Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 11 Day Survival Plan (or how to keep Christmas from becoming a metaphorical cruise ship)

I'm getting ready to wrap things up at the office and get prepared for 11 days of rest and recuperation before our traditional January weight loss jam fest.  As it is for most people, the 11 days of Christmas (or 12 in some cultures) can be a perilous time.  One way to think of it is the statistic that people gain an average of 7 pounds on a cruise.  Does this also apply to 10 cold days in Connecticut, stuck inside with a buffet in the form of a refrigerator?  Possibly.

So as not to have another Thanksgiving weekend holiday train wreck, I am going to try to go in with a rational plan this time around.  So here I go (red marks BIG FUN/Bad Food days):

  • Day 1 (Wed Dec 23):  Have a healthy breakfast.  Have a healthy lunch.  Spend time with family in the city doing the big Christmas thing, and pre-select my select my dinner options from restaurant menu on the internet.  And have a huge workout.    
  • Day 2 (Christmas Eve):  Keep it together for breakfast and lunch.  Have a huge workout.  Abandon hope for Christmas Eve dinner at friend's house.  Choose not to have remorse.  
  • Day 3 (Christmas Day):  No exercise.  Rich food.  Candy.  etc. etc. etc.  Choose not to have remorse.
  • Day 4/5 (Boxing Day and Day After Boxing Day):  I've never celebrated Boxing Day before, but why not?  Spending the weekend away with DSW.  Will plan to get workouts in (probably not huge ones) to mitigate some of the damage.  Not planning to be perfect this weekend.
  • Day 6-8 (Mon-Wed):  Exercise like a maniac.  Live like a cold-hearted Puritan for all breakfasts and lunches.  Keep it sane for dinner.  Seek to avoid stealing candy from my children.  
  • Day 9 (New Years Eve):  Big workout again.  Keep it sane for breakfast/lunch.  Behave poorly New Years Eve.
  • Day 10 (New Years Day):  Rub temples gently.  Get a big workout.  Keep it pretty normal for a Saturday.
  • Day 11 (Sunday):  Back on plan.  

** Additional consideration:  I will give myself bonus points if I can avoid the temptation to graze betwixt meals, particularly on BIG FUN days.

Predicted damage:  I am conservatively forecasting about 8 to 10 meals not on program and roughly 24 meals on program.  This translates into about 27% indulgence rate, which seems manageable for a young(ish) man on maintenance.  Hopefully, 10 days of solid exercise will also be a mitigating factor.  All-in-all, my plan feels fun/pretty relaxed while also unlikely to cause massive self-loathing and regret when it is all over.  Unlike going on a cruise.

I'm planning on giving myself at least a few days before I get my weigh-in.  If I were a betting man, I would put my post-vacation weight at about 3-4 lbs above goal.  I am already planning to spend January working back down to fighting weight.  I really don't want to have to start paying to go to my Weight Watchers meetings.

Happy Holidays!!!



Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ask not, give not

It's December 13, there are only 12 days to Christmas, and I have not had a single holiday cookie, handful of caramel popcorn, or slab of holiday chocolate.  Discipline?  No.  Lack of supply is more accurate.  

I'm not sure if it's the economy or a more health conscientious world, but our office no longer gets deluged with holiday treats by various vendors, partners and friends.  There was a time that the middle of December would result in mountains of food being stacked up on seemingly every available horizontal surface in and around our offices.  I have to admit that I always found it a little bit amusing for a vendor or partner to say happy holidays to their friends at Weight Watchers with chocolate/cookie/cheese gift basket the size of a small car.   I also have to admit that I often lacked the discipline not to wade through the heaps of treats.  

This year, not one ounce of holiday food has been sent to any office within a 100 foot radius of my office.  Either that or the recipients are hoarding.  In either case, I've been safe from temptation, and as a result, I have successfully avoided one of my primary December food downfalls.  So to all you Scrooge-like partners on behalf of my waist circumference:  THANK YOU!!!!    

Thinking about this also prompted me to take a look in the mirror to assess my own sabotaging hypocrisies.  Historically, I have usually assumed the role of stocking stuffer for my house.  What I lack in gift giving imagination, I make up for in recognizing that people like sweets.  There is nothing wrong with giving some, but why load up the sock with 4-5 pounds of the stuff?  So this year I won't.  

All of this is very good, but it also raises a question.  Are we taking all of the fun out of the holidays by being so bloody conscientious?  Watching the new Christmas Carol movie with my family a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the time held tradition of eating and being merry on Christmas (my holiday of choice).  Am I turning into a health-freak Ebenezer Scrooge?  Wasn't the Grinch the guy who stole all of the holiday food and tried to ruin Christmas for the Who's?  

The answer always seems to come back to moderation and duration.  It is worth noting that Bob Cratchit came back to work the day after Christmas (albeit with kind of a self-inflicted head ache).  The Who's celebrated and feasted on Christmas day.  There was no indication that it was a week-long Bacchanalian bender.  Therefore, would it not make sense to seek to match the quantity of treats given to the approximate duration of the holiday?  

In summary, I (Santa) will happily include a reasonable dose of chocolate in the stocking mix, just not a ton of it.  BTW, I hope I get some too.  Either that or I can at least count on some zero-POINTS lumps of coal.  

Sunday, December 6, 2009

There is nothing wrong with having nice friends

Following my tumultuous Thanksgiving eating weekend, I boldly (maybe even cockily?) proclaimed that I would get back on track.  And I did!  Gosh I'm awesome!

I may be awesome for other reasons (it would be great if someone could please affirm this), but getting back on plan hardly constitutes one of them.  I certainly feel good about getting the old tracker out (in this case, my iPhone), but it is hardly worthy of an outpouring of accolades and laud.  In truth, it really was not very hard, and I really did not have to sacrifice anything.  I just fell back into the familiar patterns of the foods and activities that have begun to constitute the way I live these days.

I do not mean to diminish the difficult of getting back on track after four days of Nero-esque eating.  There have certainly been times in my life that this lapse would have resulted into a six week deep dive into semi-gluttonous indulgence.  I think this would have particularly been the case if I was in the midst of first losing my weight when my now familiar healthier habits would have been far from formed.

What feels different now is the simple recognition I have that I do not feel that I live a life a deprivation and monk-like lifestyle.  This past week, I hovered around 30 to 35 POINTS per day of food intake and maybe 6-8 activity POINTS as buffer on the other side of the ledger (for my size and being at maintenance, this kind of math works more than adequately for me).  Most importantly, I did not spend the week feeling hungry, miserable and/or stressed.  I now have an armory of meal choices that keep my own hungry monster(s) at bay.  Even better, I like the way my new meals taste, and I have not had to relinquish my love of eating.

Thinking about this has led me to question the craziness of unbridled indulgence vs. healthy eating.  In both states, the food tastes good, but I cannot say that the indulgent foods really taste that much better (either that or I have developed a taste for the healthier foods).  Truth be told, I like a nice piece of grilled fish as much as any steak I have ever eaten.  While nasty calorie bomb meals might look more appealing prior to mouth insertion, they almost always make me feel worse afterwards, physically and mentally.  If this is true, why do I categorize a massive hamburger and fries meal as a "treat" and a healthier meal as part of a "regimen"?  Why do I put ice cream up on a pedestal, and relegate fruit to the ranks of infantry?  Are my old weakness foods really such great friends or are they really a small army of Eddie Haskell's?  

I suppose the answers are enormously more complex than I seem to be suggesting here.  If I were to gather a stable of psychotherapists and neuroscientists, I suspect that they could offer me a wide variety of seemingly plausible and likely complicated explanations.  For personal and professional reasons, I find this subject personally fascinating and worthy of future exploration.  For right now, I think I can safely say that the the ultimate answer is that my supposed love of hamburgers and ice cream is all in my head.

