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

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.