Weight Loss Strategies & Thoughts

sparkling water bottle for weight loss success stories blog post lemonI have been on a bit of a weight loss journey for the last few months and I finally have had enough success to blog about it.

After I tried a round of IVF in February (it failed) I found that I had gained another 5 lbs on top of the 20 or so pounds I had gained from the time I got married in July 2009.

The IVF hormones and drugs seemed to make me puff up around the middle and I am sure that there was some stress eating along the way also.

I had been battling my lifestyle, stress and eating behavior for years thinking that just changing one thing, or giving up one key item would be the turning point to weight loss success. Boy was I wrong. People who say that are lying.

I had been pretty successful at losing weight when I needed to earlier in life. Once in high school (90’s) while very active in sports and discovering lean cuisine and diet coke and another time in my 20s while dancing up to 7 days a week (2000’s).

Now in 2012 with a sedentary desk job that demanded hours of excel analysis and implementation and a husband/home/cats/yard to take care of I had given up all of my personal interests and hobbies. Yep, every single one of them. I had no way to exercise and no time.

I finally have had some weight loss success because of several factors coming together to change a lot of things in my life. Like hundreds of things. Lifestyle change isn’t really the right word for it, it is more like millions of really small decisions adding up every day. I don’t actually feel like my lifestyle is any different. I am not sure how much of your lifestyle is really about food anyway.

Some of these changes were:

1. I was diagnosed with ADHD, documented by years of childhood report cards with attention issues. Medication helps me concentrate and stick to things until I get them finished, and keeping the long term goal in mind has always been a problem for me with weight loss. Some people may cry foul because many ADHD meds do lessen appetite, but I counter that with the fact that my stomach still growls if I am hungry while taking it. I just eat a more normal amount and I don’t use food as a stress reliever as much since I’m less frazzled in the first place.

2. I mostly gave up cooking, and certainly the idea that I had to provide my husband with a fancy full course dinner several times a week. (I never cooked before we were married) This led to less groceries being bought, less exotic ingredients in the house, less opportunity to snack. Less choice in the matter of snacking. And fewer trips to the store, which are tempting within themselves. I also canceled all those email recipe newsletters, unsubscribed to the food blogs and droped the idea that desert was needed at all. It actually gives me more time to do other things if I don’t have to always be meal planning, cooking, cleaning and prepping. I have a few staple things I still make, (roast chicken, onion/green pepper/mushroom omelette with egg beaters, quinoa veg salad, organic cornbread) but overall the cooking is much less frequent.

3. I reduced portion size by half. It is important and needed its own mention separate from the previous item on the list. Small plates help but someone isn’t going to lose weight on that method alone as certain statistical studies and books suggest. Basically I have the slowest metabolism in the world so my body can make a tiny bit of food last forever. It may have been an evolutionary bonus but now its a huge negative. I probably live on 1000 calories a day because I don’t exercise. There has also been research lately that states that people who have been overweight have cells that have a history of expecting overeating and slow processing. My take on that is I will always have to eat less than my contemporaries because of my history and extra slow metabolism.

4. I don’t eat breakfast. All you breakfast eaters that hate my method can shove it. I know that my eating snowballs during the day. I start out with lots of motivation/focus and as I get more tired/frustrated/stressed I eat more. My resolve weakens. I also have a kind of weird rebound effect to eating where I get hungry again within 2 hours especially if it is sweet stuff. So why sabotage myself by eating first thing in the morning if I’m not hungry? My metabolism isn’t going to get jump started by eating but my stomach cravings will. Sometimes I wonder if this suggestion is deliberate sabotage by the skinny people of the world that seem to talk about food constantly and eat nothing. Here is an article stating that you never start burning fat reserves unless you fast for 12 hours.  

5. I don’t drink soda – I drink organic coffee with organic creamer in the morning (I guess instead of breakfast) and sparkling water the rest of the day. I’m not a big alcohol drinker so cutting that out is pretty much status quo for me. ( a 1/2 beer is enough to make me sleepy) I don’t think soda is inherently evil but I do think I can’t afford its calories and my teeth don’t need the sugar/nutrasweet. (just like most parents thought back in the 70’s when I was a kid). I don’t drink diet soda because my body was past the point of being tricked by sweet tasting stuff that has no actual nutritional value in it and my body was pissed. About an hour after drinking diet soda I get incredibly hungry and inhale just about any food around me because my stomach hurts so much. Sparkling water seems soda-ish enough with the carbonation, but not sweet or with any calories. (avoid the flavored waters with nutrasweet or splenda) Other people make their own infused waters with cucumber, mint or orange/lemon/lime. That is cool too but I’m not going to cut up produce and do dishes at work, so my sparkling mountain bottle just sits on my desk.

