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 (US-focused) and Action Against Hunger (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:

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.