a normal way that people will do – they’ll do something, they’ll be very successful, but because they weren’t committed to it in the long term, they let it slip through their grasp. They go back to living the way they did before, fully aware that that’s how they got where they got. They know where that road takes them, yet they get on that road and they start going. So, when you meet your health and fitness goals, I’d strongly encourage you to take a moment to regroup, to assess yourself, and then sit down and pick something even better down the road. Find another goal, find another challenge. Find something that’s going to keep you actively engaged in your own wellness. You can continue to improve your wellness, you can continue to maintain your wellness, or you can let it slip away. It’s always a decision that you get to make, for the most part, so I want you making those decisions.
So I’ll recap – for “Success”, it was: “If I lose X more pounds, I’ll be happy. I’m a failure”, even though you’ve made significant progress, or, “I’ve met my goal, my journey is over.” Those are three lies that we tend to tell ourselves when we’re looking at success or we feel like we have been successful. Those are also lies. If you really want to get well, you want to be as happy, healthy and fit as you can possibly be, you can’t be telling yourself those lies either.
I hope you enjoyed this episode. It’s a little different than what I’ve done in the past, but I really felt like as I was talking to various people, I hear these comments all the time and I know they’re just lies that people are telling themselves. I want you to do this deep dive. You may want to listen to this episode again, and there’ll be sections of it that are going to resonate with you. If they did, feel free to send me an email. I’m at email@example.com. We can talk about what’s going on with you. I’d love to help you out if I can in any way, so thank you.
If you enjoyed today’s episode, would you please take a moment to check out our Patreon page? You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Patreon and leave a small contribution to the show. It takes a lot of effort and a little bit of money to keep a program like this going this long, so I really do appreciate any and all support that you can give me. Go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Patreon and become a patron today. Thank you for being a part of 40+ Fitness podcast.
Also, The Wellness Roadmap, the book I wrote, is up for an Author Academy Award. If you could go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA, that will take you to the page for the Author Academy Awards. You’ll need to scroll down to the bottom. Don’t click that “Submit” button, because that’s not for you, but scroll down a little bit further and you’ll find the “Vote” section, and then there are separate pages for each category. I’m in the “Health” category, which is 7 of 16 pages, so you’ll have to do a little bit of scrolling to get over to the seventh page. Look for The Wellness Roadmap cover, click on it, and you’ve voted. Thank you so much for that: 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA. Thank you.
You can find authentic health with the right changes. Dr Gus Vickery and I discuss his new book, Authentic Health: The Definitive Guide to Losing Weight, Feeling Better, Mastering Stress.
The following listeners have sponsored this show by pledging on our Patreon Page:
Allan (0:55): Dr. Vickery, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Gus Vickery (0:59): Thanks so much, Allan. I’m really excited to be here.
Allan (1:02): Your book, which I really enjoyed, is called Authentic Health: The Definitive Guide to Losing Weight, Feeling Better, Mastering Stress. It took me to that last word before you really had me engaged and saying, “I’m going to read this book.” That is in my mind, one of the big missing elements that so many people skip, and I know I skipped it myself. So, 2018 was a beginning of a distress for me, and now in 2019 I’m going to try to watershed stress. In the book you’re pretty clear that if we’re not dealing with our stress, we’re missing a big piece.
Dr. Gus Vickery (1:44): Absolutely. And there’s both the direct and indirect effect on health. This became apparent to me over the 14 years I’ve practiced clinical medicine and seeing people in a family practice setting. A lot of people, as you know, are struggling with obesity or being overweight, poor energy, mental health issues, diabetes, etcetera. And of course there’s information to help them. You can improve your nutrition, you can get exercise. These are all things that we have a lot of information out there, but I would realize that I could give them information until the cows came home, but it was so often inaccessible to them in terms of being able to turn that information into action. So I started trying to figure out what’s keeping people from taking action? I just told them if they do these few things, they can reverse a disease and feel better. Why is it not happening? And of course you study it for your own self. So you begin to study the mind and stress responses and what occurs, and you quickly realize that when people are overwhelmed by stress, that a part of their mind – I call it the “higher mind” – I know it’s an oversimplification that helps them make choices and align with their desires, make plans, envision the future – it’s inhibited. It’s turned off, because they’re cranking out adrenaline and a fight or flight state all of the time, so not only can they not think from that capacity, but at the same time they’re in desperate need of something to feel better, a fix. And our society has made it very easy to get your fix, whether it’s this food you choose, the nicotine, alcohol, what have you. And so, if you don’t get control of the stress, you can’t put the rest of it into action.