6. The only exercise I do occasionally get is yard work and walking. At first I had no stamina to do basic things like mow the lawn (it’s not self-propelled but still it isn’t like we live on a hill either). I did force myself to get through yard tasks whether I liked it or not because I am incredibly embarrassed if the yard looks bad. This is only really something I have time for on weekends so if I have a bonus of some time during the week I do walk around the subdivision. There is a 1 mile loop around it that takes about 45 minutes. I even go out after dark. No excuses. The dog walkers are still out there and the weather is nice in the evenings now that it is summer.

7. I don’t obsess over lunch. If I bring lunch it is a Tupperware of fruit (pineapple, grapes, oranges & apples) or something like broccoli salad. I have also learned that the potbelly chickpea salad is the healthiest thing within walking distance of the office. I also get chipotle burrito bowls from time to time but only eat half. And the rest is for dinner. I told you I could make a few calories go a long way.

8. I like organic products but I am wary of some since they seem to have more fat, sugar and calories than their non-organic counterparts. I think the organic decision is more about long term health and less processed food, fewer chemicals, fewer hormones and pesticides that you ingest to hopefully avoid cancer. This may be more meaningful for some than others depending on your genetics and other factors, but I just think its safer to minimize the risks a bit. Its impossible to go totally organic so I don’t try but when I find a good organic alternative I usually stick to it even if it is a bit more expensive. Just avoid the organic granola/energy bars. Some have as much fat as a big mac.

In summary it took a lot of changes and a lot of time but after 4 months I have lost 15 lbs (to fit into things I wore in 2009). My hope is to lose another 5 and I hope this blog post doesn’t jinx it!

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and our Jobs

gordon ramsay's kitchen nightmares cooking chef jobs

Gordon Ramsay is actually really encouraging to the people trying to turn the business around.

I really thought Gordon Ramsay was a loud mouthed cook that just liked to take people’s head off from the media snippets I had seen. I wasn’t big on reality television so I never saw one of his shows until I ran across Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares show on BBC America last week and found it so interesting that I added it to the DVR schedule. I can’t verify that some of the stuff that happens on this show or any show isn’t scripted/rehearsed/planned ahead in some way, but the underlying cause here is that these restaurants are in a dire state of business and will go out of business soon, so the object is to figure out the problems and find solutions to give the owners in one week, and then the business owners have to take that knowledge and see if they can turn it around.

The thing I found most insightful was (aside from the cooking, of which I can appreciate more now that I am cooking more) that Gordon Ramsay is very direct when he finds something wrong that is hurting the business and nobody ever does that if you work in a  corporate environment. I wish there was a way that this kind of investigation would happen with companies, in a slightly less dramatic way. Sometimes a company or department is ailing for years and nobody wants to say the things that need to be said, and eventually it just dies.

I find it interesting that the problems I’ve seen in these restaurant businesses have been (in about 7 shows so far) either: 1. The cooks are either too slow or make food nobody likes. (in one case the cook was making food the owner wanted but nobody liked) 2. The food is great but there is a management issue and/or service problems. 3. The decor is not welcoming, clean or classy, but this is never the main reason, always a secondary one.

Within these problems Gordon Ramsay has to sort out the people who work there also and decide if they can do a good job if they aren’t already and how if possible he can transform their work. In several cases he found the head cook to be the main issue and suggested that they remove the cook from the job. After they were gone he found several lower level cooks with better skills and ability than the head cook that were just doing what they had to in order to keep their job. They were stuck working for someone who didn’t know what they were doing, but the lower level rank made it impossible for them to  do anything about it.

I think this is a huge problem in business too. People get hired and stay in a management position for 5-10 years and while they are there the world changes, technology changes and the industry changes. If people don’t keep learning (something that is really difficult to do with a full work and family schedule) eventually they will be completely out of date with their information and the business won’t sell/develop/produce enough or the right things to make a profit. It’s an over simplified view of things but the elements  are true, I’ve seen it many times. In these cases lower level worker people grit their teeth and deal with it because they have mortgages, kids and credit cards that they have to earn a paycheck for. The lucky ones leave and find a better job somewhere else, although there is always the risk that the new job will be the same way since its near impossible to get a feel for personalities before you get hired.

