Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bad music begets jamming workouts

It's Saturday morning.  I did not sleep well last night, tossing and turning from 4 AM on.  My head hurts, I'm unmotivated, and I'm generally crabby.  Not a pretty sight.  I need a fix.

In years past, a gargantuan breakfast burrito (chorizo, much cheese, many eggs, lots of grease) served with a side of home fries and an english muffin (slathered with butter and jam) would have fixed me up quickly.  The medicinal effects of fat should never be underestimated.  This is exactly the remedy that the completely understanding devil perched on my left should was whispering in my ear.  

However, the miserable, sanctimonious, preachy angel standing proudly on my right shoulder was exhorting me to take the hard but rewarding turn at the fork in the road.  "Workout!", he said.  "You will feel much better after a good sweat!"  Idiocy, I tell you.  Nonetheless, I steeled myself to take the righteous path.  

I went down to my basement and stared at my stationary bike with dread.  I needed a good 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise induced pain, and this bike was the only way to get there.  I was really questioning whether I had it in my to go through with this.  However, I knew that I had a secret weapon:  an enormous mix of horribly cheesy, big, loud music.  In fact, I named it the "Giant Bowl of Cheese."  

Working out to music is hardly a new concept.  Richard Simmons broke historic ground with "Sweatin' to the Oldies", and the Earth hasn't been the same since.  It's hard to see anyone in the gym not wearing earphones, and Richard deserves full credit for this.  

My personal trick is to employ a battery of music that I might be a tad bashful about listening to without headphones.  Today's sampling included:  

Rush, GNR, Asia, Journey, Steve Miller, and the massively motivating Bee-Gees.  This stuff works magic on me.  Never had a bad 4 minute exercise stretch with Staying Alive blaring.  The other trick is to have enough on the mix so I can shuffle it and never get bored.  iTunes has been a wonderful friend in this endeavor.  

For those who have not embraced the cult of loud, cheesy workout soundtracks, I strongly encourage giving it a go.  However, if you do, please consider two important safety tips:

1) Excessively loud music played for extended periods of time on earphones can damage your ears.  I have no doubt I will be wearing a hearing aid within the next 10 years.  
2) Public air guitaring is not a socially acceptable practice.  Certainly not on a stationary bike.  You could hurt someone that way.  

BTW, it was a good workout, and I'm glad (and self righteous) about doing it.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The long road to a more fit life: part 1

The 80's and 90's...

I was not bad about working out in college.  For the most part I would get to the gym a couple of times per week.  Not as good as a varsity athlete, but better than many.  During this time, I would say that fitness was not unknown to me.  

I would characterize my 20's as a time with period bursts of motivation.  I might go six months with workout frequency of two to three times per week.  Then I might go another six months with something much more sporadic.  

Then came the first half of my 30's, and I got horrifically lazy.  I would hit the gym a couple of times every now and again.  I might take a long walk on a weekend, but I think I can safely say that my sweat pores were underutilized.  Curiously, this was the time of my life when my weight was peaking.  Funny how those things go together.  

My first daughter was born in early 1998.  To get ready for my house-bound life, I bought a bunch of home gym equipment (a bunch of dumbbells, a bench and a bike) with the very best of intentions.  Suffice to say, said equipment  sat idly for about two years.  Apologies for the cliche about the weights and exercise bike being used to hold up drying laundry, but it's true (except that we had a dryer, so it's not really true).  In other words, I followed the well worn path of many men in their 30's:  physical fitness abandonment.  

The new millennium (a new dawn, even)

In the beginning of 2000, my second daughter was born, and I joined Weight Watchers as employee (and member).  I knew that I really was going to have to get into an exercise routine if I was going to do the program seriously.  Having a toddler and a baby forced me to better appreciate the quiet times, so I started early morning expeditions down to my basement where I kept my set of vintage (two years old) exercise equipment.  I bought a book of weight lifting routines, and I made myself a mix tape that I was really into.  Suddenly it clicked.  