I will try to remember this as I continue to steer into Christmas festivities.  I will try to remember that my new food friends are true (and fun/smart/attractive) friends, while my old food friends were kind of delinquents.  They were fun to hang out with at the time, but it really is time for me to move on.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Train Wreck! Beware of flying holiday debris!

OK, maybe that's a slight overstatement of this weekend's wreckage, but not much of an understatement.  Time to confess to my numerous transgressions:

  • Thanksgiving day:  Not terrible, actually.  Definitely had a big dinner.  Definitely enjoyed finger food.  A lot.  Went slightly berserk  on dessert.  This all being said, it was always my plan to let it go for these 3-4 hours, and I executed that plan masterfully.  
  • Friday after:  Ummm.  My parents were in town, so I was playing tour guide, which apparently included a variety of restaurants.  I tried to be reasonably non-insane with food choices, so I didn't have too much post-meal remorse.  Oh wait.  Almost forgot that I dove into a pre-dinner wine & cheese session with a bit too much gusto.  
  • Saturday after:  Getting nervous.  Again, I was pretty/very good for breakfast, and not awful for lunch.  Then dinner came, and again with the wine & cheese.  This was followed by Thai food.  Not just Thai food, but a lot of Thai food.  Definitely fell under the eating until I'm stuffed paradigm.  Blech.  
  • Sunday after:  OK, this is just gross.  Took my parents & family to a brunch buffet, and proceeded to wreck the place.  News alert... eggs benedict and sausages are not on plan.  Not even a little.  This was followed by a Christmas tree-lighting dinner buffet where more wreckage ensued.  Including a bountiful troll through the desert section.  
I write this feeling bloated, slightly grossed-out, and a tad embarrassed.  What if the National Enquirer had been there and taken photos?  

So what happened?  Very simply, I didn't have a plan for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  I could have navigated all of those situations just fine and stayed in a normal eating pattern.  To be honest, I just kind of let it all go, and I did what I pleased.  

A secondary observation might be that buffets are inherently evil.  Everything on a nice buffet line looks fairly awesome, pretty and sparkly.  Truth be told, the food does not taste as awesome as it looks, and it's not nearly as rewarding as it should be.  I think this is particularly the case with buffet desserts which look like beautiful decadence at its apogee.  Yet somehow the pies and cakes are never nearly as spectacular as I think they will be while I'm contemplating eating them.  Buffets are perfectly designed for over-the-top consumption, and are able to bend the strongest will to their devious intent.  

Any silver lining?  Sure.  I exercised and moved around a lot each day, so that helps a little on calorie deficit and more on redeeming moral turpitude.  Kind of like a little positive healthy lifestyle karma to slightly offset a bounty of negative lifestyle karma.  

Perhaps a more important silver lining is that I know what to do next.  I will go back on plan tomorrow morning in a rational way, and I will track Monday through Friday.  This should course correct any sad habits that might otherwise try to creep in and embed themselves (like doing whatever I please in restaurants).  In the final balance, I will be just fine.  

I would ask you to wish me luck, but you should save that for someone who needs it more.  At this point, I know better, and I've got a pretty great tool kit to help me dig out.  Should any of you feel the same post-holiday remorse, please do join me in getting our respective trains back on the rails.  


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Do as I say, not as I do. On Thanksgiving, anyway.

As all of you (or at least those dialing in from the US) know, this coming Thursday is Thanksgiving.  On this day, I will give thanks to my successful maintenance stretch on Weight Watchers this year by gorging myself like a deranged viking fresh from conquering a village.  Well maybe not that bad...

Here is my view on my personal big holidays (e.g., Thanksgiving and Christmas):  leave them be and mostly forget about the program for the day.  This is not an official Weight Watchers recommendation.  It is merely my choice.  I work pretty hard to be pretty good most of the time, and I have no problem giving myself the day off.  Frankly, I think it is a bit of a relief for those around me as well (see Plastic Bubble post), so I am happy to do my bit for myself and my broader community.

What will this entail this Thursday?:

  • I will enjoy everything put before me, but I give special consideration to starchy concoctions such as stuffing (mmm) and sweet potato casserole (double-mmm).  
  • I see little to no use for vegetables on Thanksgiving.  They take up too much real estate on the plate.
  • I will probably have seconds.  
  • I will enjoy dessert.  
  • I will enjoy the turkey-induced, post-meal coma in front of a football game. 
  • I will enjoy the time with friends and family.
I will also try to make myself feel a little bit better by working out like a crazy person that morning (this has now become a Thanksgiving ritual).  I will also keep it reasonable in the morning and evening.  

Why am I not concerned about this?  A few years ago this would have been an issue, not because of the caloric impact of the day, but rather as it would have been the start of a 30 day campaign to eat my way to a 10-15 pound weight gain.  This year (as was also the case last year), I am treating Thanksgiving as a day, not as an 30 day bridge holiday.  There is very little weight damage that can be done in one day unless it unleashes a month of bad days.  Therefore, Friday, I am back to healthy eating and a sane and sustaining lifestyle.  

As the saying goes, all things in moderation including moderation.  


Lose for Good: tallying part deux

The second Lose for Good campaign is over and the accounting is all done.  It seemed pretty impressive last year, but 2009 blew by 2008 with big gusto.  Just a couple of fun stats from the 7 week campaign:

  • 4 million pounds of weight lost
  • $1 million contribution from Weight Watchers to be shared between Share Our Strength and Action Against Hunger for the benefit of children's hunger and health
  • 3,300 volunteer food drives run by our leaders and receptionists:  a 65% increase from last year
  • 2 million pounds of food donated by our members: a 33% increase from last year
I am thrilled by all of the above results, but I am particularly gratified by the kindness and giving of our meetings staff and members.  The gift of time and food during an incredibly tough economic environment has never been more needed, and they responded with amazing energy and commitment.  

The new Person 2 Person food pantry (note the whole grain pasta -- tres filling food!)

I stumbled upon one specific example of this giving last night.  I went to a ribbon cutting event for a food pantry run by an organization I have known for a long time, Person to Person (in CT).  It's a wonderful organization that has long been supporting clients in Stamford and Norwalk, CT in the form of clothing, toys, and most importantly, food.  Last night, they unveiled their new food pantry that will allow people in need to shop as though they were at a store.  It's an increasingly popular and dignified way of helping and getting help when times are tough.  

While I was there, the Person to Person folks informed me that for the second year, they had been selected as the primary beneficiary from the local Weight Watchers meetings in Stamford to get their food donations.  The idea for choosing Person to Person (P2P) came from a staff member of ours who was a prior client of P2P's.  Just in time for the opening of the new food pantry, our staff and members came through with 962.8 lbs of food.  It was karma at it's finest!  

These stories have been happening across the country in equally touching ways.  [I tried to tweet all of the articles covering them, but I finally got swamped by the sheer volume.]  

For all who participated, please accept my very sincere thanks.  



Saturday, November 14, 2009

On program, but not hermetically sealed

Jonny Lubitch (Todd's dad):  "My son is not a freak!"

Those of you with a penchant for made-for-TV movies and are 40+ years old might recall the John Travolta magnum opus, Boy in the Plastic Bubble.  Travolta played the part of Todd Lubitch, a young man with an immune deficiency disorder that required him to live in a hermetically sealed plasticized room.  Todd deals with all the challenges of living in his plastic bubble, untouched by others, so that he might live out the days of his life.  Until he falls madly in love with Gina Biggs.  In the final scene of the movie, Todd bravely leaves his bubble to embrace Gina in a tender embrace on the beach and thereby embraces life.  And then the credits come up.  And then Todd presumably dies (not filmed).

