Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm pretty!

Sometimes things just come out of my mouth and I'm left scratching my head wondering what I was thinking about.

I had the opportunity to be interviewed on Fox Business early this morning to talk about Weight Watchers, our competition, the recession, and Valerie Bertinelli. In a manner of speaking, I was asked how we could possibly compete with Valerie's cover on People magazine. In a fit of spastic energy, I offered myself up as a viable alternative. Ugh.

What I really meant was that Weight Watchers is about real change for real people living in the real world. I swear that's what I meant.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reforming breakfast

The process of going from a scary/unhealthy/artery-wrecking lifestyle to a healthier/happier/kinder lifestyle is not a simple process. It involves solving lots of food and exercise problems and turning not-so-great choices into better choices.

In my case, I have approached this by hitting one habit cluster at a time. Each representing a dragon to slay and a kingdom to free. Truth be told, I have not slayed all of my dragons yet, but many of the big lumbering (and most destructive ones) have been vanquished.

Breakfast is a good example. First off, I believe that breakfast is an incredibly important meal and it should not be skipped. (Given how much I like to eat, choosing not to skip breakfast was not really a difficult accomplishment.) However, my breakfast choices were suspect at best, particularly when I took the time to determine what I was actually putting into my body.

For many, many years, I have been a very regular and loyal Starbucks customer. I have an abused loyalty card to prove it. To its credit, Starbucks has worked hard to create some healthy food options for breakfast. I just didn't eat them. I went a different way by worshipping at the altar of the coffee cake and the scone. I LOVE pastry/muffins/breads of all sorts, and these guys make tasty ones.

One day I took the time to go to the Starbucks website where they helpfully provide nutritional
information on all their menu items. They even do this on a store-by-store basis as they often use different food providers in different areas. Suffice it to say, what I discovered about my favorite breakfast snacks was a little alarming. As of today, a Classic Coffee Cake clocks in at 10 POINTS (down from 13 POINTS a few years ago) while a blueberry scone has about 11 POINTS. Ouch! Particularly painful when considering the fact that the portions were not exactly huge and filling (although very tasty).

So I moved onto a new breakfast food frontier in the form of Yogurt Parfait sold by my local
Pax Foods chain. Hey, it's yogurt! It's got fruit! It must be a great deal! Except for the fact that one 16 oz serving dishes out about 9 POINTS. A slight improvement, but not where I wanted to be particularly for the perceived amount of food.

What I wanted was a LOT of food that would be really filling and only cost me 6 or 7 POINTS. Drum roll...

My new breakfast of champions:
  • One Weight Watchers oatmeal: 2 POINTS
  • Fruit to stuff into the oatmeal: 1 banana (2 POINTS) and 4 strawberries (0 POINTS)
  • Splash of skim milk on the oatmeal (0 POINTS)
  • One non-fat greek yogurt (2 POINTS) (more on this little gem of a food later)
  • Total = 6 POINTS for a veritable truckload of food
Stuffing the oatmeal with fruit is a great way to turn a non-mannish portion into one that is giant-like and brutish in size. I will provide a photo later to prove my point.

I'm a creature of habit, so I'm thrilled to eat this meal every weekday. Tastes great. Totally filling. I'm not hungry until lunch. Only 6 POINTS. Problem solved.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What do French and Spanish Leaders look like?

One part of my job that I particularly appreciate is the time I get to spend with Weight Watchers leaders and receptionists from around the world (it sounds a little cliche, but its true). I have had the pleasure of sitting in Weight Watchers meetings in the US (where I lost my weight), Australia, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, France and Spain. That does not even cover all of our countries.

I always find it interesting that even when I do not understand the language (almost all instances outside of English), I can follow the meeting. The way the Leader runs her meeting, the cadence, and the feeling are all incredibly similar. French meetings are very much like Spanish meetings which are like American meetings. When it comes to weight management, people are people. We are much more alike than we are different.

I also spend a good bit of time now conducting Town Hall meetings with staff from around the world. I recently had a chance to do this in France and Spain. I had a chance to share our vision for the company, and my thoughts on the obesity issue and what to do about it.