Allan (3:20): Right. I’m going to admit right now you got me in trouble. I have a good diversity of friends on Facebook and throughout my life, and we don’t always agree on things. So it’s a pretty regular thing if I go onto Facebook, someone’s going to post something I’m not going to agree with. I’ll be really kind to say I’m not agreeing with them. But I realized as I was going through your book, that was just something that I was allowing to happen to me as I was going through my day. I check my Facebook probably two or three times a day because part of my business does run through the Internet, so I’m on. I said, “I’m just going to turn all that stuff off and I’m going to finish reading your book and I’m not going to worry with that.” Unfortunately, what ended up happening was, I forgot that it was Tuesday and thought it was Wednesday and I missed a call that was supposed to be on Tuesday night. So, I’m going to have to blame you for that a little bit because you got me to turn that stuff off so that I could in a sense distress, or at least keep some stressors out of my life for a period of time. I’ve got to learn the practice of still remembering what day of the week it is when I’m going through that practice.
Dr. Gus Vickery (4:46): That’s right. I’m glad you were able to take that action. For somebody like yourself, so tuned into health, so tuned into what needs to be done to improve health, you realize every single one of us needs this. We’ve all got our little things that we need to be doing.
Allan (5:02): At the time I was like, “I’m going to try this – turn Facebook off, turn the newsfeeds off.” I put my phone away; completely forgot what day of the week it was, which was great, except for when I woke up the next morning and remembered it was Wednesday and I was supposed to be on a call last night. I had some people to apologize to. Now, you brought up something in the book, which I think has probably been used a good bit in maybe more the scientific and the doctoral area. It’s not a term that I had actually seen in a health book before, which is kind of odd because I’ve read well over 200 of them just for this podcast. I’m going to screw it up when I say it – biopsychosocial model. Can you go through that, because I think it wraps this all together to give us a bubble of understanding that our body is not just one system, one thing, a simple rule, calories in, calories out? We want those simple rules, but this wraps it all together and says you really have to look at yourself holistically to understand what’s going on in your life.
Dr. Gus Vickery (6:15): Once you get your mind around it, it’s just common sense too. Intuitively it immediately resonates when you think about our mind, our body, our social environments and our cultural environment, and how all of those inform our health, our experience of health, our experience of whatever weight we’re experiencing. In med school, this has been around. When I was in medical school back in the ‘90s, we were being taught the biopsychosocial model. It was part of the curriculum to say it’s not just biology, it’s not just biochemistry, molecular biology and physiology, but how people feel about things is important for their health. What resources they have around them is important for their health. Now that seems obvious and I point that out, the initial theory of learning medicine is, you’ll honor all of that when you approach another human being to try and help them achieve their best state of health or reverse a disease. And then of course I allude to the idea that the modern healthcare delivery environment doesn’t allow any honoring. But the mind and how we feel and how we think has very quick and direct effects on our physiology and our experience of health, and our biology. What we take in from nutrients, how we move our body, whether we honored circadian rhythm – it informs our thinking and feeling centers in our brain and changes those aspects. And then again, cultural environment: What are the belief systems that we’re immersed in and how has that informed our habits, most of which we didn’t consciously choose – that’s determining our health as well.
Allan (7:46): Right. I was thinking through that concept because I didn’t go to medical school, but it was a brilliant concept. I’m like, “Yeah, of course that’s the way we would do it.” And the reason we know that’s the way we should do it is, there are things we know and respect, like the placebo effect. When I was much younger, I was in a club called the Positive Mental Attitude Flub. We would meet for breakfast on Tuesdays every week, someone would speak, someone would be responsible for putting together a little speech and then we’d have our breakfast together. Those were all things that we did to improve our lives in general, but what I found was most people that are doing those types of things actually are improving their health along the way. It’s not just one thing – it’s not just their business getting better or they just happened to be nicer people. Everything’s working better because they set their mindset.
Dr. Gus Vickery (8:48): That’s exactly right, which is why I started on the mindset and the desire and how you’re thinking before you get to just about anything else in the book, because that’s foundational. Part of the tension I felt as a physician – people come to us with their complaints: “I’m not feeling good”, or for a checkup or whatever. And then you’re sitting and you’re trying to help them figure out what’s the source and what’s the solution to these complaints, how to help them feel better. And the typical medical encounter in traditional medicine, the tools you’ve been given are medicines, prescriptions. I can help your stomach acid problem with a prescription. I can help your mood with a prescription. I can lower your blood pressure. And there is a role for those tools. I am a medical doctor, I prescribe medications. But when I found myself primarily using only that tool to try and solve problems that had much deeper roots, I realized this is ineffective, this is going nowhere. And of course eventually people didn’t continue to feel better. But what I also realized is, if they’re not bringing their own desire for health in the room with them, then there’s really not much I can do. For many of my encounters I had to back up and really start with, “What do you want? What is it you really want to experience?” “Of course, I want to feel good.” And I’m like, “Okay, let’s talk about what it means to feel good then, and how you’re going to get there.”
