No Excuses

January 14, 2011 in Diabetic Menu Item, Fitness, General, Health by Mary Ireland

As I come to the end of the first two weeks of the year, my evaluation of my commitment to my New Year’s resolutions is: “I could do better.” I have a lot of excuses about why I haven’t. A therapist friend of mine calls excuses the “Big R” or the “Big Rationalization” – the logical reasons we give ourselves for doing what we do – or what we don’t do. On a daytime television program a woman was being confronted about her abusive behavior toward her son. The woman excused her behavior by saying that she couldn’t control her behavior; that her son just caused her to just react that way. The TV personality hosting the show asked, “If you were on TV with 30 million people watching, do you think that you could stop yourself from being abusive to your son?”

Hmm… good question. If I had 30 million people watching me in the morning, I’d probably jump out of bed when the alarm went off; I’d not even think about eating a piece of candy, and I’d probably work out with a little more enthusiasm Yes, with 30 million people watching, I think I would definitely not have so many excuses. I think most people would react in the same way. So what is that about? Are we capable of a higher level of self-awareness and self-control than most of us exhibit on a regular basis? And if we are, how can we tap into that state regularly for our own benefit?

The human brain is an amazing thing. Once you have learned how to do something, you can put yourself on autopilot and do the task while thinking about something else. The downside to this is that once we have our daily routines, we put ourselves on autopilot and continue to do the same thing. However, this is a downside only if you aren’t getting everything out of life that you want. Once healthy eating and exercise habits -- and whatever else you want to accomplish -- are part of your “on autopilot” routine it can be a really good thing. So how do you get these healthy habits into your regular autopilot routine? How do you get your brain working for you instead of against you? Can you really teach that old dog new tricks?

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books), by Norman Doidge, M.D., is an excellent book about how the human brain is capable of tremendous change. Contrary to scientists for centuries believed, the human adult brain is not hard wired; it is what neuroscientists refer to as plastic – capable of creating new circuits, learning new things and behaving in new ways regardless of our age. Doidge states that the first law of plasticity is “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” The second law is that “Neurons that fire apart, wire apart. It is no surprise that as we get older, we can get set in our ways because neurons that have fired together for years are wired together and patterns of behavior are entrenched. The second law is the key to breaking our habits. Act differently – make those neurons fire apart -- instead of grabbing a beverage and something to munch on when you get home, put on exercise clothes and do some exercise. Even if you exercise just a little, you are on your way to firing new neurons together and causing the neurons that were wired together to fire apart. Taking small steps to change behavior is referred to as shaping.

Don't Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training, is an excellent book for learning shaping techniques. Animal trainers use shaping. The premise of the book is that if a chicken can be taught to dance using shaping techniques, a human being can learn how to change almost any behavior. One of the most valuable tips in the book is giving yourself positive feedback for the small steps you take toward your new behavior. The book cites a study in which racquetball players who didn’t react to mistakes or subpar play, but rather gave themselves positive feedback for the good moves they made, regardless of how small or insignificant the moves were, improved their games much more quickly than the players who did not change their internal communication. Give that a try – even if you put on your exercise clothes and shoes and walk to the kitchen, you have started a new behavior. Congratulate yourself on the first step to exercise.

Rewarding yourself for a new behavior – including congratulating yourself and giving yourself positive feedback -- is a key factor in motivating yourself. Human beings are wired to seek pleasant experiences and if you are going to be successful, you have to find the way to tap into your reward system and provide yourself with the rewards that will sustain your behavior. Since exercise may not be all that pleasant – especially if you are just starting an exercise program -- focus on what is pleasant: the sense of accomplishment in having done it, the good feeling you have in your body when your workout is complete, knowing that you have burned off calories and are closer to looking great in that new pair of jeans. Whatever positive you can find about your new life style build it up, really feel good about it - throw your hands in the air Rocky style and celebrate. Fire the workout neurons and the feeling good neurons at the same time so they will wire together.

USA TODAY has an annual Weight-Loss Challenge. The theme for this year’s challenge is No Excuses. The site is filled with excellent information and inspiration. Donna Richardson Joyner has some great tips for overcoming excuses and sticking with fitness resolutions. One inspiring story is about a man who lost 223 pounds. Weighing 393 pounds and on the verge of diabetes, Tim Woodings’ doctor told him that he had two choices: “You can live or you can die.” For most of us, the need to improve our habits doesn’t seem quite so dramatic, but if we actually think about it – it is. Everyday we make the decisions that affect our health, every day we are firing and wiring neurons. The question is are we firing and wiring in ways that will enhance our health and the quality of our lives or are we firing and wiring in ways that will lead us to hearing the doctor say, “You have two choices…” Every day, we have two choices.

Going back to the Big R – my therapist friend says that our Big R’s aren’t the real reason we do what we do. According to her, our excuses are reasons that we find logical and that our friends will find acceptable, but they hide the real reason why we do or don’t do something. Although, you may find it helpful to delve into your psyche and determine if it is your low self-esteem or your belief that you can’t get into good physical shape no matter how hard you try or that your Aunt Gladys weighed 300 pounds and was just great until she suddenly died at age 98; it is a lot easier to by-pass the psychoanalysis and say NO EXCUSES!

Dr. Grandma has great tasting recipes and yummy whole wheat products and sweetener products to make eating healthy foods easy and rewarding. Thanks Dr. Grandma for your commitment to helping people improve their nutritional status and positively impacting health. And thanks too Dr. Grandma for helping me find ways to make brussels sprouts more appealing to my friends. Brussel sprouts are very nutritious and after trying this recipe, you’ll will think they are yummy too.

Yummy Brussel Sprouts


24 small brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon Dr. Grandma's Extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing
lemon pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


Wash the brussels sprouts and trim the stems. Remove any loose outer leaves. Cut in half from stem to top. Put the brussel sprouts in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and stir gently to coat the sprouts with olive oil.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place the brussels sprouts in the pan, flat side down (single-layer) cover, and cook for roughly 5 minutes. Cut into a brussel sprout to determine if it is done. The brussel sprout should be tender with the bottoms only slightly brown. Cover and cook a few more minutes if necessary.

Once tender, uncover, and turn up the heat; add the balsamic vinegar and lemon pepper. Cook until the flat sides are deep brown and caramelized. Gentle toss them to get browning on the rounded side. -- Delish!

Trim stems and cut brussel sprouts in half length-wise.

Coat brussel sprouts with extra-virgin olive oil.

Put brussel sprouts in skillet with heat extra-virgin olive oil. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Test to see if brussel sprout is tender.

Add balsamic vinegar and lemon pepper. Increase heat and brown brussel sprouts.

YUM! Ready to eat.