I recently discovered that Todd and I have a little bit in common.  Some of my neighbors and friends are concerned about invading my Weight Watchers plastic bubble.


It's a Saturday night, and my wife informs me that friends have invited us over at 6:30 PM for a drink.  My wife also informs me that we need to be on time as they need us out of there by 7:30 PM, presumably because they have other plans afterwards.  While we are over, our friends mention that they are having a very casual taco dinner, but they understand that I cannot stay as it is probably not Weight Watchers friendly enough.  Although they offer up the fact that they are using 97% lean beef, clearly seeking to avoid a scalding nutritional rebuke from yours truly.

OK, I'm a little crazy, but not nearly that crazy.  Of course I stayed for dinner, and of course I ate the tacos.  And they were very good.

I wondered how my being on program had become such a point of notoriety.  To be clear, my hosts were being nothing other than considerate and thoughtful, and I really don't think they were acting crazy.    If I were just a thin person who had always been thin, I don't think they would have thought twice about having me over for their Mexican treats.

I started reflecting on the fact that it must be something I'm doing.  Maybe there is some sort of Weight Watchers pheromone that I have been kicking off that causes other people to have the biological impulse to shield me from bad food?  Some of the response certainly has to do with the fact that my friends know that I work for Weight Watchers (heaven knows they tease me enough about how I have to stay on program or suffer unspoken consequences).  I started thinking that perhaps a more likely explanation is that I have been so vocal about being on the program that I am scaring the epicureans away.

I remember an observation that Jean Nidetch had made.  She noted that naturally thin people often don't eat all that much food.  They usually do not finish what's on their plate.  They may only eat a bite of dessert, but they will usually stir it up with a fork so it looks like it's been eaten.  In other words, they don't make a big deal out of the fact that they don't eat every single thing in front of them.  If anything, they try to pretend like they are big eaters, even though they aren't.

I am starting to think that naturally thin people might be on to something.  If I always make a huge vocal point about the fact that I'm being careful about what I eat, it's inevitably going to create awkward situations for the people around me.  That in turn can make it harder for me to fully live in the real world.  This in turn makes it harder to create truly sustainable eating habits.

It's one thing to ask the people who are incredibly close to you, like your family, for their support in helping you stay on program.  Most other people do not need to know.  Or at least they don't need to know during the act of eating.  In fact, I suspect it gets a bit grating for people to listen to someone else constantly talking about their eating regimen.

The great thing about Weight Watchers is that it teaches you how to navigate real world situations without having to ask for special help from your host.  In addition, I might do well to consider that a friend is not a restaurant proprietor.  It's perfectly fine to ask your server to bring dressing on the side or to prepare your food more simply.  I'm pretty sure that Emily Post would instruct us that this is not proper etiquette for friends.

Therefore, maybe the alternative is to engage in healthy habits without verbal accompaniment.  After all, I'm not on a diet.  I'm just living my life.

So to all my friends:  feel free to tear down the walls of my plastic bubble.  I'm quite sure it won't kill me.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Far from perfect...

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas, the world capital of unnecessary extravagance and possibly the world capital of big food.  Really big food.  Yet, as I write this, I'm drinking coffee with skim milk and having a plate of fruit.  I'm not really being a saint about this.  It's just what I eat in the morning these days.

In fact, I'm pretty far from perfect in a Weight Watchers context.  As noted earlier, I am not a religious tracker, particularly now that I'm on maintenance.  I do get weigh-in's, but probably only every two to three weeks when I stop in and visit a meeting.  I got my last weigh in about two weeks ago when visiting a meeting in Queens (still at goal weight -- go me!)

However, in that meeting, one of my Weight Watchers shortcomings became uncomfortably on display.  I was minding my own business, and the Leader suddenly asked me whether I followed the Good Health Guidelines.  I think she (reasonably) presumed that as the CEO of the company, I must be pretty observant of these types of rules.  I was a bit stumped because I knew the answer:  not always.

Upon reflection, here is where I stack up on the GHG's:

Follow 'em:

  • 5 servings fruits and vegetables:  yep.  I consume fruit by the truckload (more out of desire than discipline), and I like my vegetables just fine.  That said, I don't tick off each of the five each day.  I just know that I easily hit these target on most days.
  • Whole grains:  I do in fact choose them whenever possible.
  • Milk:  also an easy one as I eat a lot of yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Protein:  also an easy one.  I'm a big fan of both fish and chicken.
  • Sugar & alcohol:  I don't go over-board here, and I don't have a huge sweet tooth (or at least it's not that hard to control)
  • Activity:  no issues here
  • Water:  although I drink diet soda, which technically counts, I should really drink more water.  Less artificial sweeteners and more bona fide/nature supplied hydration would be better.  
  • Oil:  this may happen naturally as my wife uses good oils when she cooks, and I would normally order entrees cooked with olive oil in a restaurant.  That said, I do not actively track this, and I certainly am far from disciplined about it.
  • Vitamins:  I think I had my last vitamin when I was roughly 7 years old
As you can probably see, I follow the GHG's more by accident than by design.  I think that's a good reflection of the Weight Watchers program that it naturally steers you to the GHG's through things like filling foods.  I have also learned that the only way I can stay OP and not lose my mind with hunger is by eating the kinds of foods promoted in the GHG's.  Therefore, the program naturally saves me from my own lack of discipline and difficulty following rules.  

That also said, the GHG's I don't follow really do represent good health practices, and I really should follow them.  Popping a vitamin each morning would not be such a hard thing to do.  Although, I do struggle to remember to feed my dog her pills in the morning.  Water is a bit more of a challenge, but I could get into the practice of walking around with the big Weight Watchers water mug.  Oil is something I should just be more aware of.  

My observations on all of this:
  1. I am not a super-disciplined rule follower, yet I generally fall in line with Weight Watchers rules.  I attribute this to the fact that the Weight Watchers program is based on a lot of common sense, so it's easy to accidentally follow the rules.  
  2. Having been on the Weight Watchers program (mostly) for roughly ten years, most of the rules are kind of second nature.  As I noted on an earlier post, the rules and guidelines are not a lifetime sentence to drudgery.  They really do become second nature over time.  That's why lifestyle-based programs, rather than fad diets, make more sense.  
  3. I am pretty good on the program, and I'm at goal weight.  Yet, I ain't no saint.  BTW, that's perfectly fine.  I do what works for me, but I'm not the perfect model of the Weight Watchers program.  Most of us aren't, and that is totally OK.  
  4. I can do better.  Being more disciplined about the GHG's would be less about getting a gold star (or Bravo star as the case may be), and much more about living in a healthier way.  That's always a good thing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Small objects can be dangerous to my circumference

(Found this image on a bunch of different blogs.  Inappropriate & disgusting but funny.  And a good cautionary tale for not eating too much candy.)  

Research just in.  All small candy has calories.  And most has fat.  It really doesn't matter how physically small the candy is, it still has calories.  A few fun facts:

  • Reeses cup.  Just one cup:  3 POINTS value
  • One solitary, sad and quite lonely Hershey's Kiss:  1 POINTS value
  • One fun size bag of M&M's (peanut or regular):  2 POINTS value
  • One fun size bag of Skittles:  2 POINTS value
  • One fun size Almond Joy:  2 POINTS value
  • One of those little tubes of Smarties:  1 POINTS value
All of the above consumed at once:  Priceless.  OK, technically, 11 POINTS.