I think that a small part of the solution to this is that the mid & lower level people in a company need to have their opinions viewed as more important. These people know the details of what is needed to the tasks that the company survives on. Sure, some management experience is useful sometimes, but try to solve a programming problem if you’ve never programmed before. Try and manage the tech operations if you’ve never been an admin or be CMO if you have never been a media planner, analyst or advertising creative designer and your previous job was sales. It just turns out badly. It’s incredibly risky to turn to your employees and say “just get it done or else” even if you do have some understanding of what a problem is, if you can’t set the strategy for fixing it and get involved in the process. None of the people who do these tasks have any respect for the managers that demand things all day without any of the knowledge that gets the job done.

I think the large part of the solution revolves around how manager’s roles have changed. It is no longer sufficient to “manage” people without doing the job yourself while you are the manager. It’s a dual role but it is the only way managers can make appropriate decisions about the work being done since they are involved in doing some of it themselves. Gordon Ramsay is actually very good at this. When cooks leave or get fired due to poor work, many times he jumps in and is cooking in these small crowded spaces. (nothing like his restaurants). My current boss also jumps in a lot and knows the ins and outs of what we do, this is rare though, I’ve seen many who don’t.

I think the other job situation he has uncovered several times is how to turn things around for that person that is 2nd or 3rd in command who really does have the knowledge but have been sidelined for years under the direction of the head cook/manager. How do you get that spark back in someone who has been demoralized for so long? It is hard to work in an environment every day when you know that something is not the right thing to do, yet you have to keep working that way because your manager requires it in order to keep your job. It is related to the feeling that I think people have about determining their own destiny.

I also think people need to feel like they have some control/choice in their job situation and taking orders all the time with the knowledge that this is the wrong thing to do wears someone’s confidence down and turns off their creativity and enthusiasm for the job. I call this burnout. I don’t think burnout is from too many hours of work, burnout is from being at odds with your you are tasked to do for too long. And contrary to what people think, being at odds with what you are tasked to do is usually a management problem, the younger people who have been in school more recently are more likely to follow the rules, do things right and want to make things better in an idealistic way. I find that the higher level people who have been there a long time have little  knowledge about how the business technology/process works in detail and make demands based on outdated info, cut corners because they can get away with it and do old things because they have just always done it that way.

That said there are no easy solutions to these problems. Gordon Ramsay is a dynamic personality and he can work with these people one to one to discuss things honestly and figure it out, and in many cases this needs to happen on an individual level in business also. It’s not a company-wide initiative or something that has one solution to. The solution would be different things to different people, all very specific to their individual job and knowledge. And I think managers resist this discussion because they are insecure about the knowledge they may not have and don’t want to lose their job either. I think managers need to spend more time doing the low-level work or else they will be disconnected. Asking your employees to make suggestions or tell you the solutions is a cop-out too. If they have the all answers to problems all the time, they should be paid the same level as the managers who are really supposed to do that work. (or be the manager) So, there is no incentive for group management when someone is paid a higher wage to be the manager.

I suggest that managers/directors, VPs and C-level execs start digging in the trenches with their workers on a weekly basis and they will learn more about their jobs/departments/businesses than they thought possible and the business will be healthier as a result. The workers will hopefully have a better job situation where they do have some control over what they do because the expectations are in line with what they can provide, so they don’t get burnt out and have to leave. People also need more time to learn, but with homes, kids and regular 40 hours a week of work, I’m not sure how to fit that in, but it is an important part of the recipe for success.

Who thought Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares would suggest a new paradigm for American business? Its possible, let’s get to work.

And this recent article seems to support my idea that constant learning is the only way a workforce can stay competitive in the global chaos we live in.

Can ordinary people manage the risk in the stock market for their retirement?

I am beginning to think there is no way an average American can invest in the market and make any money for their retirement in a 401K. I was reading this morning that 5 and 10 year returns in the portfolios of most mutual funds are negative now when they calculated in the huge losses from recessions in 2001 and 2008 and the beginning of 2009. (Q1 hasn’t been kind) 

As an investor (for my 401K) I look at that and say: yuck! Why would I put my money in something that has no long term value?