Allan (10:02): Me as a coach, for 95% of the people that call me or want to work with me, it’s weight loss. And I can coach them. I’m going to hold them accountable, we’re going to hang out. You had a program which allows you to structure test a lot of the concepts that you now have in this book. But I liked the fact that you recognize that weight gain is a cycle, and once we get on that cycle, the cycle fights us tooth and nail all the way. So many people will sit there and blame themselves and say, “I’m just lazy.” I did it myself – I called myself “the fat bastard”, and it was because I had not figured out a way to really break that cycle. It was just getting worse and worse every year and it still took me a long time to figure out what you succinctly put in this book. So, someone that’s feeling that way – whether they’re designating themselves “the fat bastard” or something else – what are the things they need to do right now, today, to start to break that cycle?
Dr. Gus Vickery (11:32): Several key things. One is understanding – understanding that you probably didn’t choose this problem for yourself. It’s something that happened to you. Yes, we’re making choices. Yes, there’s personal responsibility. And yes, you’re the only person who can make new choices. But more than likely if you’ve developed a weight problem, meaning an excessive amount of body weight that’s causing you to be unhealthy, it started at very young ages of your life based on exposures that were beyond your control and that you didn’t understand. So blaming yourself, bringing shame and guilt and saying you don’t have what it takes, is not going to help the situation. It’s just going to create stress, which is going to undermine your efforts to get healthy. So, understand the situation you’re dealing with is number one. And even though you can’t do it overnight, begin to let go of this blame. We don’t have the time for me to get into all of the mechanisms of how that happened – the epigenetics, physiology and hormones, but we both know that’s what happens, that’s what creates chronic weight gain.
Two – understand what actually solves the problem. We know that daily reduced calorie diets and just increasing exercise do not solve this problem. We have copious evidence that low calorie diets and exercise plans do not lead to sustained weight loss. Yes, you’ll lose some weight, but you want to sustain it. So what’s actually creating the weight gain? It can be many different things, but for most people it is going to be, they’re probably eating excessively, because our foods are calorie-dense and nutrient-poor. They’re probably eating too frequently. I listened to one of your recent podcasts and you talked about fasting for a good bit of time, and it was great. It’s one of the foundational principles in my book. Eating too frequently will continue to create a hormonal response that favors fat storage, no matter what you’re eating. If you’re eating too frequently, you will stay in a cycle of, hold onto your energy, don’t use your energy. Then it’s inflammation and bad quality foods. If you’re choosing foods that trigger direct inflammatory responses in the body and they create increased oxidative stress, you are creating an internal physiological need that favors weight gain. In order to actually stop this cycle and allow your body to reset… And there’s hope here, because this actually works. It’s been proven to work and to allow the area of your brain that regulates your body weight, apart from your choices, to begin to reset your weight down. You have to honor your body’s design for eating, and that’s pretty simple. Our bodies adapted over millennia upon millennia to eating whole natural foods as close to their natural state as possible. That can include carbohydrates – you know I talk about ketogenics and things in the book. It’s a program that could be used, but people don’t have to be ketogenic. If they’re eating high fiber, nutrient-dense whole foods, then those will naturally begin to control appetite, correct energy balance and allow that area of the brain called the lipostat to begin to reset back down. And by eliminating the foods that trigger the human reward system, binge eating and dysregulation of normal satiety function and satiation function, you naturally correct the eating behavior. The problem just goes away when you do that, and then you balance feeding and fasting. You basically stop eating at such a frequent basis and you begin to allow periods for your body to use the energy that you put into it. So, natural foods, balanced feeding and fasting. There’s more to it – circadian rhythm, function, move, breathe, all that. But those two things.
Allan (15:13): The book goes into great detail on the hormone side of it, all the rest of it, which is really, really cool. Now, of course the “calorie in, calorie out” model pretty much requires you to eat all the time. I tried to go pescatarian. I was mostly vegetarian with some fish. I tried it and what I found was I couldn’t get enough sustenance to get myself to the next meal. So, I carried food with me. I became obsessed about food – I had food in my truck, I had food in my office. I pretty much feel like if I wasn’t showering, brushing my teeth or asleep, I was eating. So, I actually put on weight. I know that I did it wrong because every time I got hungry, I ran for the berries, I ran for the nuts. Those were my go-to snacks because they were convenient to carry, and abundant, because I can go to the grocery store anytime. But when I really started breaking down why I’m gaining weight, why this is not working for me – my ancestors would not have had access to berries and nuts like that, and probably not even at the same time, because nuts typically come in the fall, berries typically come in the spring. I feel better when I can fast, so I’m eating more fat and less carbohydrates and I feel better. But for a lot of people to start the fasting, it’s scary word: “Am I going to get blood sugar?”, all these different things that they’re concerned are going to happen. I would say if you’re going to do any extended fasting, please talk to your doctor. If you’re on any kind of medication, particularly blood sugar lowering medication – please talk to your doctor before you change your eating. But you lay out in the book what I think is a really clear plan for someone that wants to start working with fasting, so that they can be successful and use this as a protocol to get healthy. Can you talk through your protocol for fasting?