I'm really not trying to be a preachy, irritating buzz-kill on this.  I did this research mostly for my own benefit as I brace myself for the onslaught (and aftermath) of Halloween.

I have two girls who still Trick-or-Treat, and they are very skilled gatherers.  I fully expect them to return with bags stuffed with all manner of empty calories.  My children are much stronger than I am.  They are perfectly happy to have one or two pieces of candy per night, and in all cases they are substituting for whatever treat they would have had otherwise.  I, on the other hand, would be perfectly happy to have three to four pieces per night in addition to whatever else I might have normally eaten.  In my past, heavier life, that might have been six pieces.

Three to four pieces of candy may not seem like a big deal, but it pretty much is.  It amounts to about 8 POINTS or 400 calories (plus fat).  It is roughly equivalent to eating an extra hot dog on a roll each night.  For a month.  It's not a wonder why people, including me, tend to gain weight this time of year.  My goal this year is to stay on my current weight through January 1st.  I did it last year, and I can do it again if I have a plan.

My plan for tonight.  Going to a Halloween party at friends' house.  The kids will do their candy hunting & gathering while their parents get their Mad Men on in a cocktail party disguised as "home base" for trick-or-treaters.  Drinks, appetizers, and candy.  My plan:  don't worry about it.  One night won't kill me, and Saturday night Halloween's don't roll around that frequently (every six years to be roughly precise).

My plan for the next 30 days.  Stay away from my kids' candy.  They earned their bounty, and frankly they will apportion it more responsibly than I.  Truth be told, I like the thought of eating candy more than the act itself.  Also, I find the notion of inhaling 2 POINTS of anything so smallish to be pretty unsatisfying.  Therefore, I am going with the zero tolerance strategy.  My kids don't approve of theft, so I am sure they will help me comply.

Two key takeaways for me from this exercise.
  1. Calculate ahead.  Knowing how crummy the POINTS deal is on a food can help take the fun out of abusing it later.  
  2. Make an explicit plan for the specific situation, and then work to stick to it.  
I've already done #1.  We will see how #2 goes.

Have a rocking Halloween, but remember the wise words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus from Hill St. Blues:  Hey, let's be careful out there.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I'm ready for my closeup Mr. Demille

(No, not me..  BTW this photo of Gloria Swanson completely freaks me out)

I kind of imagined myself as slightly subversive and revolutionary when I started my blog this past March (not accounting for the fact that probably 500 million people have blogged before me).  The blog was not part of the official Weight Watchers universe as, at the time, we did not have blogging functionality (we do now!).  It was kind of my own thing, as much personal as professional, and it was not officially recognized by the Weight Watchers website.  As of Tuesday, the tech guys are putting in links on the big website to expose my navel gazing and poor writing skills to a larger audience.

So for those who may be meeting me for the first time.  Hi.  For your convenience, I have collected a selection of links to previous posts that you might find helpful for getting a fast update of the story of me.  So, in chronological order:

  1. In the Beginning
  2. Documented proof of my Lifetime Membershipness
  3. Gruesome things I used to eat (for good reason) before Weight Watchers
  4. A man going to meetings
  5. Restaurants can be hard
  6. My dog can eat faster than me (but only just)
  7. Big weakness #1: airplane food (blech)
  8. French hotels have bad gyms
  9. How I learned to eat breakfast
  10. Weight loss celebrity gone horribly awry
  11. How I learned to eat lunch
  12. Unmastered habits
  13. Learning to exercise
  14. Bad music for the sake of good workouts
  15. Respecting the scale
  16. More on habits: naught & nice list
  17. Regular exercise: habit or impressive discipline?
  18. Needing (and finding) a reason to stay the course
  19. Lose for Good, my Before & After shots, and a bunch of groceries
  20. How to be less irritating on maintenance
So that's about what I've got down on paper so far.  I do, by the way, realize that there is a handy navigation system over there on the right.  I just thought this might be a more convenient way of doing a quick spin.

By the way, I spent last week flying to and from Sydney with each leg of the commute being 27 hours.  Suffice it to say, I ate with reckless abandon.  Still haven't conquered the airplane.  I did, however, work out lots and lots including this weekend.  I will, in fact, get my tail back on program this week.  Travel or not.  Really.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Am I man or cow? My lifestyle of grazing...

I truly think that if I were ever stuck outside for an extended period of time, I would eventually start grazing on grass. I cannot rule out the possibility of a genetic mutation that would lead the formation of three additional stomachs. I get cows, and I understand why they graze. Cows never seem particularly bored, and they usually seem pretty content (assuming they aren't tipped). I attribute their utopian existence to the fact that they get to eat all the time.

I am a boredom eater. Always have been, and may always be. Give me a jam-packed busy day, and I stick to my three square meals -- I'm happy as if I had good sense. Give me a slow Saturday around the house, and you can always find me prowling around the kitchen. Even worse if I'm slightly sleep deprived. I'm not hungry, yet I am deriving curious pleasure from small handfuls of food. It's not a good habit, but it's also one that has been embedded over many decades. In other words, it's not an easy habit for me to kick.

I was thinking over the past couple of days about all the fancy new healthy habits I have acquired over the past 10 years with Weight Watchers. They include POINTS-friendly breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. I am a mealtime warrior when it comes to staying on plan. As I was self-admiring, it occurred to me that to conquer these new meals, I was simply making better food choices. I was swapping out bad foods with good ones. In retrospect, it wasn't that hard once I got the hang of it. I did not have to fundamentally change any eating occasion behavior in the sense that I always ate breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is not as though I had to drop a meal.

Grazing is a tough habit for me to beat because it requires potentially eliminating an eating occasion. What to do? As I see it, I have two choices:
  1. Find some other activity to replace it. We tell members this all the time. "When you are feeling bored, why not do XXXX." My problem is that I cannot for the life of me figure out what XXXX is. Summersaults? Tiddlywinks? Long form algebra? Meditation, possibly combined with rudimentary levitation?
  2. Replace the questionable grazing provisions (e.g., nuts) with lower POINTS ones (e.g., carrot sticks, fruit). I was in a staff meeting this week, and I noticed a box of Jolly Time popcorn (endorsed by Weight Watchers -- 1 POINTS value). I like popcorn, so this could be a nice add.
Both of the above are probably applicable. As I think about it, the X factor that could help me get a grip would be making it a point to more actively track my POINTS, particularly after dinner and on weekends. As they say, what gets measured gets done. In this case, they is mostly accountants and efficiency experts, but they do have a point.

I have a special form of boredom eating that I will be facing on Sunday night: flying to Australia. 22 hours each way combined with ample sleep deprivation. It will not be pretty. I worked out like a convict today, and will probably do the same tomorrow to get prepared for the eating onslaught.

If anyone would like to share their outstanding success tips on any of the above perplexing challenges, I'm all ears (and stomachs).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kids and vegetables

The secret of good nutrition is that there really is no secret. It's a function of focusing your food choices on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low fat dairy. And try not to eat too much. All the behaviors and new habits that are required to make those types of choices second nature is where the real work is. For me personally, I cannot imagine how I could stay on program if I wasn't completely captivated by all manner of fruit. Accordingly, fruits and vegetables are a big part of my diet.

I think about these five categories of food every time I go grocery shopping. It seems that more and more, my family does almost all of its shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store. The interior aisles are the domicile for endless array of heavily processed foods that are too often loaded with sugar, sodium and fat. I recognize that the perimeter of the grocery store is also on balance more expensive, and I am grateful for the fact that we can afford to focus our diet on unprocessed foods.

