Burnout

Burnout.  It’s in vogue these days.  It seems to be turning into society’s new normal.  We are all busy keeping ourselves busy.  This busyness of society is not new,  Socrates commented on it centuries ago.

“Beware the barreness of a busy life.”

If you have been reading my musings, you know that I retired from my pediatric practice just over 2 years ago.  After closing my practice, it took me about 5 months to recognize I had been utterly burned out.  After reaching this blatantly obvious conclusion, I casually mentioned to a close friend, “I think I was burned out.”  Her response?  “Ya think?” It was one of several post-retirement “Dah-Doctor moments.”

Such is the nature of change I suppose.

Change, by definition, thrusts you into the discomfort zone of life – that uncomfortable place where you feel the edges of life a little too sharply.  The discomfort zone is also that beautiful zone where we rise to challenges, build courage, take risks and experience personal growth.

Sometimes change can land you deep in the panic zone – ‘the-OMG-what-have-I-done?-zone’ – also a place I’ve visited since my decision to retire.  We can all inadvertently end up in the panic zone – it’s just life sending us a wake-up/pay attention call.

I’ve also occasioned the bottom end of the spectrum – ‘the complacency zone’, which I refer to as the ‘Meh!-whatever-zone’ which, in my view, should be avoided whenever possible.

Two years after my Dah-Doctor revelation, I can honestly say I am recovered – no more burnout.  Being busy keeping myself busy, is no longer part of my vocabulary.  I have slowed my life down and I spend most of my time hanging out in ‘the comfort zone’ – that zone where you can relax and recharge after some inadvertent visits to the ‘panic’ or ‘meh-whatever’ zones.  I also venture into the discomfort/learning zone often, effectively expanding my comfort zone.

To prevent burnout, we need to spend most of our time in our comfort zone while venturing into our discomfort/learning zone often while being careful not to overshoot into the panic zone triggering a retreat into the complacency zone.   In essence, recharge yourself (comfort zone), challenge yourself (discomfort zone) and avoid too much stress (panic zone) or not enough stress (complacency zone).

Comfort zone – relax and recharge.
Discomfort zone – challenges, learn and grow.
Panic zone – what have I done?
Complacent zone – Meh, whatever.

What’s your comfort zone, and how often do you venture into your discomfort zone?  And have you built guardrails around the panic and complacency zones?

They should teach this stuff in high school!  What a better place the world could be!

Buff it up, my friends,
Dr Karen

 

Lessons from a carb-craving-munch-fest

Overall, I am happier than I have been in many decades, I have considerably more energy and I sleep much better.  All of which I credit to the changes I have made in my way of eating –  low carb (minimal sugar, minimal flour) with intermittent fasting and an occasional extended fast.

This new way of eating is fantastic.  I love the way I feel with this approach to eating and it offers tremendous flexibility.  Because, sometimes life needs a little flexibility.  Right?  I simply refuse to be rigid in my diet.  Life is short, and unlike last 40 years, I am not going to spend the next 40 years trying to lose weight.  I am done with that nonsense, forever.  Lose your excess weight, then be done.  Stop perpetually dieting!

For me, runnin’ on empty with a brain fueled by ketones feels fantastic.  As I eluded to in an earlier blog, the brunt of our daily energy expenditure is accounted for by the digestion and absorption of food.  When you fast for 24 – 36 hours, all that energy can be redirected elsewhere.  And contrary to common belief, you won’t die if you miss a meal or two!

When I completed my first extended fast of 5 days, after the first two days, I rarely felt hungry.  Even those first two days were not terribly miserable.  Hunger comes and goes and is never an emergency.  Master faster Jimmy Moore, co-author with Dr Jason Fung of The Complete Guide to Intermittent Fasting, routinely fasts 7 – 10 days.  He is of the opinion that if you are going to fast for 48h, you might as well extend it to 5 – 7 days, because the hard part is already over.  That has also been my experience.