I started looking forward to listening to my mix and the time to myself.  I also started doing helpful little tricks like setting my clothing out the night before.  Next thing I knew, my dank, grimy basement became a minor oasis.  My friends referred to it as my Silence of the Lambs workout room, except without the whole serial killer thing.  

This was the year I became a workout person.  This was the year exercise became a fixture in my life.  It takes a long time for a new habit (like working out) to become a second nature behavior.  I suppose it is why so many people start to exercise and then quit after a month.  For me, I had to find the hook that made it enjoyable or at least have something about it to look forward.  In my case, an outstanding mix (I fancy myself quite the DJ) and a little me time at the break of dawn did the trick.  

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Five weeks of intense travel: how bad could it be?

It might be the case that my natural state is to worry that life's little challenges will conspire to  cruelly wreck my state of weight maintenance.  I think every lifetime member has the reasonable concern to think that the euphoria of achieving Lifetime Membership will result in a slackening of resolve and a melting of will power and discipline.  This may be true despite the fact that 50% of our lifetime members succeed in keeping their weight off, which is a fantastic success rate.  Yet, what if I'm in the other 50%?  Fear of failure comes stalking!  Only the paranoid survive?  

I feel that I was absolutely put to the test over the past five weeks.  I had three week long international trips encompassing France, Spain, China and the UK.  They presented me with all manner of challenges including:  sleep deprivation, airplane cocooning, private dining (read:  room service and airplane service), workout challenges, and every meal out.  Surely this was a train wreck in waiting.  

So here's the tally of what worked and what didn't...

On the plus side:
  • I kept the exercise pace up throughout.  I worked out in China and even a little bit in France.  I picked up extra workout sessions on weekends to compensate for missed workouts while on the road.  My biggest stumbling block was my trip last week to the UK where sleep deprivation finally defeated my resolve.  For three consecutive days, I did not exercise.  In the scheme of five weeks, this was hardly a massive failure (though it seemed that way during the three days).  
  • I rock at breakfast.  All false modesty aside, old me would have fallen to pieces when presented the option of full English breakfast (I love breakfast).  Yet, I happily made good choices EVERY single breakfast on the road.  As much as the word "porridge" sounds fairly gross and unappealing, I happen to like the stuff.  Not once did I feel like I was sacrificing.  
  • I pretty much rocked lunch too.  
  • Dinner could have been worse.  
  • Further, when I was back in the US, I made it a point to get back to my new healthier habits (mostly).  
What didn't work:
  • I still stink at airlines.  I really cannot control myself, which I will attribute to re-filtered air, high altitude, and mostly boredom.  I used to think of overseas flights as somehow adventurous and special.  Now I think of them as being strapped to a chair for 8 to 14 hours.  Not fun and not interesting.  Try doing it in your living room for a point of comparison.  Books, work and TV will not cure this.  Food seems to help.  So, this is one for me to work on.  
  • Other pre-existing weaknesses that have nothing to do with travel were still present.  I am still prone to post-dinner grazing habits.  I am not really hungry when I graze, yet I still do.  On the plus side, I try to graze on foods that are not completely horrible for me.  
  • Eating out creates challenges regardless of how hard I try to stay focused.  There is only so much one can do to accurately monitor calorie counts in a foodservice environment.  The best I can hope for is to try to minimize the damage.  I stick to fish and avoid dishes with the words/phrases "sauteed", "butter sauce", or "slathered and fried in high density lard."  
As you can see from my previous posts, I was clearly a little bit worried about all this travel.  So, what was the final damage count when I got weighed on Friday?  Up 2 pounds.  Nothing that would justify calling for an intervention.  

So here is an interesting question:  is this validation that obsessing about the program is unnecessary given an only 2 lb gain or was a certain amount of obsessing necessary to keep the gain down to 2 lbs?  I really don't know the answer to this one.  There is a fine line between vigilance/focus and obsession, and I will not claim to have mastered it.  