This weekend, I had a stark reminder that many others in this country have much less access to these healthy foods. I was very proud of the fact that Weight Watchers had the opportunity to sponsor a Fit & Fun in the City event at the Harlem Children's Zone this past Saturday. It was a great event at an inspiring facility that serves a 100-block zone of 10,000 children in Harlem. The Fit & Fun event served to launch the construction of a vegetable garden on the roof of HCZ that the kids in that facility will attend, maintain and benefit from.

Former President Bill Clinton gives introductory remarks to an energized and engaged group of mothers and fathers in Harlem.

It was also a great event that featured a fantastic line-up of speakers including Bill Clinton, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Rachel Ray and Allan Houston (former stand-out Knicks player). During a panel discussion held by NY Times Wellness Editor, Tara Parker-Pope, a consistent set of themes emerged. As adults, we need to work harder to steer our kids away from sugary processed foods and more toward fruits and vegetables. As adults, we need to be both role models and focused parents when it comes to healthy eating. As adults, we need to find ways of making nutritious eating fun and engaging. All-in-all, it was thoughtful and inspiring commentary.

Fun & Fit in the City participants including Dr. Oz, Rachel Ray, Allan Houston, Tara Parker-Pope, NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (and me!).

During the Q&A session that followed, several mothers expressed their frustration about the lack of availability of unprocessed foods in their neighborhood markets. They often have to travel surprisingly long distances to get to fresh markets. As many of these women are working one, two and sometimes three jobs, this becomes a considerable issue to overcome. Many policy experts have now come to refer to economically disadvantaged neighborhoods as food deserts due to the lack of healthy foods in their markets.

With the Lose for Good campaign, we are working for the second year with Share Our Strength, a fantastic organization that focuses not only on feeding children, but feeding them the right kinds of nutritious foods. Our contributions have gone to help support an initiative called the Good Food Gardens, jointly run by Share Our Strength and the Food Network (another fantastic group of people). I am proud that we have been able to make our own direct contribution to the issue of childhood hunger/obesity, but clearly much more needs to be collectively done.

Above our the NYC chefs who participated in Chefs Lose for Good. They collectively lost a ton of weight which further contributed to our Lose For Good drive. In the backdrop is a Good Food Garden which will be placed into a NY housing project.

To learn more, visit www.strength.org.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tracking POINTS: life-in-jail sentence or salvation?

Having been in a Weight Watchers place (literally and figuratively) over the past 10 years, tracking POINTS (we used to call it journaling) has been a presence in my world for 25% of my life. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

To provide proper context for this discussion, I suppose I should share a little bit of my personality wiring. It seems that there are people who thrive on to-do lists, and those who find that exercise slightly more preferable to inserting toothpicks underneath their finger nails. If any one has ever had to take the Myers-Brigg personality test, they indicate the distinction between J(udging) and P(erceiving). J's love to-do lists, and P's prefer to take life as it comes. To put a finer point on it, J's use to-do lists on weekends, and P's find that practice to be more than a little bizarre.

I am a P. I do use a to-do list for work out of sheer necessity, but definitely not for the love of the exercise. My OCD tendencies tend to evidence themselves in ritual, not in elaborately detailed project management plans for how I plan to spend my Saturday.

I have always hypothesized that J's love to track POINTS for the same reason they love to write to-do lists. It gives them a sense of control and comfort, and brings a chaotic world into their submission. Similarly, I think that P's struggle to be religious trackers. Or at least I do.

So, in theory, I should probably despise the Weight Watchers program because it requires me to do something that I do not seem wired to do. Yet I heart the Weight Watchers program. Quite the little paradox I have going.

Counting POINTS when you don't want to...

When losing weight with the Weight Watchers program, I definitely relied on counting POINTS, but it would be a lie of gigantic proportions if I were to say that I tracked every single thing I ate over a 10 year period of time. Yet, I have no doubt that I would not have had success with the program if I had never counted. So with all this said, here is how I have used POINTS:

1) Achieving lift-off: on my last (and hopefully final) round of losing weight, I was pretty disciplined in counting POINTS for the first three weeks, including weekends. The exercise helped me return to reality on portion sizes, foods that were good POINTS values, and damage incurred by seemingly innocent grazing expeditions. For the first three weeks, counting gave me good focus and disciplined me in the process. It served both an educational (portions and food choices) and accountability (staying within the right input range) function.
2) Pattern recognition: for most of my breakfast and lunches, I usually eat from a fairly limited repertoire of meals. I used POINTS to identify meals that worked within my budget, and then I really didn't have to sweat counting them each day once they were embedded into my routine.
3) Mine detection: during both weight loss and maintenance phase, I have used POINTS to pre-identify dangerous choices, particularly when dining out. Getting nutritional information and converting it to POINTS early has allowed me to pre-approve foods so that I could safely incorporate them into my list of acceptable meals.
4) Recharging: now that I'm on maintenance, I have not been actively counting POINTS other than keeping mental notes of rough ranges for different meal times. However, when I feel myself going off the rails, I look at counting POINTS as my safety net. After returning from vacation at the end of August, I started feeling kind of gross. I used the POINTS tracker to refocus and to get myself back on the track of righteous healthy living.

One other key for me in counting POINTS: technology helps. A lot. Weight Watchers Online/eTools has been a huge help for me in sticking with the discipline when I need to. The POINTS tracker (web and now iPhone) allows me to perform the tracking process in break-neck speed. Having favorites and being able to drag-and-drop into the tracker has made the process pretty speedy (usually less than 5 minutes). The Recipe Builder has been a similarly big help.

In no way shape or form should the above be treated as an official Weight Watchers recommendation on how everyone should use POINTS. Everyone is wired differently, and I do believe it is important to find an approach that is livable for you and your life/wiring/circumstances. But no matter who you are, counting POINTS can and should be a salvation, not a life sentence. It can be your first line of defense in an otherwise weight-unfriendly world. At least it has been for me.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Shameless Plug (but true!)

Last weekend, Weight Watchers' iPhone application was released on the iTunes store. My horrifically biased review: it completely rocks the house. Particularly for a version 1.0 release. OK, I said I was biased.

What's the point and why do I care?

As noted in prior entries, I have often said that I needed the meeting to lose my weight with Weight Watchers, particularly the weigh-in which kept me honest and focused. As I've also said, I rely on the website in general, and Weight Watchers eTools (many of the same tools as Weight Watchers Online) in specific. I don't track my POINTS all the time, but when I do, it's the internet or nothing. I guess I'm just not a paper tracker kind of a fellow.

This works well except for the fact that I look a little conspicuous whipping out a laptop in the middle of a restaurant or grocery store. In other words, the web site is great, but what if I need to do my program business on the road? Once upon a time, we had a Palm application, and it was pretty slick. Until I stopped using a Palm. Then we launched Weight Watchers Mobile, which totally works, but it just does not have the same kind of umph of the web site.

Before I go further, one other point of important bias-related caveating: I am a total iPhone super freak. LOVE it. LOVE it. LOVE it. It is always a good time to pull up Google Maps for no apparent reason. The browser rocks. The interface is beautiful. Etc.

I had seen screen shots of the new iPhone application, but the technology team did not provide me with a demo prior to its release. Therefore, I got mine roughly when you got yours. It really did surpass my expectations, particularly in user interface, graphics, resources, etc. It is one of those applications where you keep discovering new stuff. Most importantly, I can now track and search on the fly.

I even use it as a video game of sorts. I call it "Let's find the scariest thing at the Restaurant." Yesterday's winner was the Arthur Treachers (listed under Nathan's Famous) Shrimp Boat. 88 POINTS. I kid you not. I'm not really sure what a shrimp boat is (I think it is fried shrimp, tartar sauce and fries), but for that many points it should be able to fit a person inside of it (not the other way around).