Dr. Gus Vickery (17:23): I sure can. It’s very important to keep it easy. And in the book I did say, don’t get stressed about this. When you learn what fasting actually is, you’re going to be refreshingly liberated. It’s not that you have to go 24, 36 or 48 hours. There is a role for extended fast when you train your body to fast for health, if you want to do that. As an example, one of my patients who I was coaxing towards this because of high insulin, high body weight, metabolic syndrome – he realized fasting was three meals a day, no snacks, with a 12-hour overnight window. That for him was fasting because it was a significant deviation from his eating pattern before. And that’s a traditional way of eating three meals a day; that’s not that hard. And when he learned that, he was like, “I can do that.” And of course it wasn’t long before he was doing 14 and 16-hour fasts because his body developed the skill. So I tell people, first you’re going to take your time. This is a skill that your body has within it to use, unless you have certain medical conditions. We’re making that medical disclaimer. If you have true medical hypoglycemia based on metabolic conditions, then this isn’t for you. But for everybody else, just about, this will work. So first of all, recognize you’re going to be patient with yourself and that you’re trying to achieve a specific end, which is metabolic flexibility and freedom from food and eating behaviors, and other improvements in health.
The first easiest way to do this is to even look at it as a 12-hour window as a fast. You can use any 12-hour window, but one of the easiest is just to use your overnight window. You basically allow yourself to not snack after dinner and go to bed, and simply not eat the next morning until it’s been 12 hours from when you finished. Almost everybody can do that without much of a difficulty. The challenge for some will be that they were having ice cream at night. That’s not an issue with your ability to manage the hunger. That’s a craving. I think you want to talk about that in a little bit. So first of all, just extend your evening fast as skipping breakfast. You can start with a fast after breakfast or lunch if it works better for you. You could go from lunch to breakfast the next morning, but just consider a 12-hour window. Try to eat two or three meals a day and eliminate snacking. For some people just eliminating the snacking can be the beginning of fasting. When you get really good at this, you might want to go for 24, 36-hour fasts, especially if you’re trying to reverse weight issues, but don’t do that until you can do 16 or 18 comfortably.
Now, don’t force fasting into your life when conditions don’t favor fasting. Don’t fast for your spouse’s birthday party. Don’t fast for Thanksgiving feast. Fast when it’s suitable for you, when it’s going to work socially. My fasting days are my work days, when all I really want to do is stay focused and productive and I don’t want to have to take time to eat. And then I can stop and really enjoy it with my family. Stay well hydrated while fasting. Most people fail because they become thirsty and dehydrated and they mistake dehydration for hypoglycemia. So they think they have lower blood sugar, but actually they’re just dehydrated. Drink plenty of water. Don’t overeat when you break your fast. When you first start to eat again, just eat a smaller meal. Give your body some food and give it a chance to digest. People have this mythological view that if you fast, you’re always going to end up becoming too hungry and then you’re going to overeat, you’re going to binge eat, and that’s going to create this yo-yo impact, but that’s just not true. Studies don’t bear that out. We tend to not eat as much when we’re actually breaking a fast. You have to expect to experience hunger. You are going to experience it. That’s part of what we’re on a mission to do here, is to begin to experience hunger and not always have to give into it. You’re going to have some physical and emotional discomfort, so you have to be prepared for this and you have to be in your mind determined to work through that. You know hunger is going to come for you, it’s going to come in waves and you have to know that you’re going to drink some water, redirect yourself, do some breathing, do some jumping jacks, something to turn that hunger off.
Now, if you’re experiencing severe hunger, weakness, dizziness, nausea, sweating, just feeling terrible, brain-foggy – eat. You’re not being forced to do this. Just give yourself something to eat – eat some nuts, eat a small meal if you need to, and then just pick up from where you left off. That is not failure; it’s okay. Your body is leading you and sending you signals. On your non-fasting days, eat normally. Don’t undereat. That is a mistake I see people make because fasting becomes so powerful for people, they can use it to lose weight quickly, because you can use this interrupted calorie deprivation schedule to actually allow yourself to begin to create energy balance that favors weight loss without triggering the area of your brain to go, “Uh-oh. Let’s stop the process.” So it can be very effective. But if you undereat after a prolonged fast, all you’re going to do is the same thing as a reduced calorie diet. You’re not going to get the result you want. So eat normally on non-fasting days. In fact, eat robustly. Enjoy eating, because you’re balancing feasting with fasting. And then kind of vary the rhythm of it. Sometimes it’s 12 hours, sometimes it’s 16. You’re having a great day, you feel good – go 18 hours. But let your body lead you. Don’t try to force yourself through those hard stop moments where your body is actually going into a stress response, because that’s not going to get the result you want. Mostly, just make it a lifelong habit. It doesn’t have to be a 6-week program, a 12-week program. Make this a permanent habit. Don’t fast on your vacations, but then fast when you come back. There are a lot of great books out there on fasting. I like them, I read them, I geek out on this stuff and the physiology, but for most people it’s pretty simple – you’re just not eating. You don’t have to go and have a 90-day program written for you. Just give yourself permission to have longer windows without eating.
