Seven days into a brand-new year, and things are already a bit stressy and messy. Sure, it's just the everyday, run-of-the-mill issues with chores and bills, work and relationships, family stuff, car troubles, and a little puppy pandemonium since the alleged "Jack Russell mix" pup I adopted for Cissy for her birthday back in September was obviously breed-misjudged by the shelter and is now a 50-pound, very energetic and clumsy beast who stampedes through our home knocking things down left and right every day. In any case, this is the Year of the Metal Rat, if you ask our Chinese friends. I'm not sure what that means, but I was born in the Year of the Metal Dog, so maybe the whole metal bit bodes well for me.
That said, being stressed out is a sure way to get messed up, and that includes in one's diet. I know this all too well, as Stress and I have had an on-again/off-again relationship for decades. It's like one of those awful boyfriends you really need to dump, but he just keeps popping back into your life at the worst possible moments, and you fall for it all over again. That's why Coffee is my preferred boyfriend. (And, yes, I know that flirting with Coffee just seems to make Stress so jealous that it lures him out of his lurking, but let's not get into that.)
Anywhatever, since the holidays didn't feel very restful and the new year isn't starting off feeling so new, I have been trying to figure out (or recall) some of the weight-loss "hacks" I have used in the past, as well as some new ones that might help this Year of the Rat to not be Year of the Fat. Below are a few I came up with from personal experience and a few consultations with Dr. Google. These are quite related to my personality and my very secretarially sedentary lifestyle, but perhaps they will be of help to you too:
DELETE IT! I'm unsubscribing from all the fast food and pizza places that keep sending me coupons. It's just too tempting because I love junk food...not to mention that I'm a cheapskate and a sucker for BOGO deals. For the most part, the things these coupons are good for cost more in calories than they do in dollars, and that's not a waist-friendly budget.
A SOUP-ER SUPPER! When I was a kid, my mom had these "Soupers," a set she bought at Service Merchandise, with five bowls with cartoon faces that exponentially increased in size for each family member (Dad's being the biggest). Being the nostalgic sap I am, I was thrilled when my sister scored a vintage set of these for me a couple Christmases ago. They stare at me every day from my counter, and that got me to thinking: "What if, instead of that so-called salad we eat before meals, we ate a clear, light soup?" In researching things a little, it became quite apparent that salads, for all their goodness, can be not so good after all. By the time we put all our goodies on salads, from cheese to croutons to dressing, that "house salad" can have us growing as big as a house. In fact, soup is often far fewer calories, and the fact that it is usually warm (unless you're one of those weirdos who enjoys and can spell vichyssoise) also helps you to feel fuller before a meal. For me, who relies on calorie counts, that's a better option, so I'm going to put those Soupers to work. And, yes, I'll use the Baby Sister one to ensure my serving size.
STOP THE BLUES AND START SEEING RED! I had no idea about this one till it popped up on the good ol' interwebs, but apparently, eating off of red dishes can actually help with weight loss. In several studies, people who were served food on red plates ate far less or even took smaller portions when they served themselves. It's some sort of scientific, psychological mumbo-jumbo about how the mind perceives red and the contrast between foods and dish color, but if it works, it's worth a try! Also, I'll be using red saucers rather than plates; it's always a good tip to trick your mind into thinking you're getting more food bang for your calorie bucks because the food takes up a larger portion of the plate. Saucers are great for that! It's important to note here that some of the people in the know suggest that blue and white plates cause us to eat more.
CREAM OF THE STOP. (First, a disclaimer: Yes, I know there's a misspelling in the clip-art above, but I was too lazy to try to photo shop an edit into it!) So, Coffee and I have a long, complicated relationship. He's warm and sweet and always around. Not only that, but he never talks back or argues. Sure, he's a bit fickle (I see him with everyone everywhere I go), but Coffee is always there when I need him. The trouble is that while he only brews up about 5 calories a cup, that creamer I use to soften him a bit is just extra calories I don't need. Thus, I'm weaning myself off coffee creamers of all kinds and using only a little sweetener. Maybe someday I'll make like AC/DC and get "Back in Black," the healthiest way to enjoy Coffee if you're going to have a relationship with him at all, but for now, I can handle my Coffee interludes with just a bit of zero-calorie sweetness. (And, yes, I know about "diet" sweeteners and all the damage they do, which is why I'm about to contradict myself...)
YOU'RE SWEET ENOUGH ALREADY. I am not a PhD or an MD or any kind of anything with any initials behind my name that would allow me to expel words of true, tested wisdom to you on why artificial sweeteners are bad for us and can actually cause us to gain weight by making us crave sweets and throwing our adrenal glands into overdrive. What I can say is that my years of growing up in an "herb and vitamin" family have taught me that "The closer you get to God's recipe, the better." (Thanks for that great quote, Grampy!) Anything in a pink package that has to post a warning on the label is probably not God's recipe. (I'm rather certain those poor little critters at NIMH don't feel much like celebrating the Year of the Rat when saccharin is tested.) Anything in a blue package or even a yellow one that is a man-made white powder might best be avoided, even if it is legal. (Yeah, I watch Locked Up Abroad too). The best-for-you and best-for-Mrs.-Frisby sweeteners are going to be the ones God made, like sugar, stevia, and honey. Unfortunately, some of these have more calories than the chemical compounds in those convenient little packets, but that's probably because God never intended us to sit on our rears so much. That said, this is the year to cut back on sweeteners where I can, and I'm going to make a concerted effort to do so.