What I do know is that I am starting to feel that certain healthy behaviors (e.g., breakfast, lunch, exercise) are becoming second nature.  That means I do not need to worry about them anymore and I can focus my attention on other habits.  Maybe even some that have nothing to do with my weight.  Such is the promise of Weight Watchers.  

Friday, May 8, 2009

She's way prettier

On an earlier post, I spoke remorsefully about my curious decision to offer myself up as an attractive spokesperson for Weight Watchers who could do battle with Valerie Bertinelli.  If I had the benefit of about 10 more IQ points and about 1 hour more sleep (it was a 6:30 AM interview), I would have answered the Fox reporter's question differently.  Jenny McCarthy was on the cover of Shape magazine last month, and she was looking beyond phenomenal.  Clearly, she is a more compelling vision than yours truly.  

Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to finally meet Jenny while she was in New York doing some work with moms groups.  I did my best to get over being completely star and awe-struck, and was able to have a nice conversation with her.  She's a very smart, straight-forward, down-to-Earth, and nice person.  She's passionate about her causes, and her career is really taking off.  She deserves all of her successes.  

As many of you know, Jenny has done work with Weight Watchers over the past few years.  She notes that her weight peaked at about 211 pounds (she's 5' 6") after the birth of her first son.  She joined Weight Watchers at the recommendation of her mother, and she lost her weight with us.  Unlike many celebrity spokespeople, Jenny continues to look great several years after losing weight with us.  As she has said so many times, she learned how to have a healthy relationship through her time at Weight Watchers.  The benefits of this kind of learning can last forever, and Jenny is a fantastic example of that.    

What I love about Jenny's work as a spokesperson for us is that we never paid her to lose weight.  Truth be told, we (at the corporate office anyway) never knew she was even a member until after she lost her weight.  When Jenny talks about Weight Watchers, she talks like a member because she was a member.  She gets it the way any of our successful members get it.  The fact that she is also a beautiful, articulate, likable, talented and up & coming personality is a nice added plus.  We couldn't be prouder to have her as one of our success stories.  

As you can see from the photo, I sheepishly asked her if I could have my picture taken with her.  I felt a little like a 17 year-old boy when I asked, but she graciously agreed.  She also gave me permission to put it up on my blog (proof that I actually met her!).  Not surprisingly, she's much more photogenic than I am.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Knowledge is Power: 6 < 25 (it's true!)

I'm not picking on Pax Natural Foods; it just happens to be one of the places conveniently located near my office.  The service is great, the food tastes/looks good and it's a modern/attractive eatery.  But like most restaurants, it can be dangerous and treacherous for the unprepared.  

Up to a couple of years ago, my favorite meal at Pax was the Chicken Fajita Wrap and a 16 oz Vanilla Parfait (as I also mentioned this in my breakfast post, the parfait clearly had become a day-long staple).  I chose those
 two items because they seemed like pretty healthy choices.  Consider the wrap:  no cheese, no evidence of mayo slathering, no bacon (sadly), etc.  The parfait looked mostly like yogurt with a little bit of granola and some fruit.  Looks can clearly be deceiving:  the wrap comes in at 16 POINTS (ouch!), and the Vanilla parfait has about 9 POINTS (hurt me!).  All-in-all, 25 POINTS for lunch.  Wait a minute.  Isn't that pretty much my allotment for the day?  Oooooops.  

In an effort to get my act vaguely together, I went to the Pax website, pasted their data into an Excel spreadsheet, and calculated the POINTS values for everything they sold (geeky, I do realize).  

In choosing my new Pax lunch, my objectives were 1) lots of
 food/bulk/volume and 2) minimal POINTS.  My winners:  the Southwestern Chicken Salad with fat-free raspberry vinaigrette and a LARGE fruit salad.  The salad has 3 POINTS, 1 for the dressing and 2 for the L A R G E fruit salad (it really is big).  That's only 6 POINTS for BIG and tasty food.  

Now Pax is my friend and not my enemy.  Most restaurants can be if I simply put the effort into navigating them.  