Allan (23:32): The core of it, I’ll say, and you say this in the book very well as an addition – if you’re going to keep eating garbage, processed foods, fasting is not going to work for you. Your body’s never going to listen to the signals you give it, that you’re trying to train it to do, because it is not going to understand what you’re eating is food. It’s not going to be properly nutritioned. As a whole, if you’re not eating high quality food, then don’t try fasting. That’s not your solution yet. Start with the high quality food, and then the fasting is where you step it up and say, “Now I’m in control. I’m going to train my body to actually give me the signals it’s supposed to give me, enjoy the food that I want to enjoy, get the nutrition that I need and my body will tell me when it’s time to eat.” And now you’re not locked into this, “I have to eat now because it’s 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. It’s dinnertime.” It’s like, if you’re just not hungry when you know you’ve gotten the nutrition you need, don’t eat or have a small meal if you feel like you just need to make it through the night. But in a general sense, your body will start to actually say, “You’re hungry; go get some nutrition. You’re full; stop eating.” You train your body to do those things. You’ll understand what actual hunger feels like, and when you start to understand it, it’s not that scary. We have this abundance of food. And there is an initial, “Oh my gosh, I’m hungry. I need to eat”, but then you realize there’s food everywhere. I’m not going to not have food, unless we’re going through some kind of zombie apocalypse, but we’re not anywhere near that right now. And fasting will actually make you better in a zombie apocalypse.
Dr. Gus Vickery (25:22): That’s right. It is an essential survival skill. Our bodies are well designed for it, but you’re exactly right about the “eat real food” first. I think I’m very emphatic in that point throughout the book. A couple of times I actually equate it to smoking cigarettes, and some people might think that’s extreme. I don’t think it is, when you look at what cigarettes do versus what junk foods do to the body.
Allan (25:45): More people are dying of type two diabetes and obesity than lung cancer. So I think the math is there.
Dr. Gus Vickery (25:54): The math is there. Basically low quality foods don’t provide you nutrients, they directly trigger inflammatory and stress responses in the body, they are disease-causing agents, and they have been engineered to trigger the reward system and be addictive. It’s not that different than a processed cigarette with nicotine. So, people have to get their mind around that, just like a smoker has to quit smoking. I don’t judge them. If they were introduced at a young age to tobacco, it’s very hard. But I can’t stop their lung disease if they don’t stop smoking. If someone is metabolically sick because of the foods they eat, until they can actually get away from those foods, they’re going to stay sick.
Allan (26:33): When I first got into this journey, my first step in was Paleo, which is going to the whole food thing, and I said I’m not going to bread. And I’m not going to lie, I actually had dreams about bread. I would wake up in the morning like I could smell fresh cooked bread coming off of that dream. I was actually dreaming about being in a bakery, eating all the bread. When I first woke up, I’d just want some bread. But I didn’t have any bread in the house because I knew who I was and I knew if I have bread in the house, I’m going to have a craving for it and I’m going to run in there and start eating bread. When someone feels themselves being drawn in to a craving, what are some strategies, what are some things that we can do to get past that, to not fold to that creating?
Dr. Gus Vickery (27:31): I have an entire chapter trying to explain that craving loop and at least giving a couple of solutions for it, because it’s so important. When you’re dealing with craving, you’re not dealing with true hunger for whatever it is you’re creating. What you’re dealing with is a very strong central nervous system-based feeling. It’s a feeling. Craving isn’t a thought, it’s a feeling. And feelings are more powerful than thoughts. We know that. We act and behave based on our feelings, not our thoughts. I thoughts do inform our feelings over time. With craving, we tend to look at it through the lens of willpower: “I have to overcome that.” One of your recent podcast guests talked about how you’re not going to win the fight with willpower. That’s exactly right. Willpower is an important skill and it should be cultivated, and there are ways to cultivate it. It’s an executive function skill and we should cultivate it, but you can’t rely on it to overcome powerful feelings based on deep desires. In order to understand that craving, you have to understand a little bit about the human reward system. I won’t go that deep into it, but it’s a more primitive system in our brain. It works off of a euphoria signal to reproduce behaviors that would be consistent with survival. Of course, in our modern times now, we’re able to concentrate certain elements that have a powerful effect on the human reward system in a very unnatural way. They hyperstimulate the reward system. So we get this kind of overwhelming euphoric response, but it’s very brief, it’s short lived, and then we have an immediate need to get back and get that euphoria again.