Our Leaders and Receptionists then had the chance to pepper me with questions. In some organizations, employees can be reticent to ask questions, let along tough questions. Not our organization. Weight Watchers staff are remarkably confident, free-spirited, opinionated and (understatement) extroverted people. They would not care if I was the King of Siam, let alone the president of Weight Watchers. They do not hold back, but they always engage with a characteristically positive energy even when being tough.

I thrive on the interaction, and I can only hope they get half as much from a Town Hall that I do. It's the best way I know to get a real sense of the pulse of the organization and the key issues we need to overcome. It's also an opportunity to meet and spend time with a truly special group of people.

This first shot is from the Town Hall in Paris.

This one is from the Town Hall in Barcelona (I'm the goofy guy in the middle, and that's Jordi Pous, our GM for Spain, on the left).

For fun, I am also attaching a picture from a recently opened Weight Watchers center in the city of Mataro, about 20 miles up the coast from Barcelona.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Surveying the damage from Europe: Day 1 = Restraint!

It seems that weeks on the program always start well and with admirable discipline. I was fully on program all day Monday, prior to my flight to Paris. Worked out, ate a good breakfast, had a POINTS-friendly lunch and dinner. I said no to the offerings on the Air France flight even though I was tempted otherwise.

Day 1: Paris

This can definitely be a tough town for Americans with lowered defenses for fine foods (me). Fortunately, my colleagues in France were looking out for me and they helped construct a day with good, healthy options. Better than that, they did it with typical French flair as all the food I encountered was terrific.

Lunch: They put out a spread of many of the Weight Watchers products sold at grocery stores around France. And they were outstanding. I get faint in the presence of goat cheese, pate and other fine French delicacies. The fact that I could get them in a POINTS-friendly format made my knees weak.

Dinner: We went to a very old, well known restaurant on the Champs-Élysées, named Ladurée. It has been around since 1862, and it is renowned for its pastries (specifically macaroons) and various delicacies. It's also a nice restaurant that serves very good, light dishes. I had smoked salmon as an appetizer followed by a cod dish. Outstanding/tasty and totally within the realms of accepted program parameters.

The waiter then presented the tray of caloric despair (the desert platter), but I had the presence of mind to say "non" and had some coffee instead.

All-in-all a great day on program. I give full credit to my French colleagues for steering me to good choices. One day down, three to go...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I fear change

I am definitely a creature of habit, particularly when it comes to my lifestyle regimen. At some point, I will share my overwrought workout routine, but one thing to know about it is that I am fairly inflexible about changing it. Many trainers and exercise experts will tell you to change up your workout to "shock" your muscles and your body into the next level of performance. This may be true, but I have difficulty accepting it.

When it comes to cardiovascular exercise, I love the exercise bike. I particularly love the ones at my gym because I know them and they know me. We are friends. I am capable of communicating with other varieties of exercise bikes as they seem like somewhat familiar cousins to my friend-bikes.

And then circumstances get in the way...

Paris hotels are not particularly well known for their outstanding exercise facilities, and I look pretty hard to find ones that have at least something. One issue is that innkeepers in Paris tend to exaggerate about the quality of their facilities: c'est magnifique et tres grande! Or so I was told about the gym at my current venue.

Yet I walked in and discovered possibly the saddest, most lonely facility I have ever laid eyes on. If the land of misfit toys had a gym, it would look like this one. One very old climbing machine. One rowing machine. Three dumbbells weighing about 1 lb each. But it did have a bike! With one pedal.

So I had woken up at 6 AM to workout before my day started. I dressed for sweat and took the effort to go downstairs to discover that my exercise implement of choice was severely disabled and fully inoperable (unless I really wanted to focus on my left leg). What would I do? Should I go back upstairs? But then I would not have worked out. Horrific dilemma!

So I bravely sat at the rowing machine and used it for 20 minutes. Then I bravely stood upon the stair climber, and used it for 20 minutes. Worked up a great sweat, and had a good workout. And the world continued to spin on its axis, and I got my exercise in.

Exercise is a matter of creativity. You can find it wherever you are if you are willing to be slightly flexible. It's just that I don't like being flexible. Unless I have to be.

Monday, April 13, 2009

But I do fear airplanes. And hotels.

One of my big learnings at Weight Watchers is to know my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I feel that I have conquered many weight-related demons, but I also know that they have not all been vanquished. Travel was one of the factors that lead to my weight gain that reached it's apex a decade ago, and it is still a source of difficulty for me today.