A few important notes about the iPhone app... 1) anyone can download it, but you need to be a Monthly Pass/eTools or Online subscriber to get full access to all the tools (in which case they are free), 2) you need to have a live connection (cell or wifi) to enter POINTS into your tracker, and 3) it's only going to get better. I say this in a self-serving attempt to avoid scorching flames from any potentially irate users.

Give the iPhone app a go and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

That’s great about your weight loss. Now please talk less.

So I’ve lost my weight, and I’ve been maintaining it (officially) since this past February. When I was losing my weight, I definitely talked about it a lot in various forums: meetings with staff, family, co-workers, people at Weight Watchers meetings, etc. I was part of the crowd that was sharing the struggle. When I went into maintenance, my need to talk about it did not subside. In fact, I even started writing this blog so even more people could listen to me talk about it. Frankly, some people found this a bit irritating.

From the perspective of someone has either just starting a weight loss effort or is perhaps just contemplating it, hearing from people on maintenance can be either incredibly motivating or intensely grating. The reasons it is motivating are fairly obvious, and by chance, I happened to be someone who liked hearing from people who had gotten to their nirvana weight loss place.

So why would having someone on maintenance regaling you with stories of their success and continued struggles be annoying? Frankly, I think the reason is that sometimes they (I) are being annoying. Specific behaviors that I and others on maintenance can be guilty of include:

  1. Look at me, dammit! I’m thin! OK, it’s true that looking thinner can be great fun and a really big boost. It’s been a great accomplishment to lose weight and keep it off, and I’m proud of it. Further, I really like compliments and accolades due to my inherent shallowness. It’s just that it’s kind of sad to ask for the compliments (even in a passive-aggressive sort of way).
  2. You should learn from my example! There are few people more ponderous than the converted. We have a tendency to proclaim our healthy lifestyle virtues at excessive decibels and frequency. “NO THANK YOU WAITER, I DO NOT WANT ANY DESERT.” Ex-smokers can suffer from this as well.
  3. Am I disciplined or what? This one is somewhat similar to #2. I push myself pretty hard on the lifestyle thing, and I don’t mind others knowing about it. It would also be nice if they would kindly take the time to heap praise upon me and perhaps carry me on their shoulders while running off the field.
  4. Yes, in fact, I am all-knowing. I possess all useful tips and knowledge about successful weight loss, and it is my right to over-dominate every conversation to ensure that all others benefit from my vast and unending expertise.

There is nothing wrong with feeling any of the underlying emotions in the above four points that might lead to the ensuing behaviors. I should celebrate my success, and a nice compliment goes a long way. I can show by example. I do have useful information to share, and I can help others. I think the trick is to make it less about myself and a little more about wanting to help the people I care about. This will help me in getting the volume levels a bit better calibrated.

Lifetime Members are an invaluable source of information, motivation and support in our meetings, particularly those that the become Leaders and Receptionists who run our meetings. Most of them do a really good job of getting the aforementioned balance right. I promise to do better!

So for everyone I have bugged over the past eight months, please accept my apologies for my ponderous rookie-like maintenance behavior. But seriously, do these jeans make me look fat?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spreading the word on LFG

I love the Lose for Good campaign on a lot of different dimensions, not the least of which is that it's a really good cause and a great incentive to tackle a weight issue. I am also continually amazed by the amount of attention it attracts. Last year, we had more articles covering the campaign than any other event in recent history. We are starting to see the same interest this year. I think this is the result of two big factors: 1) it is a very timely event and 2) the power of our community.

Lose for Good seems to be striking an even bigger chord this year. Today, there is so much discussion about the importance of dealing with the obesity issue and our lack of healthier habits as a nation. In the context of the ever-increasing healthcare bill in the US, there is no shortage of policy makers eager to have a positive impact on the obesity problem. It is a key part of reducing the cost of health care in the US.

I have no doubt that policy makers can make an important contribution to the cause, but the real solution ultimately lies in each one of us. Doctors can guide us, but they cannot fix our weight problems. The government can create policies to encourage weight management, but it cannot fix our individual weight problems. Only we as individuals can solve them, and we all recognize that a weight issue is not such an easy problem to permanently solve. Adopting healthier habits and making them second nature takes some time and effort, and we all face the temptations to quit.

Sometimes we need a little extra incentive and boost of motivation to help us push through and to give us a sense or urgency to succeed. As I mentioned on an earlier post, having this job gives me a great excuse to stay OP. Lose for Good is another fantastic reason to stick with the program. Every pound we lose goes to help both ourselves and someone else. What better incentive to lose weight than the reward of doing some good.

To put it all in context, the two arguably biggest issues facing our country are healthcare and the economy. Lose for Good is a great way to do our part to have a positive influence on both. Solving our own weight and lifestyle challenges is a direct way of helping to fix our healthcare system. Given the recession's impact on so many people, families and children in the form of hunger (example: demand at food banks is up 40% in many communities), the food drives we are running are a great way to help ease the pain of this economic crisis.

Simply stated, Lose for Good is the right idea at the right time. Combine the idea with the power of the Weight Watchers network of service providers (20,000 strong), meetings members and Online subscribers, and we have a campaign with power that is terrifying to behold.

We are already seeing the pickup of the campaign in the press on both a national level and a local level. I did my own little bit yesterday with interviews on CNBC and Fox News. Amusingly, I showed the producer of the Fox News segment my blog, and she had them post my Before & After pictures on the segment. Now I really have to keep the weight off.

Here are the clips.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lose for Good: weight loss math for a good cause

Weight Watchers is now entering into its second year of the Lose for Good campaign. Back in November of 2007, I happened to be visiting the meeting of a Seattle Leader named Debbie Hugo. Debbie was always looking for ways to keep her members motivated, particularly as they were soldiering up to the holiday season. She decided to create a challenge where, for an eight week period, she asked her members to put aside a pound of non-perishable food for every pound they lost. She asked her members to create a weight-loss shrine so they could visualize their weight loss. Her theory was that seeing 10 pounds of food is a great way to get someone not to discount the significance of that kind of weight loss. It was a great idea and one that has been used in other Weight Watchers meetings over the years.

What came next was the part that blew me away. At the end of two months, she asked her members to bring in their weight loss shrines and donate the losses to a local food bank. It turns out that she had been doing this for three years, and had been collecting 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of food each year. It was a brilliant, simple, motivating and moving idea. [I later learned that other Weight Watchers meetings had similar drives.] We asked ourselves this basic question: if Debbie, as one of 7,500 Leaders, could collect this much food, how much could we collect if we did a national volunteer food drive?

We gave it a shot last year. As always, our Service Providers blew by all of our expectations by setting up over 2,000 food drives and collected 1.5 million pounds of food. There were stories of local community food banks literally being saved as a result of the effort. Weight Watchers International did its part by contributing $1 million dollars to two organizations that specialize in addressing childhood hunger: Share Our Strength www.strength.org (US-focused) and Action Against Hunger www.actionagainsthunger.org (international: Asia, Africa, etc.). It was an unqualified success, which is why we made the very easy decision to do it again.