What we know is that the more sense of wellbeing you have… And our wellbeing is not euphoria. It’s associated with pleasure, but it’s different. Wellbeing are positive emotions like gratitude, contentment, peace, joy, etcetera. The more wellbeing we have, the less susceptible we are to the need for the euphoric response, the less susceptible we are to have to smoke a cigarette or drink too many drinks or take a drug or whatever it is that gets us. So, one strategy is cultivate wellbeing – cultivate gratitude, peace and joy, which is done through the activities that we know honor our ancestral design. Exercise, social engagement, faith-type spiritual exercises, meditation and breathing, listening to music, playing games – all the things that we love to do naturally. That gives us wellbeing, which reduces the need for a more primitive, “I’ve got to have a little fixed-type response.” But now let’s go ahead and say, “I know that when I encounter foods concentrated in salt, sugar and fat, I’m going to have a strong craving. And not only that, I don’t have to encounter them. I could be sleeping and already have that craving.” So, the craving exists apart from whether it’s even in our environment, but we know that it’s there, so we have that understanding. We’re not dealing with just a thought construct. You can’t just think your way out of this. You know you don’t want to give in, but you can’t seem to control that. You’re dealing with a strong feeling.
There is a mindfulness-based approach that was proven, it was used. It became what’s called the 4–step UCLA method for people with OCD who have strong urges they can’t control. And what it involved was, one, detection or awareness – you have to understand what it is you’re dealing with. And then you have to actually label it correctly. Instead of assigning negative value to yourself, because you struggle with this behavior: “I’m going to binge eat. I feel terrible about myself. I have no self-control. I’m a fat bastard”, as you said earlier, you actually have to begin to depersonalize it. You’ve got to get all of that emotion out of there. So you basically see it for what it is and you recognize that it’s just a rogue circuit in your brain that you probably didn’t even choose for yourself. At some point you got exposed to elements you were susceptible to that trigger this hyper response, and it’s been happening for years, if not decades, and of course it’s going to keep happening. It has nothing to do with you. It’s kind of in control. So, you depersonalize it and you relabel it. It is not you; it’s just this rogue brain circuit. But then you have to take the next step. What we just did is we used our cognitive powers over the situation, but now we have to use a new power. You have to refocus, and this is where in response to that craving, you substitute a new behavior. The main pushback I get from people is that this sounds too simple to them, like, “How could it be as simple as when I crave bread that I go work in my garden, or I start writing? It couldn’t be that simple. I would’ve figured that out on my own.” Actually it’s simple but it’s not easy, because what you’re doing is you’re creating a new brain circuit, an actual new automated habit response to the original craving or urge you’re experiencing. When you do that, you pick an activity that gives you wellbeing, that’s familiar to you, that you already know you enjoy and that’s easy for you to do. So a binge eater, for example, one, they don’t have the stuff in the home. They start to feel that strong 5:00 craving, and as soon as they feel it, they don’t react to it, they don’t get emotional. They simply go take a walk with their dog. They go for 15 minutes, give themselves 15 minutes of space to walk with their dog in the woods. And for the vast majority of people that craving will have already reduced by 90%.
Allan (32:48): That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t have it in the house, so I would just put my headphones on, listen to some music that’s uplifting, and start walking. I would just go for my walk. And my walks started out fairly short, but after a while sometimes they would be a two-hour walk, depending on what I was going to do that day. But I got so much joy out of the walk that when I got back, bread was the last thing on my mind. I wasn’t thinking about bread anymore. I got out of bed and I was like, “Okay, get your stuff on. Get your headphones on and head out the door.” It does works. But you’ve got to break that cycle by, like you said, seeing it for what it is and then setting a different intention that’s going to benefit yourself and your wellness. You use a very similar approach to stress management. Can you talk about your approach to stress management? I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two years really focused on that one core thing for myself, because that was I think the last piece that I needed to put in place for myself and then realized how important it was when I actually started doing some work on it. Can you go through that model with the stress management?
Dr. Gus Vickery (34:08): Yeah. As we discussed earlier, stress is very powerful and it’s all around us. I use the term “stress mastery” instead of “management” because I wanted something more than we’re just going to manage our stress. I wanted us to become masters of stress response.
Allan (34:20): Bingo! I like that.
Dr. Gus Vickery (34:22): Exactly. I want to make sure we’re clear, we’re focused on chronic bad stress. We’re not talking about the good stressors and the occasional challenges in life that we’re well suited to, but the stress that’s making us sick and effecting us emotionally. Once again, you have to use your cognitive powers. Your ability to think and reason and understand is a very important piece of this. When you apply cognitive power to change thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, you’re talking about something called “cognitive restructuring”, which is foundational to cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help with anxiety, panic and depression. Cognitive restructuring works pretty well for any condition where you actually can begin to change outcomes just based on your understanding. Stress is actually one of those that it works well for. Cravings, because of the strong feelings associated with them, you have to apply other things besides just cognitive restructuring.