I equate travel with the following vices:
  • eating the least healthy option on the flight and always saying yes to desert or cheese
  • poor room service choices
  • overindulgent breakfasts
My diagnosis as to why travel bedevils me: succumbing to temptation while eating alone. Travel often affords the opportunity to enjoy meals in solitude without concern for being seen. It's a common issue for many people who struggle with overeating.

I'm getting ready for a series of overseas trips over the next few weeks and I need a plan. So here it goes...

1) Exercise: As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've become regular in my exercise habits. I'm pretty insistent on keeping this behavior when I travel. I look for hotels that have decent exercise facilities and I make it a point to schedule some time each morning to squeeze in my workout.
2) Planning ahead: My game plan tonight will be to eat a healthy dinner before I get on the red-eye to France, sleep on the flight, and completely miss the whole airline food extravaganza (yes, they still feed you on overseas flights). For the days that I am in Europe, I will track my POINTS to keep myself honest. I will be with many other Weight Watchers people, so I also have a built-in support mechanism.

If I have one indulgence, it will probably be on the flight home, but I think I can keep that reasonably in check.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I do not fear bunnies

Easter can be a treacherous time when trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle. I thought about this as my daughters discovered their Easter baskets and flew through the house searching for hidden chocolate eggs. Indeed the mascot of the commercialized version of the holiday seems to be at the root of the issue.

By most accounts, rabbits seem to be gentle creatures though notable exceptions exist such as the rabbit from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail. Indeed it was the most foul, cruel and bad-tempered creature you had ever set eyes on.

Yet, there is something much more subversive about the Easter Bunny. Benign on the surface, he deals in chocolate, marshmallows, and giant candy replicas that he creates in his own image. This results in Easter being quite similar to Halloween. A crushing heap of candy and sweets that will linger in my house for months to come.

For example, the Chocolate bunny, weighing in at 12 oz contains 26 POINTS. The Rabbit cookie lollipop device has 6 POINTS and the Peeps are the relative bargain at 1/2 POINTS per marshmallow bunny. Not pretty.

To their credit, the girls are very good at having just a little of their candy bounty as an after-dinner treat. So this Easter basket could easily last a month of more. That speaks well of their habits, but it also creates a long half-life risk for the grown-ups in the house.

All this said, this is a risk I can live with as I've gotten pretty good at not diving into the kids' candy. First off, it's theft, and they would be happy to remind me of this fact (and possibly call the police). Second of all, it's become much less of a vice for me over the past 9 years on Weight Watchers. Just not worth the POINTS for the amount of food pleasure given. Just not enough tonnage for the calories, and certainly not filling.

My vices and danger zones tend to lie in other areas. One of the biggest is travel, and I have a dangerous stretch coming up. More on this later...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Food Rush!

I'm not sure if others will relate to this or not, but here it goes...

When food is put in front of me, I notice the following changes in my physiology:  pulse quickens, tunnel vision forms, slight perspiration commences, sense of smell heightens, and (of course) salivation commences.  All of this anticipation results in a food consumption process which must be disturbing to observe.  Imagine a high-RPM windmill-like device with a spoon/fork at the end of each blade rapidly depositing food into a mouth-like receptacle. 

I call this Food Rush.  Obesity researchers refer to this as "food anticipation" (more on this in later posts).  It does not seem to be a particularly healthy way to approach a plate of food from a digestion point of view, and it can certainly result in difficulties monitoring hunger.  My mind has no time to determine if I'm still hungry as I proceed through the meal.  Food Rush is certainly one of the factors that led to my charter membership in the Clean Plate Club.  

The other day, I was watching my dog, Gabby, eat her breakfast, and it occurred to me that Food Rush is a behavior shared by many a large dog.  

For those keeping score, it takes Gabby precisely 56 seconds to eat a large bowl of food.  More impressive is that she finishes her race despite the presence of a large red plastic device designed to slow her down.  It's almost like watching a boxer artfully and aggressively maneuver around her opponent as she lays waste to him.  

It strikes me that the way I eat doesn't always look that different from Gabby's signature style.  So now I'm trying to make it a practice to take a deep breath when the plate lands in front of me.  Maybe I should try the big red plastic speed inhibitor device on my plate.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I can navigate any restaurant, or can I?....