I am not recommending you jump in with both feet and start a 7 day fast.  Please do not do that to yourself.  Fasting is like running, if you start with a marathon, you are unlikely to finish and if you do, you will likely be miserable for much of it, vowing never again!  You must be smart about it and build up to it.  Get yourself off sugar and processed foods stuffs and train your body to burn body fat for fuel.  Then all the amazing benefits of short extended fasts are yours!

To date, my longest fast has been 5 days (though I confess I take coffee with cream every morning, fasting or not – ‘cuz life is short.)  And at the end, I felt great – full of energy, with crystal clear mental clarity!  VROOM! VROOM!  Truly remarkable.

This past month, I was canoeing/portaging with some lifelong friends, and with that week long adventure, I was completely off my new way of eating.  And truthfully – I was and remain totally fine with my choices.  We had a fabulous trip – rain included!  Sugary snacks readily available (chocolate, every flavor jelly beans, and peanut butter, banana and chocolate gorp), early morning oatmeal and highly processed dehydrated (but amazingly tasty) evening meals, my carb-craves have returned big time!

It’s the first time in over a year that I overloaded on carbs daily for a week.  Since then, I have been fielding cravings for Baskin and Robin’s Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream, Almond Crunch Cookies (one of my food nemesis’) and the salty crunch of Miss Vickies potato chips.  And I will confess I caved on more than one occasion!

Along with this carb-crave-munch-fest, I lost my crystal clear mental clarity and my inner critic has returned.  The mental clarity of low carb with intermittent fasting was incredible, but the silencing of my inner critic was astounding.

As I return to my new way of eating, I watch my brain fog slowly lift and listen to my inner critic as she recedes into silence again with curiosity.  Hmm, what can I learn from this?  This is such great information to know.  I already knew I was ‘sensitive’ to carbs.  A ‘cheat’ of some homemade banana blueberry muffins with homemade strawberry jam would add 2 – 3 lbs water weight for a day or two.

Now I have evidence that mental clarity and a silent inner critic are tied to my new way of eating.  Whoop!  Whoop! My cotton candy brain recedes.  I want that always.  AL-WAYS!

Who wouldn’t?  Many women who follow a low carb diet combined with intermittent fasting report an increase in their mental clarity but few mention a silent inner critic… I doubt I am a special unicorn in that regard, but if I am, I will take it thank you very much!

What about you?  Are you a special unicorn too?

Buff on my friends!
Dr. Karen

If you want to swap out some mental clarity for the brain fog, I can help.  Let’s chat.

Your Brain is Your Servant

Thank your brain for helping out.

Your brain is running your life based on beliefs it derived from its previous experiences.  And many of those beliefs were decided when you were an acne prone teen/twenty something doing your best to fit in to what you thought was the right fit for you.

Perhaps it was the right fit, perhaps it wasn’t.  And it really doesn’t matter.

The point is, your brain is capable of more than you can possibly imagine.  It’s like owning an iPhone and only using it as a phone – you know, like to talk with someone.  You can take/send pictures, play music, listen to podcasts, pay bills, transfer money, record videos, keep lists, set reminders and alarms – all kinds of cool stuff with your ‘phone.’  And for us over 50 types, who really only want a phone for a possible emergency, we are out of luck.  Phones are now obsolete.  For all intent and purposes it could be a triquarter (think Star Trek) or a palm sized computer that also happens to be a phone.  If you are at all like me, you are unaware of the multitude of tasks your iPhone can perform.

In general, we are unaware of most of what the brain is up to and unaware of its incredible potential.  It’s just up there churning out thoughts, 60,000 a day, most of which are repeats of yesterday and the day before and the day before the day before that.  Our brain is running on default habits it established.  You get up on the same side of the bed, stumble to the bathroom, then to the backdoor to let the dog out, you make coffee, let the dog back in, feed the dog, have a shower while the coffee percolates, dry off, get dressed, sip a coffee with cream.  WHEW already a long morning!  And all you did was get up, get dressed and make a cup of coffee.  You do all that without a second thought.  Thank you brain.  Your brain may even have been prepping you for the day – overslept again, better have a short shower, or busy day today, let’s wear our favourite shirt, or hey it’s Sunday why are we up so early?  All automatic, the subconscious brain ticking along, as always, same ole, same ole.