So the first thing you have to do is detect stress. You have to know how it shows up for you. Does it show up through a bodily symptom like muscle tightness, sweating, palpitation of the heart, headache, fuzzy vision? There are all kinds of different bodily symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms. You might not have any emotional response to stress at all, but you may feel a whole lot of things in your body. You have to begin to recognize, “This is a stress response. This isn’t just a massive reflux or a sore neck. This is me responding to stress.” Or emotional responses – is it anger, irritability, impatience, melancholy, moodiness, whatever? Whatever your responses are – and it can be both body and mind – you have to detect it as quick as possible, because it’s kind of like getting lost in a forest. The further you go without realizing where you are, the harder it gets to find your way back out and the longer it takes to find your way back out. So those initial feelings are what are going to give you the clue, “I’m entering into a period where I’m starting to become overwhelmed by stress, even if I didn’t think I was.” That’s where you’re going stop and say, “I know how to detect it. I know what I’m dealing with.” And then you move into proper interpretation, because the vast majority of things – somebody arguing with you on Facebook about an issue that’s going to disappear – aren’t worth being stressed about. Whether it’s political, economic, whether it’s a situation of uncertainty you’re dealing with, you’re probably giving it more power over your life right now than it really has. So you have to begin to rightly interpret what is the stress issue. Most people immediately move down catastrophic thinking pathways. They become reactive, emotional, turn off their heart and mind. If there’s some insecurity in the company, they’re going to lose their job and their family is going to be destitute. Then they’re going to live on the street. Actually, there’s a good chance they won’t lose their job, but if they did, they’ll get another job, and even if they didn’t, the family probably won’t be on the street. Most of the negative outcomes we envision will never come to pass. Plus, it’s fruitless to spend our time living there, because we can’t do much about it.
So detect it, you interpret it properly, and then you reinterpret it properly, meaning you do have some power over whatever the circumstance is. But then you have to use something to turn off the stress response internally. You have to. And that’s where we get into the breathing and the meditation, which I speak about extensively in the book. The reason I do is because it’s a proven expedient pathway to turning off stress responses, to dampening down the sympathetic nervous system and activating the parasympathetic nervous system. So even if you’re going to continue to feel a little irritable or nervous about a situation, you can at least calm your heart rate down, stop sweating and feel more calm physically by simply paying attention to your breath. And even doing perhaps a positive visualization meditation, a form of mindfulness meditation, or something else where you begin to see everything good that you actually have – all the good things that are still surrounding you, regardless of this, which will actually give you a greater power because then you’ll have a positive feeling in your mind that really makes the stress response minimal. But you have to do this daily and you have to be on it, because right now the world as it is will be throwing stress bombs at you constantly.
Allan (38:26): Yes. What happens for me physically and mentally is my higher brain turns off. I can’t seem to think straight. I lose a little bit of me. And I’m not a flight person, I’m a fight, so I suddenly get this desire to just want to strike, to do something to fight my way out of it. It was something as simple as my boss calling me while we were going through three years of layoffs, and my phone rings and my boss wants me to come to his office. I’m immediately wanting to fight because I know this is not going to be a good day. It was not a good day and it’s about to get worse. I step on the elevator and I just start breathing. It was like, “All I can do right now is just breathe and get my mind straight, get myself ready. This is out of my control. Once I understand what he’s here to tell me that, then I’ll figure out what we can do, but it is what it is.” And understanding what I had control over, what I don’t have control over, and then understanding that in the end it was how I let this affect me that was going to have the biggest impact on my career. And then when I got the opportunity, when I was laid off, it was, “Do I really want to go back to that? Do I want to go back to being stressed all the time, to being all the things that go on in corporate life?” And I was like, “No, I’ll figure out something else. I’ll get clients, I’ll do what I want to do, the things that bring me pleasure.” I completely said, “Forget it. I don’t want that in my life.” And I’m blessed to have had that opportunity to say I’m going to walk away from that. But it took me a good long time to get to that point where I would sit down and detect that I was stressing too much and say, “Okay, turn it around. Breathe.” And meditation and breathing were huge, huge helps for me as I was going through that period of my life. And I still use them today – when I feel a little upset, I just go in the bathroom and breathe.
Dr. Gus Vickery (40:43): For some people I know meditation is a real challenge. It took me years of consistent practice to get where I can really love quiet meditation for 20, 40 minutes. But breathing is something everybody can do. Even if they don’t have yet the skill of thought observation, activating the witness and some of the spiritual elements of meditation, they can absolutely begin to control their breath and attend to their breath and calm stress responses.
Allan (41:08): I liked the approach you had in the book to go on to the box breathing and all of that. Those were some great techniques and well worth the purchase of the book just for the breathing techniques.