I've been doing the Weight Watchers program and working for Weight Watchers for the better part of a decade now. I've been to countless meetings where hundreds of tips have been shared on navigating the most ferocious, calorie-dense dining establishments. I know all the words to avoid: cream sauce, fried, oil, butter-base, etc. I know about the sauce on-the-side tricks.

I have proclaimed on multiple occasions that there is no restaurant that cannot be made program-friendly. And then came Buca di Beppo. I lost. It won.

I studied the menu for a good 10 to 15 minutes trying to figure out some way to take a single dish and reconcile it with my program. I viewed it as a challenge.

Challenge #1: virtually every dish was served in some variant of a cream sauce combined with a massive quantity of cheese and fatty meat. Low fat salad dressing? No! Maybe a basic fish dish? Hit the road!

Challenge #2: portion quantities were asteroid-sized. Some of these dishes were so large they exerted a gravitational pull. Even the "small" portions were so big they rivaled the size of my 9 year old daughter's head (see photo for size comparison). The "small" salad could have fed a football team.

The chosen solution was a "small" Shrimp Fra Diavolo, shared among two of us. It was advertised as sauteed shrimp with a spicy rosa sauce served over penne pasta. Seemed pretty benign, calorie/fat-wise. However a picture is worth a thousand menu words: observe the photo of this deceptive dish with its ample glaze of oil and what seems like a cheese-like fat residue. Suffice it to say, this was too much for even two of us. I would ball-park the whole bowl at about 35 to 40 POINTS with a big chunk of that coming from oil. (Don't get me wrong -- it was tasty). Never mind the bread served with olive oil or the bruschetta platter someone at the table ordered.
To their credit, the restaurant would suggest that these portions were meant for family-style dining and were not intended to be fully consumed by a single person (unless you were really hungry). Yet, I cannot help but wonder how many of their patrons order one of these beauties and then take out their Clean Plate Club membership cards.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Navigating the in-law visit

First off, to avoid any misunderstanding, my in-laws are some of the kindest most caring people I've ever met.  There is nothing that pleases them more than making their family happy.  

For many in-laws, food is the caring weapon of choice.  For guys, this is particularly acute as it feeds into lots of stereotypes on taking care of men.  Basically, the goal is to feed him as though he had a lead role in Hansel and Gretel.  Clearly, none of this ever comes from a place of malice like the witch of questionable ethics in the aforementioned fairy tale.  But it's challenging nonetheless.  This is particularly true if you are on maintenance where the desire to remain careful is not always understood or fully appreciated.  

I experienced this first-hand when I was in Charlotte, NC this weekend.  Would you like another cookie?  Are you sure?  They are so good?  You look great!  Eat some more!  Why not have another biscuit?  It is filled with cheese and butter!  

How does one respond to this kind of genuine affection?  Simple.  Yes ma'am.  I'd love one.  

It's only a weekend, and there is a limit to the damage that can be done.  A week-long visit would clearly require a different discussion.  

Friday, April 3, 2009

Skipping lunch is a rookie mistake

So is skipping breakfast.  The basic theory is that if you go without a meal, you get yourself to the point of being voraciously hungry when you do finally have a meal.  And then you act like a crazed animal when you finally do have the chance to eat.  

Yet I still succumb to this...

So yesterday, I was at an offsite conference where lunch was catered with the usual roundup of sandwiches, salads, etc.  I had to make a bunch of phone calls at the break, and I was also avoiding the process of figuring out which parts of the catering table would be POINTS-friendly.  In other words, I was too busy  and too lazy to eat lunch.  

I walked into my house at about 7 PM knowing that I wasn't going to have dinner until 8 PM.  I eyed my refrigerator and cabinets, and I started to get dizzy with food lust.  I began ransacking like a burglar looking for jewelry.  In the process, I would conservatively estimate that I consumed about 14 POINTS worth of snacks in about 7 minutes.  And then I had dinner an hour later.  I could have easily fond a nice little 6 to 7 POINTS tide-over at lunch, and I would have ended up ahead.  

You'd think after being at Weight Watchers for almost a decade that the fallacies of skipping meals would have fully penetrated my consciousness.  Next time I will know better.  I swear!