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Weight Watchers goes to China

Until last year, it had been a good 10 years since I had been to China. Coming back to visit in the Spring of 2008, I encountered a very different vision of the country I remembered from a decade ago. It's hard to miss the fact that China has gone through a massive economic transformation during this time. What is surprising is how quickly that transformation has impacted lifestyle and culture within that great country.

My memories of Shanghai were wet markets, filled with outdoor stalls, chickens scurrying about, eels swimming in outdoor fish tanks and buckets, and lots of mud and dust. Today, most of the wet markets are now enclosed, clean and modern and bear remarkable similarity to their equivalent markets in countries like Spain. Ten years ago hypermarkets like Carrefour and Wal-Mart were just beginning to appear. Now they are commonplace.

Ten years ago obesity was not an issue in China, but now the rush of prosperity has brought along many of its familiar Western trappings: big portions, unlimited food choices, remote controls, cars, etc. Nothing better illustrates this than the inside of a Carrefour, a beautiful, well-stocked store that any Western consumer would find thrilling. Such a sudden shift in lifestyle can only be expected to have the same kind of effect on China that it has had on obesity rates around the world. In fact, China now has among the fastest rates of obesity growth anywhere in the world.

Of particular note is the great wall of oil. Once upon a time, oil had to be used sparingly as it was rationed or difficult to find in quantity. Now it can be bought in massive multi-liter jugs very inexpensively. It's not uncommon for a family to go through one of these jugs in a mere month.

Enter Weight Watchers and our partner Group Danone. As of today, our China JV now has four Weight Watchers centers operating in Shanghai, and Weight Watchers Online for China
was launched just this past week. In one interesting test, we are running a fully functioning Weight Watchers center in the same Carrefour seen the above photographs. It's a beautiful center running meetings just like we do all over the world.

I like the fact that Weight Watchers is now here to help in China, and I feel it is our obligation to be anywhere there is an obesity issue. Which increasingly is most places.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Airplane 37, me 0

In the effort to stay OP, airplanes virtually always defeat me. I can stay focused and on track in a good range of situations and environments, but not this one.

I was in China this past week, which required me to spend about 35 hours on airplanes over the two days of travel there and back. Looking around my flight, I noticed that some people were incredibly disciplined. They slept when they were supposed to sleep, and when they were awake, they read good literature. If they could, they would have probably found a way to do community service or walk a nice old lady across the street.

In this place, I'm not one of them. I watch way too much TV, and I use it as an opportunity to watch some of the worst/questionable movies ever conceived (Twilight? Isn't that for 15 year old girls?). And I eat. In general, on overseas flights, I watch TV and eat. And eat and watch TV. And sometimes I watch TV, then eat, then watch TV. I definitely do not do the exercises that airlines eagerly recommend (then again, I've never seen anyone do those exercises on any flight, ever).

In a restaurant, I would very rarely order the cheese plate after dinner, and I usually skip desert. On an airplane, bring it on! In a restaurant, I would never order something that I knew was slathered in oil and fat. On an airplane, yes please! It is not as though the food on airplanes is haute cuisine (pork belly medley surprise is hardly fine dining). They fed my weakness with terrific flair this past week, and I predictably felt gross and irritated with myself afterwards. I really do not like binge remorse, but I cannot seem to help myself in this gruesome environment.

So what to do? My most obvious solution is to try to avoid eating on flights by eating before I board where the food options are more controllable. This is my normal plan of attack on domestic flights and red-eye flights to Europe. Flights returning from Europe and all flights to and from Asia remain an unsolved mystery to me. They are a dragon yet to be slain.

One small bit of good news is that some airlines are starting to keep one heart healthy selection in each course served, but this still seems to be the exception more than the rule.

On a related note, eating isn't my only bad habit on airplanes. Getting weepy watching crummy movies is another one (for all the guys snickering at this confession, I've seen you do it too). Is it the bad writing that makes me misty? Is it the altitude? Would I do this on top of a mountain? No. Must be something else.