Dr. Gus Vickery (41:18): Thank you.
Allan (41:19): I define “wellness” as being the healthiest, fittest and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?
Dr. Gus Vickery (41:32): It’s a great question, and I like your definition. I’m always trying to get people’s definition of “health” because we’ve got to set a high bar for that definition if we want people to pursue it. I like your definition. Forgive me for this brief interlude, but I did think about this. I thought, “What a great question!” And I thought, “What are the usual answers?” And of course there are all kinds of answers. It’s nutritious food – we’ve already talked about that. Movement – we didn’t get into that as much. But you said being able to maintain; it’s like a perpetual getting this. I thought, “What would it be? What would I tell somebody that’s what I wanted them to have?” And I get back to what we’ve been talking about this whole time – mindfulness.
To me, the first and most important thing is actually you have to desire that. You actually have to start with a mindful deep desire for what you just described. “I want to be fit and feel good and be as happy as I can be every single day.” If you deeply desire that, you build that into your consciousness, then you’re going to naturally choose the foods that are giving that to you. You’re going to naturally get up and move because it feels good. So then you don’t have to have a lot of instructions. So number one would be, stop and meditate on that, and desire it. Stay on it until you have in your mind a vivid picture associated with feeling of, “That’s what I’m after. I want this every single day.” And then play the long game, not the short game. This isn’t, “In six weeks I’ll be the fittest and happiest, etcetera.” No, this is, “Every year I’m going to keep getting happier, healthier, fitter, until the day that my life is done.” So, the long game is that you are going to every single day apply this thinking to your habits, to your daily life. And you’ll do 1% better in each category per day, based on what you’re after. And I have to pick one final thing. So we’ve got mindful desire, the long game, not the short game – you’re on this for the long road. Honestly the final one is not quite so esoteric. If I had to pick one right now, it’s honor your circadian rhythm. Allow your body to actually restore circadian rhythm function, which is intrinsic to everything else that we’re experiencing, which means you have to sleep, and then when you’re awake throughout the day, get natural sunlight. Turn off the devices, turn off the screens, get out in nature and restore circadian rhythm, because often times that restores actual eating behavior and a lot of other factors.
Allan (44:04): Excellent. I actually have my family here for the holidays as we record this. So we are prerecording this, but I have my family here. So as soon as we get off of this call, I am shutting down these computers and I’m going to spend some time with my family and some friends. Dr. Vickery, it’s been so great to have you on the podcast. If someone wanted to learn more about you, learn more about the book Authentic Health, where would you like for me to send them?
Dr. Gus Vickery (44:30): They interface with our teaching, my blogs, etcetera, at www.HealthShepherds.com. That’s where I have my blogs, our videos, you can purchase the book. And of course the book is purchasable through any of the online book vendors as well.
Allan (44:48): You also have some 9-week programs and the whole bit out there. It’s a really good site; you should check it out. If you’re traveling, can’t write that down right now, this is episode 367. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/367, and I will make sure to have links there to your site. Dr. Vickery, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Gus Vickery (45:12): Thank you so much, Allan. And I appreciate your audience taking the time to listen to this.
As this episode goes live, I have just celebrated my 53rd birthday, so thank you. If you would like to give me a birthday present, there is something special that you could do for me today. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA, and that’s going to take you to a page for the Author Academy Awards. I’m up for an Academy Award in the “Health” category. So if you go to this page, it’s a little complicated, so just hear me out. You want to scroll down all the way to the bottom, because they allow the authors to submit on the same page that they allow to have the voting. So you want to scroll down to the bottom where you see “Voting”, and you’re going to be on page 1 of 15 for that first one. You’re going to want to click that arrow to go over to 6 of 15, and there you’re going to see the books in the “Health” category. You scroll down until you find my cover for The Wellness Roadmap. Go ahead and click on that cover, and that will secure your vote. So you can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/AAA. That’ll take you to the page, scroll to the bottom and vote for The Wellness Roadmap. Thank you.
Also, I would really appreciate it if you would consider becoming a patron for the 40+ Fitness podcast. Now that I’m moving down to Panama, I won’t have as much access to some of the resources that I have here in the United States, so things are going to be a little bit tight for me from a budget perspective. I really would appreciate if you could give just a few dollars a month to help out the 40+ Fitness podcast, help me cover the audio production and the show notes. There are full show notes, transcripts for each episode each week. It does cost to do a podcast, they’re not free, so I appreciate any help you can. You can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Patreon. And anytime you go to the podcast websites, in the sidebar you’re going to see a button. So if you don’t remember this link, at least go to the website for 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Podcast, and on any of the podcast episodes you’ll see it at the bottom down. If it’s on your phone, it would be further down the screen, but you can find the button for Patreon. So, 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Patreon to help support the show. Thank you.