Our brain is similar to our lungs.  Just like our thoughts are automatic, breathing is automatic.  Can you imagine how disruptive it would be if you had to remind yourself all day long to take a breath every 6 seconds.  Okay take a breath, get up, walk to the bathroom, take a breath.  Take a breath.  Walk to the back door, take a breath, step step, take a breath, step step step. Take a breath.  Let dog out, take a breath.    Where was I, right, take a breath, making coffee, take a breath.  Exhausting huh?  Fortunately, we breathe automatically most of the time.  But we can take conscious control of our breathing.  You can breathe deep if you want, you can hyperventilate if you want (not recommended) or you can hold your breath for a minute or so.  Our lungs and our brain are under both conscious and subconscious control. No other organ is like that.  You cannot will your hearing to not hear.  You can choose to not pay attention, but you will still hear.  You cannot will your heart to beat faster or slower (well, not without thinking some panic inducing thoughts first), you cannot will your pancreas to release digestive enzymes.  But you can direct your breathing, and you can direct your brain.

Direct your brain.  Say what?  No, you did not miss the memo, there was no memo.  There is no instruction manual.  But you can direct your brain – totally possible, but your brain won’t like it.

Try it.  Consciously break your morning routine.  Get up on the other side of the bed.  Make coffee before your shower.  Empty the dishwasher after feeding the dog.  I can almost guarantee you will feel ‘out of sorts’ all day.   Your brain’s autopilot has been disrupted and that makes your brain very confused.

“No, no, no… that is not how we do things around here.”
“What are you doing?”
“Don’t mess with this.”
“I went through a lot of trouble designing this routine and it works.”
“Don’t mess with the routine.”

But if you can tolerate that ‘out of sorts weirdness’ and start to give your brain specific directions, it will respond.  For example, if you are chronically behind in the mornings, always hunting for the keys or gathering papers you need for the day tell your brain it’s time to learn to be on time.  Ask it “What must I do to leave the house on time?”  It’s very likely it will offer up a reasonable answer quickly.  Gather papers the evening before, have your lunch already packed in the fridge, leave the keys on the counter beside the coffee, grab coffee to go and keys… and you are out the door.  When you wake in the morning, tell your brain, we are going to be on time for work today.  TELL it.

If it doesn’t work you may need to build a thought bridge.  Because right now your brain believes it (and subsequently you) is(are) always late, and that is just the way you are.  It’s the brain familiar default.  You need to change the default.  Ask your brain to solve this puzzle.  I am always late and I want to be on time, how can I fix this?  It will provide an answer.  You are not always late.  If it’s important or fun (like traveling) you are always early, never late.  So it is possible to be early sometimes.  Tell your brain to be early sometimes.  If it is possible to be early sometimes, is it possible to be on time other times?  Sure.  Huh.  Can you see how you are changing the default?

How many annoying defaults has your brain adopted?  What if you were to question everything you currently believe about yourself?  What if it’s not true you are always late?  What if it’s not true you suck at math?  What if it’s not true you are a terrible cook?  What if what you think about yourself is not true, even just a little?  What if you can tell your brain what to believe about everything.  “No brain, actually, I am always on time.”

Your brain is your servant, not your master.  Just as you can take a deep breath, you can tell your brain what to believe.  ASK it empowering questions, it will give you brilliant answers if you trust your own wisdom.  Try it.  You can always go back to the default.  If you want some help on learning to ask empowering questions check out Brain Thumb twiddles

Buff on my friends,
Dr Karen.

Muscle-weight loss myth

When I tell my clients that exercise is not a useful weight loss tool, they seem genuinely miffed and utterly confused.

I have proven with absolute certainty that, for myself anyway, weight loss has NOTHING to do with building/losing muscle and even less to do with exercise.  And yes, I know this is utterly contrary to the Eat Less/Move More weight loss gospel that has failed us all for generations.