STEP TO THE DARK SIDE. No, this has NOTHING to do with Star Wars (and after that "Rise of [not] Skywalker," I cannot speak about Star Wars without having an emotional meltdown and going on a tirade). What this does have to do with is retraining myself to turn off my gadgets (my TV, mainly) when I go to bed at night. Why? Because, uh, dark helps you sleep better, and sleeping better helps your body function better and gives you more energy to burn off calories, and all that jazz. More specifically: "A study published in the Journal of Pineal Research revealed that melatonin (the hormone that makes you feel sleepy) is also responsible for increasing brown fat production. Brown fat burns more calories than white fat. Your body produces more melatonin when you sleep in a very dark room so that you can create the “right” type of fat for optimal fat burning and weight loss....According to researchers at Manchester University, the type of short-wavelength light emitted by electronic device screens interrupts melatonin production, which can mean a disruption of your metabolism and glucose levels." I'm used to falling asleep with the TV on, but I'm going to have to find the willpower (and the finger-lifting energy) to start turning off the tube after that last rerun of Law and Order or the Golden Girls.
CHILL OUT! There is this science I just recently heard of called cryotherapy. No, it has nothing to do with forcibly weeping. Rather, it has to do with, as the experts put it, "the use of cold temperatures to improve body, mind and spirit, is not new. It has long been used as a way to decrease inflammation from illness or injury, increase cell rejuvenation, reduce muscle soreness and even to improve skin tone and reduce the effects of aging." Apparently, researchers are also finding that people who sleep at slightly chillier temperatures, around 66 degrees, can help you lose weight, and, no, it's not because shivering is aerobic. Rather, "sleeping cold increases REM sleep. This can burn as much as 140 extra calories per night... That can be significant because over the course of a year it can lead to losing as much as 14 pounds!" So maybe I'll switch from my comfy comforter to the thinner Dunder Mifflin Paper Company blanket and Prison Mike pillow my kiddo got me for Christmas, and we'll see what happens!
AVOID THE DANGER ZONES! I've had my new job since March and love everything about it...mostly. When calorie-counting, however, the kindness of my co-workers and the corporate generosity can be a bit trying. On any given day, there are goodies in the break room that is about three feet outside my office door, or there are yummies in the cafeteria, free for the taking, with little Post-it notes attached that say "Help yourself!" Case in point, the cafeteria is currently filled with gourmet cheesecake, and there will be Panera sandwiches and chips left over from a business meeting in less than an hour. In a general sense, I'm going to start avoiding these areas as much as possible, because my company is just so darn good at feeding us! Of course, I have to go to the break room for my trysts with Coffee, but I'll learn to run through the gauntlet of gluttony with blinders on to get there.
TETRIS! Maybe we should make America game again! There is an idea out there called "elaboration intrusion theory" that may be of interest to those of you who are striving to lose weight. Apparently, when we crave something, a bunch of chemical things happen in our brains that turn into an almost unsurmountable challenge for our senses. As some of the experts put it, "...people craving caffeine have reported that they suddenly start vividly imaging the taste and smell of fresh coffee and then these mental images come to dominate their thinking." Shakespeare was even aware of this: "The imaginary relish is so sweet, that it enchants my sense." Now, I'm no scientist or renowned sonnet writer, but I can say that I understand this completely. Something happens in my brain when I want some evil food, something sinister and insidious, and I soon find myself reaching for it. Some research has suggested that we need a "demanding visual task" such as playing the uber-addictive eighties video game Tetris (or Angry Birds or Crossy Roads, for that matter) to help us reduce cravings. It's basically a distraction tactic, but I once conquered a 12-year-old in a Tetris tournament and won $50, my initials are still on the old Tetris cabinet in sixth place at the local arcade, and I have an old, still-working original GameBoy. (Who needs a stupid so-called smartphone anyway?) I know what to do with a tetromino, and if that will keep me from salivating over that Filet-o-Fish commercial, bring it on! (And I'm really not too bad at getting a Hipster Whale safely across a traffic jam either!)
WE INTERRUPT THIS WEIGHT-LOSS PROGRAM... So, I admit that I enjoy a lot of mindless television - all those "reality" shows that are about as scripted as your average soap opera. I'm not delusional about it; I enjoy them because I'm able to suspend reality enough to allow me to do so. I'm also a sucker for Court Cam and all those shows on Investigation Discovery, as I'd still love to be a criminal psychologist when I grow up. That said, while watching TV, I find myself struggling to avoid the munchies. Why? Maybe it's because typical channels broadcast an average of 5.2 food advertisements every hour, and "fast-food restaurants, sugary food, chips/crackers, and sugar-added beverages collectively accounted for more than 70% of food commercials." That's a lot of assaults on the ol' willpower! A tip I read online was a rather common-sense one: Mute the commercials and/or get up and walk away from the TV to do something constructive while they're on. I'm pretty sure switching a load of laundry or letting the cattle-sized puppy out will burn more calories than staring hungrily at a stuffed-crust pizza, so I'm going to work on doing this.
I aim to try all of these things, because they are little, everyday (and every night) changes that might make a big, fat difference...and they certainly can't hurt. Of course there are the regular tried-and-true methods, too, like getting more exercise, drinking more water, avoiding that giant tin of cookies that someone just put in the break room behind me, and so on. If 2020 isn't going to be Year of the Fat, I'm going to have to make some changes, and so are you!