In doing my own little part for this go-around, I am going to give my Weight Watchers weight loss (day that I joined to my Lifetime goal weight) of 30 pounds to a local food bank in CT, Person to Person. I have volunteered there from time-to-time, and I am a big supporter/fan of it. As luck would have it (really!), I found out that some of the local Fairfield County CT meetings have chosen Person to Person as their local beneficiary. It was the decision/recommendation of one of our Service Providers who once benefitted herself from the help of Person to Person. What a way to give back! (in case you are curious about P2P: http://www.p2pdarien.org/)

So I went shopping this morning to buy about 30 pounds of food. Suffice to say, I was curious what it would look like. So without further ado, here is my Lose for Good math:

Dave Before


Dave After (excluding the groceries)


Food for people who need it

By the way, carrying these groceries from the car to the house gave me a new perspective on my weight loss. Walking around with 30 excess pounds is palpable. It cannot be a good thing for my joints, back, etc. to have to haul around those extra pounds. It feels great not to have to haul them around. I cannot think of a better reason to maintain my weight loss.

The fact that I can do a little good for my local community at the same time, particularly in the midst of the recession, makes the weight loss even sweeter. We have also set up some links on our website to Share Our Strength and Action Against Hunger (see LFG link below) for those who want to give even more. I plan to do so today, again based on my 30 pound loss (no pressure!).

Now try to visualize 1.5 million pounds of food.

One final thought... I had mentioned earlier in this post that we had a little north of 2,000 food drives last year. As of this posting, we have over 3,000. If you are reading this, please do join the fun. It's good for you, your health, and your community.

Lose for Good starts today. See you there!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A gym in every port

As noted previously, I am completely a creature of habit, particularly when it comes to working out. My routine is my routine, and I greatly prefer not to change it. It's just how I'm wired.

Under normal circumstances, my gym of choice is an up-and-coming chain called Equinox Fitness. I have unnaturally strong feelings of affection for Equinox. First off, they have locations all over NYC, including one about 8 blocks from my office. Even better, they have another in my town in CT which is directly across the street from the commuter train station. It's a very nice, well maintained gym with modern equipment and really good staff. Most importantly, I know where everything is, and I built my overly elaborate workout routine around their standard set-ups. As noted, I take big comfort in the familiar.

So, when I'm home and working in NY, I am very comfortable and at ease that all of my exercise dreams can be fulfilled (sounds kind of sad now that I say it out loud).

If I were a runner (and I'm not), all the world would be my exercise oyster as I could theoretically run anywhere. Further, just about every full service hotel has a gym with a treadmill, so that's pretty easy. Same goes for walkers. Same could also go for people who work out with bands and other portable gear. One little problem. I don't run, walking isn't enough for me, and I have no interest in changing over to the bands or any other resistance substitute. Not judging, but they just are not for me.

Fear not obsessive gym rat people. Gyms are almost as ubiquitous as Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds (ironic). So here are my tricks for staying in the game when I'm on the road:
  • Vacation strategy: I'm staying in the Cape this week, and I had no problem finding a very suitable gym that was happy to sell me a one week membership. Sweet! (again, sad that this makes me so euphoric). Google Maps did the trick very nicely in this effort.
  • Hotel strategy #1: stay at a hotel that has a full service gym. Every full service hotel will say it has a fitness center. Usually, "fitness center" is French for 4 pieces of a crummy equipment. Don't mean to be a snob here, but it's true. Look for hotels that say they have a health club. That's usually code for a bunch of equipment. You won't find the assortment of a 24 Hour Fitness or Equinox, but they will do in a pinch.
  • Hotel strategy #2: stay at a hotel that's close to a full service gym. I did this in San Diego, and the hotel was able to sell me a $15 pass for the local 24 Hour Fitness. It was a great gym, and it made me smile. In my case, as an Equinox member, I can find hotels near Equinox gyms in a bunch of big cities including LA, Chicago, Boston, and others. I would guess that I've been to about 12 to 13 different Equinox gyms around the country. BTW, I've used the local gym strategy not only in the US, but also in Europe (Barcelona, Dusseldorf) and Australia.
Some people need constant variety in their exercise routine, while others need rock solid consistency. I am clearly the later. Despite my inflexible, OCD-like gym preferences, I have been able to make it work. When it comes to living a healthier life, a little research and advanced planning has truly been my friend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stay OP or suffer grave consequences

I feel the overwhelming need to make a confession about my weight maintenance. I have no choice but to keep the weight off. My feeling is that it would be slightly odd if I completely lost my resolve, flew into a bad food/no exercise spiral and gained 25 pounds. Why? Because of my job. How could I or anyone else take me seriously if I couldn't stick with this healthier lifestyle? Therefore, I really have no choice but to keep the weight off.

In a significant way, writing this blog further ups the ante. I'm now publicly blathering to an audience about my new fangled healthy lifestyle. There are even more people watching me, so I really need to keep it together.

So there you have it. I'm cheating. I am using outside pressure to keep myself on program and to keep myself from falling into my previous repertoire of gruesome food habits.

One could reasonably ask whether the rewards of a healthier lifestyle (and a thinner profile) should not be enough to keep me (or anyone else) on program. Should not I, of all people, be able to do this solely for the benefits of the pursuit itself? My answer: I can use all the help I can get. We all can.

I do believe that I have developed some good eating and exercise habits that feel fairly second nature to me these days. That, however, does not mean that I am not subject to the temptations of not so good choices. That also does not mean that I should assume that I can simply let myself gradually drift away in a sea of marginal choices. That is precisely how one mysteriously regains weight. I should know because I have been down that path.

Under the most normal of circumstances, life has a way of creating situations ripe for perilous choices. Throw in a tough economy, demanding job, family, etc., and circumstances can get really interesting. Having little helpers to focus my mind has been incredibly helpful to me.

For me, public accountability to my colleagues, friends, and the Weight Watchers public has been invaluable in keeping me on plan. I have met many others who have used mediums such as message boards, blogs, Twitter, etc. for the very same purpose. I have met others who have made public proclamations to their family, and others who have engaged in weight loss wagering/bets. For over a million people each week, the Weight Watchers meeting (including the all important weigh-in) is the most important mechanism for staying accountable -- and getting support and encouragement.

The point is this: I'm not in this by myself, but I need to proactively seek support and accountability from others.

This leads to another interesting observation. Technically, I went on vacation three hours ago, and I should not be writing this blog (it is kind of a form of work). However, I wanted to do it as a way of publicly stating that I am going to keep it together when I head off to the beach. Cape Cod is a mecca for fried everything + ice cream. A little of that is fine, but seven days is gross and unproductive. Therefore, consider this my way of proclaiming that I will be making good food choices (mostly) and exercise lots. And I will get some rest. Please do hold me to this.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's only a burger: letting go

So, from a healthy living perspective, the summer has been going pretty smoothly. I really haven't lost a step on exercising, and if anything, I've increased my caloric output in outdoor activities. That is not big news for me as I can usually count on making myself get to the gym, and I like my outdoor activities.

The bigger specter of summer has always been food and drink. For me (and I suspect I'm not alone), summer is an incredibly social time of year. This results in lots of precarious eating situations, particularly in restaurants, BBQ's, etc., and I fall for all the usual cliches when it comes to regaining weight with susceptibility to the temptations of Christmas, summer, Thanksgiving, Halloween, blah, blah, blah.

I wanted this summer to be different, and I've worked hard to stick to my all-new-better habits over my previous death-spiral-I-can't-help-myself habits. By and large, I think I've done a pretty good job, and I've been at my goal weight. Granted, this has taken a certain amount of vigilance and focus as the temptations have been real and sometimes terrifyingly seductive.

This is all good news, but I have a little voice in the back of my head that has been quietly telling me that I might be pursuing a bit too much of a hard line. The philosophy of Weight Watchers is that no food is a bad food (yes, I do read the comments on my posts!), and I obviously agree with this. That does not mean I always trust myself as I imagine the mythical slippery slope that I associate with splurge dinners. At the same time, I also recognize that I have to come to peace with indulgences that light my fire.