Please do not misunderstand.  Exercise has many health benefits – and we should all do it, regularly.  It’s just that weight loss is NOT one of those benefits.

This is my story.

Several years ago, obese, stressed, hypertensive, prediabetic with weekly migraines and chronically tired, my family doctor gently suggested I needed to make some changes.  She did not tell me anything I did not already know, but she articulated the growing worry (pun intended) which prompted me to take action.  Plus, I believe we should listen to our Doctor!

Embracing the ‘Eat Less’ part of the doctor recommended, Eat Less/Move More weight loss gospel, l joined a popular weight loss program, and rather easily lost 30 pounds.  But as time passed, weight loss slowed, then plateaued, then started to creep back.  Yet another failed weight loss attempt to add to my pile.

Shortly thereafter, quite disheartened, at the hair salon, staring at my reflection – black cape, hair wrapped in foil, close to tears – I thought, “How the hell did this happen?”  Right there and then I decided I was going to take control of my weight.  I went straight to the gym next to the hair salon and completed a brief assessment with a very muscly guy, who in less than 3 minutes concluded, this 50 something woman with nice hair and no gym clothes, who was completely unable to do anything that even remotely resembled a squat or a lunge, was not his client. He passed me off to his colleague, a wonderful personal trainer with an interest in rehab.  Best thing ever! More determined than ever – embracing the ‘Move More’ part of the Eat Less/Move More weight loss gospel – I was going to win this battle of the bulge.

Five years later, consistently meeting 3 – 4 times per week with a personal trainer one on one for resistance/strength training, I lost the weight I had regained plus an additional 15 pounds.  I was stronger (for sure!) and more flexible and I got to know some really terrific ladies!  Even more, I reversed my prediabetes, was no longer hypertensive and rarely had migraines.  My family doctor was impressed.  I had actually listened to her suggestion and lost weight!

Success!!!! WHOOP!  WHOOP!

Sort of – I guess, not really.  Always hungry, always either cheating or behaving, always obsessing/thinking about food I was completely ‘stuck’ unable to break through a nasty weight loss plateau for many months (probably four and a half of those five years.)  In fact, I never did break through that plateau.

Then I retired.  And given the financial constraints that accompany retirement, and since I didn’t enjoy resistance training without a personal trainer, I stopped training.  And… the weight returned, this time not so slowly.  Disheartened, again – I resigned to my fat fate.

Almost.

About a year and a half ago, hidden deep in the googles, buried amongst mountains of nutrition nonsense I stumbled across the writings of Dr. Jason Fung claiming the Eat Less/Move More weight loss gospel is quite simply wrong.

Say what?  Outrageous claim!

Everyone KNOWS more calories in than calories out equals weight gain.
Everyone KNOWS a high fat diet is clogging up our arteries, making us prone to heart disease and premature death.
Everyone KNOWS hunger is awful and we must snack throughout the day or risk over-indulging.

Nope.  Not true.

Obesity is a hormonal disorder centered predominantly around insulin (utterly fascinating, but an entire blog series on its own!)  Not the girly hormones estrogen etc, the appetite regulation and energy storage hormones.  Armed with this new information, I changed my approach.

I intentionally stopped exercising.  I wanted to know that any weight I might lose would be due to the changes I made in my way of eating.

Within 3 months, I was down almost 40 pounds, breaking through that nasty plateau my five years of personal training could not budge.

Less than 6 months of this new way of eating,  I surpassed my previous weight loss goal by an additional 25 pounds!  And all after menopause!  I weigh less now than I have in 35 years!  No exercise.  No obsessing about food.  Minimal hunger.  Better sleep.  A brain fog I was unaware existed lifted, and my inner critic was tempered.  So many benefits over and above some random number on the bathroom scale!  Seriously.  For the first time in almost 40 years, I am not trying to lose weight.

Did I lose muscle?  Absolutely.  But not because of my new way of eating.  I lost muscle because I stopped resistance training.