My fiance sent me this article saying that now 20 and 30 years are the benchmarks for best overall performance in mutual funds and stocks in the market. Yikes! 20-30 years? Who has that much time before retirement? Who can invest for that long anyway?

When you consider that most people’s salary starts dropping when they reach their 50’s (because employers don’t value old employees and can’t spend time/money updating their skills) you really have 25 years max to work with as far as investments for retirement.

You start your first real paying job with a 401K at age 25 and you may not be fully employable by age 50 although you will likely live to the age of 80 or 90.  There’s your 25 years to save and invest for 30-50 years of retirement.

I also think there is something else going on here affecting the 20-30 year market profit numbers. The US Markets benefited from a long term technology/innovation and growth curve from WWII to the 1980s. Personally, I think that was a one time deal and we will never see that kind of long term prosperity again.

Why? 1. Because we don’t understand enough about technology to innovate on that level again to create that much growth. 2. Because the US has higher paid workers than anywhere else in the world and everything gets manufactured and produced (and serviced) somewhere else. 3. Because we’re too complacent and have too much entitlement as a country of workers. Work creates wealth, not shell games with securities.

That brings up another point: We’ve been playing a shell game with our economy since the 1980’s. De-regulate, re-regulate, stimulus, fix, fund, trade, outsource, sell, leverage, whatever… It’s all a shell game to us worker bees and the internet has been the only significant improvement in technology to create new industries and jobs in the last 20 years. We need more than that to survive and prosper as a nation and a world.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stand to take that much risk with my money. I have some in a 401K but mostly my retirement is locked in a 5 year CD IRA at 5.25% that was a promotion this fall when banks wanted more cash reserves. I changed companies in 2006 and rolled over the old 401K to a bank in 2007 because I knew the 10 year recession was coming soon and I didn’t want to risk timing it.

There will always be people who game the market and come out ahead, but those of us without finance degrees, huge money to invest in undervalued markets or inside scoops will never really profit on the whole. Many of us will get out exactly what we put in and maybe less considering our lack of  investment prowess. So, in that level of risky why not just put it in the bank? Positive 3-5% sounds a lot better than negative 40%.

I hate the inflation argument that says that 3-5% isn’t enough to make money after inflation. Guess what? Inflation has been very low and inflation doesn’t stop when you have negative returns either. I’d rather have some money dependably than none at all when prices are higher. 

You may be asking why I want more innovation and less investment in the market? Doesn’t investment in the market lead to more innovation?

NO. Most of the mutual finds and stocks you can buy that are highly rated are in huge old (one trick pony) risk averse companies that have already peaked and can’t figure out how to do anything new. They sell shares to raise cash and then have old people make decisions like the old days. Venture Capital,  new small businesses and Universities are the place where innovation happens. If I could invest in those, I would. But then again I don’t have millions of dollars and apparently I won’t any time soon.

What are the best proven ways to fund your retirement and create wealth then?

1. Have a side job for extra income you can save (part-time weekends or evenings a few nights a week)

2. Own rental property for extra income (you need to live near it for this to work)

3. Have fewer kids if you’re contemplating having a family (ok we don’t always control this, and we love kids, but nobody is going to debate that they are expensive) 

4. Own a smaller home (smaller mortgage = smaller amount in interest paid (lost) to the bank)

5. Don’t go into debt on credit cards or car loans (hello! 25% interest, MONTHLY! on some cards)

6. Live frugally generally, keep your cars 10 years, don’t buy new clothes every month and don’t buy big ticket items like TVs and Computers every few years. Spread out the expenses over the long term.

7. Share what you have with others. Seriously, knowledge, help with projects, donating time and donating items you no longer need, as well as hand me downs between families help kids and neighbors live better within their means and help the community live better too.

8. Take care of your health. Eat less junk, lower fat, lower salt, lower carbs. Exercise daily. Take vitamins. Don’t work in an industry that has a side effect of cancer. Visit the doctor regularly and if something comes up treat it early, it will cost so much less in the long run. Heath issues start in your 30’s and get more frequent in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Expect to pay more every decade for health costs in your life/budget.

These are all real tactical changes we can make to save more money monthy and yearly that will get better returns than the stock market and help prepare for inflation. What else do you think can help?