So last week, after a tough day/week/month, I went to a nice little Belgian restaurant a few blocks away from the office. The waiter approached the table to share his thoughts on the menu, and he announced, "I recommend avoiding the fish." OK. Of course, what he did recommend fell under the category of "sinful, but delicious", including things like a roasted pig's head (yikes), fries with a bacon infused mayonnaise, and four story lamb belly confit (whatever that is). I opted for the cheese burger, for which they are known. It rocked. Hard. So did the fries it came with.

The next day I went back to making pretty good choices again. No harm, no foul.

The trick with maintenance is to know how to find a reasonable balance. As they say, all things in moderation, including moderation.

One other philosophical point of view on maintenance: if I am going to throw it all up in the air, I want it to be worth it. Therefore, no blowing points on crummy bad food. Just good bad food.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

When bad foods veer scarily off course

About a month ago, I saw a review in the NY Times for a new restaurant that specializes in a variety of french fries served in Quebec. It's called Poutine. It is basically described as french fries covered with fresh cheese curds and brown gravy. I'm really not making this up. Truth be told, I'm not sure what is more disturbing: 1) that this concoction exists in nature, 2) there is a large population of people in Canada who swear by it, or 3) that it looks strangely alluring.

Poutine also begs the question: weren't the fries already bad enough? Must we take our indulgences to the outer limits? Seemingly, the answer is yes.

It's not just the Canadians who ply this evil trade. The Belgians are known to serve their frites with mayonnaise. And what about the Americans: cheese fries!!! With Chili!!!

True confession time: I am not a stranger to cheese fries. When I lived in Chicago, I hit this little item more than a few times. Yet another reason for my enlargement during the 90's.

Now I intuitively know better, but I must admit to being curious how bad the actual carnage of cheese fries is. The answer can be found in the web sites of a few big restaurant chains. Denny's sells a skillet of cheese fries for the bargain POINTS price of 20. However, they are not the big winner. That honor goes to Dairy Queen which sells a cheese fries with chili basket for 30 POINTS. Yikes. That's one side of food for more POINTS than most people have for a full day. I can reasonably assume the Poutine would not fair much better.

By the way, this is not the scariest thing on the DQ menu board. That honor goes to a six piece chicken tender basket which clocks in at 39 POINTS. Impressive!!!!

So what's the point? No point really. I think I can safely state that there is not a person on Earth who thinks that cheese fries are super-nutritious and heart healthy. Frankly, the chicken basket is more of a shock, particularly for the uninformed. There was a time when I might have thought this was good for me (or at least not bad). In this case, knowledge is power.

BTW, I recently posed the question as to whether a renovated cheese fry dish was an actual possibility. The answer? Yes. Baked sweet potato fries with low fat cheese melted on top. This can be done for 5 POINTS. May not have the same decadence quotient, but it works nicely!

Testing my mettle

There is a great line from the movie Magnum Force (the second Dirty Harry movie) that has always stuck in my head: "A man's got to know his limitations." When he used it at the end of the movie, Harry Callahan was talking about the importance of the police not assuming they can act beyond the boundaries of their badge and the law (and Hal Holbrook's character paid a dear price). Unlike Dirty Harry, I don't walk the streets with a giant handgun seeking justice, so I employ the line for a different lesson: I should never assume that I can reliably rise about my greatest food temptation.

And what temptation is that? Peanuts.

My behavior around an open container of peanuts (particularly wasabi coated) is oddly similar to a shark swimming through chum. Everything goes fuzzy, and my brain begins to get blurry leading to a rapid hand-to-mouth repetition until the nuts are gone. I suppose everyone has a food that has this kind of effect on them. The trick is to know what it is and then make a plan of defense.

The first line of defense: don't buy them. Easy, simple, and cheap.

However, I do not live alone, so the first line of defense does not work. My wife uses peanuts for cooking a few different dishes. Therefore, I need a second line of defense built around the reality of cohabitation.

So, the second line of defense: don't open them. Harder, but doable. If I can manage to leave the seal on the can, I obviously cannot grab the odd handful.

We have had two cans of nuts sitting menacingly on a shelf for the past four months. They stare at me, taunting me with their pictures of pretty, perfectly formed peanuts. For the past four months, I have not opened the seal to either can. Victory has been mine. So what do I do if my wife opens one up to use for cooking?

Employ the third line of defense: ask her to hide them. Sad, but also effective.

BTW, I still manage to work in a nut fix, but I do it in a way that manages intake. Specifically, we get pre-packaged packets of almonds from Trader Joe's. They give me my nut rush, but I am much less likely to open a second pack.

My seemingly odd and undue focus on my battle with these cans of peanuts sheds light on a broader principle. The nuts are symbolic of my efforts to get myself out of situations where I am tested to fall back on a bad habit. This speaks to the importance of being aware of my food environment. If I create a safe environment, I am more likely to stick with my better habits.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Of habits, discipline and willpower

I will admit that I have gotten to a place where exercise is pretty central in my life (some might even say it sits on the edge of nuttiness). I am pretty much at six, sometimes seven days a week, including:
  • four days of weights (I do a four day split w/ different muscle groups each day) for about 50 minutes per session
  • on 2-3 of the weight days, I will toss in 30 minutes of cardio (usually stationary bike)
  • 2 more days of cardio (again, stationary bike) for 42 minutes (don't ask me why 42 rather than 41 or 43 -- I'm a creature of habit)
  • try to bike on road at least once per weekend
  • play tennis poorly
  • walk most days from GCT to office (1 mile each way)
As a parenthetical, this much exercise is pretty close to the federal government's recommended activity levels (150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day plus resistance training).

I almost always workout in the morning as I would otherwise lose motivation. This requires me to wake up at 4:30 AM for at least three mornings per week in order to manage my 1.5 hour commute from CT to NYC.

I certainly did not start at this level of frequency and intensity. I've gradually added days and activities over the past ten years. This whole exercise thing seems to be spreading, but I have gotten to the place where I like it and I rely on it (for sanity, if nothing else).

Yet, I would not call myself disciplined, and I would not say that I exert willpower. I would more accurately describe my exercise fetish as a habit and a routine. Every time that hideous alarm goes off in the morning, I do not make a choice to exercise. I simply go. I would claim myself disciplined if I was actively making a decision each day to exercise, but frankly, it's pretty much automatic and force of habit. Almost second nature.

Frankly, I have a big issue with the notion of being disciplined and exerting tremendous will power. To me it connotes a life sentence of austerity, difficulty and self-flagellation. None of which I support as they all seem pretty unpleasant. I have always found overly disciplined people slightly scary. It's a little bit like people who never watch TV and only read greek literature in its original language. Can they really be trusted?

Developing a habit is a much more doable concept for me. It is a function of doing a little bit of soldiering until the new habit becomes a familiar routine. This is a concept that does not require me to see myself as a superhuman with a titanium resolve. It is simply a process that if I stick with and follow will gradually become automatic.

On the particular topic of making exercise automatic, here is what has worked for me:

1) always leave my workout clothes next to my computer the night before
2) set out one Sugar Free Red Bull on mousepad next to computer
3) when alarm goes off, I immediately get out of bed and walk to computer. No staring at the ceiling or hitting snooze buttons as these would lead to decision making and second guessing.
4) I split my weight routine into 4 days with different muscle groups (insight: slight OCD makes me fear bad symmetry, requiring me to never miss a muscle group by dropping one of the four days)

In summary, discipline and willpower are for the few, but habits and routines are for everyone.