If you want to build muscle, simply eating more protein won’t help.  Excess protein gets converted to fat eventually since our body cannot store protein for later.  If you want to build muscle, you must stress your muscles and create a little muscle tissue damage.  Your body will ‘fix’ the damage and you build muscles.  If you never stress your muscles, you won’t build muscles.

It’s really that simple.  Building muscle has nothing to do with calories-in or calories-out. The converse is also true. Losing muscle has nothing to do with calories-in or calories-out.  Our body stores excess calories (energy) as fat, not muscle, for future famine.  Should an unlikely famine occur, we have lots of energy stored as body fat (even if you are at an ideal body weight.)  If you want to lose weight, you must access your body fat.  If your body cannot access its’ body fat stores, it will make you hungry, not cannibalize your muscles.  And hunger – is an extremely powerful drive, most of us cannot resist.  (This was my problem during my Eat Less/Move More years.  I could not access my body fat, because I was always ‘snacking’ effectively keeping my body in energy storage mode.)

The widespread belief that weight loss will cause muscle loss is a myth.  You lose muscle because you do not stress your muscles and you lose muscle because we lose 10% of our muscle mass per decade as part of the aging process, unless you do something (like resistance training) to counter that effect.  If you want to build muscle, you must stress your muscles.  You MUST exercise.

The widespread belief that exercise works for weight loss is a myth.  Exercise has many amazing benefits – building muscle is one of them, weight loss, is not.

Buff on my friends!
Dr. Karen

If my story sounds a little familiar, let’s chat and get started on your final weight loss journey!

VLOG – Hunger versus cravings

The final in a 4 part series on why its not your fault you struggle to lose weight.  Understanding the difference between true hunger and cravings is foundational to weight loss.  

The past – future paradox

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Lincoln – “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  What a fantastic concept – create your future.  While it is true no one can predict the future with accuracy, why not consciously try?  If you follow your current familiar and well trodden path, what will you get?  More of the same.  Same thoughts, same feelings, same actions, same result.  Same ho-humdrum.

Our brain’s default setting is to focus on the past.  It gathers information and draws all its conclusions from our recollections of the past.  Which, incidentally, may or may not be entirely correct.  The past is familiar, known and predictable – safe.  Don’t forget, our brain loves the familiar and considers anything new lethal.  (Remember the familiar/safe-change/lethal toggle switch?) 

“Oh, no, no, no…  That’s not how we do things.” 

“Don’t be trying something different woman, it’s dangerous, and you will die!” How many times have you set a New Years resolution and started out all gung-ho? 

“This year will be different.  Seriously, it’s time for something new.  Rah, Rah!” 

But by the end of January (if not sooner) you’ve defaulted back to your old routines.  Those old behaviour patterns die hard. 

Trickster brain!  It’s okay, forgive yourself.  You are battling evolution and some deeply entrenched brain biology.  Our brain is hard-wired NOT TO CHANGE.

Hmmm.  Clearly, we HAVE changed.  We are no longer hunter gatherers, living in cold damp caves with bugs and little critters.  We have climate controlled luxury condos and a multitude of conveniences that our ancestors could not possibly imagine.  Hmmm.  It’s a paradox.  Our brain is hard wired not to change, but we thrive when we change. 

When you define your life or abilities by what has occurred in your past, you limit your potential.  You define what is possible (or impossible) based on your previous experiences and results. 

“Of course, weight loss is impossible, you’ve proven it several times over.” 
“Every time you lose weight, it always comes back eventually plus some.” 

Your brain has the evidence to prove it too…

“Remember that time you starved yourself for weeks, eating those dry flavourless, styrofoam rice cakes? Yuck.”
“Or remember that creepy guy at the gym?  You hate working out!” 

When we are past focused, we recycle our thoughts from the past.  I am notorious for that.  Notorious!  As soon as I get a little bit bored, and I ask my brain what to do…

“Study something…”

Forty years and 4 degrees later, it’s still telling me to go back to school…

“Perhaps a PhD in positive psychology is in order.” 
Or, “I know, ACT, get certified in ACT.”  (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for those who have never heard of ACT – it’s a most fascinating topic.)
Or “Oooh… get certified as a stretch therapist.”

If you want to create something new for yourself, you need to shift from past focused to future focused. When I first tried this, I got myself an 11 x 15 sheet of paper and a few coloured pens. Ready?  Go.  Nada. 

“Oh come on!  What would you like to accomplish in the next 5 years? 10 years?  What do you need to do to reach that goal?”

Bah.  Blank brain.

I barely know what I want for lunch tomorrow, let alone for my life in 10 years.  So, I got a smaller piece of paper and a pencil, and I gave myself permission to dream just a little, something many women have forgotten how to do. 

Give yourself permission to dream.

Don’t start with saving the planet and world peace.  Start simple.  If you like to travel, where might you want to explore?  If you want a garden, what flowers might you like?  If you want to downsize, where might you want to live?  If you want to declutter, start with a closet, not the basement and the garage. 

If you cannot think of anything, try something familiar but completely new at the same time.  That’s how I discovered my new found love for cello.  In the past, I played clarinet, a wind instrument.  So I decided to study cello, a string instrument.  And believe me – they are totally different entities! 

Practice dreaming.  Make a point of it every day. While you are washing the dishes or folding laundry, dream.  While you are brushing your teeth, dream.  While you are walking the dog, dream.  Doesn’t that sound like a fun and valuable use of your time?  Way better than mindlessly scrolling Facebook!

Okay – I heard the collective groan. 

“I’m not going to set myself up for disappointment again.” 

That, my friend, is your brain doing what your brain does – sticking to the familiar, keeping you safe in the cave.  Challenge yourself to question what your brain is telling you.  Dare to dream.  Because dreams contain all the magic in life.  And the best part… You can switch up your dream any time you want.  So go ahead, dream in technicolor, surround sound, 3D and high resolution pixels!

Then pull out that piece of paper with coloured pens and start afresh.  Instead of describing your entire life, just pick three words that describe the future you.  Optimistic, focused, curious, adventurous, trustworthy, mischievous etc.  Then pick three activities your futures self does. Travel, exercise, gardening, crafts, antics with grandkids, baking, woodworking etc.  Then pick three skills your future self has that you need to start to develop etc.  Evaluate your career.  Consider your relationships.  

Build your future in your mind, it’s a masterpiece in progress.

Your future self exists only in your imagination.  Why not imagine a future self that inspires you forward?  What will your future self thank your current self for doing today?  Go do it.  Inevitably my future self thanks me for something I know I should do but keep putting off.  Now I try to listen.  What does your future self believe about herself?  What feelings does she experience?  Borrow those beliefs and feelings, then take action to create your future.

What brilliant insights and advice will your future self give you? 

It’s a most intriguing thought experiment.  Well worth pondering.

Buff on my friend,
Dr. Karen

If building the future of your dreams is something you’d like to explore – let’s chat.
Contact Dr. Karen  FREE Discovery call.  Don’t be shy – its free, and its fun!

VLOG – Not your fault part 3, lower your insulin

Three things you can do to get your physiology to work with your not against you in your weight loss journey. 

Not Your Fault Part 2 Insulin’s pivotal role

Insulin is a key player in our weight loss/weight gain story.   It was a life saving hormone when food was scarce.  But in our food-a-plenty-world, it is slowly killing us.

Not your fault Part 1 The eat less/move more weight loss gospel fails

The eatless/move more weight loss gospel fails 99% of the time.  Ask any chronic dieter.  Here’s why.

VLOG – MENTAL CLARITY

Mental Clarity – What has that got to do with weight loss?  Great question.  Mental clarity is one of the many GIFTS of weight loss.  A brain fog that you are not even aware of lifts.  Weight loss is great, no doubt – I chased it for decades.  But mental clarity? dementia prevention? – PRICELESS!